With only 9 Days left on our Ah Dinnae Ken Sponsume Campaign we wanted to tempt you further into supporting our campaign with a little interview with one of our contributors: Cathy MacPhail.  All of our authors and contributors are amazing with original and thought provoking stories which deserve to be published especially during this time of increased political pressure on young adults in Scotland and the increased awareness and promotion of Scotland’s cultural heritage and growing diversity.

Here is an extract from the funny and diligent interview carried out by our very own Camille Burns (CB) and Jonathon McIntosh (JM) with the lovely Cathy MacPhail (CM).

And if it does interest you and inspire you to sponsor our campaign please go to: http://www.sponsume.com/project/ah-dinnae-ken-stories-scottish-identity

For more information and our sponsorship video and all the donation links.

contents filigree2

JM: How did you start getting into your writing career. Were you just practicing on your own, or did you go to creative writing groups?

CM: No I always, I was always writing, but without any confidence and it was going to, actually, to the local writer’s group, where they started giving me the confidence that actually I was quite good. And they urged me to start sending stories away. And I always tell the story the very first story I had accepted I had written when I was 17 and didn’t have the courage to send it away. So really it was going to the writers club that gave me the confidence that I might be able to be a writer.


But also then, from that, you then started going to writer’s conferences and seminars, listening to writers and learning all the time how to improve your writing. And moving into other avenues, you know? You think ‘Oh, I’ll get a short story published, and that’s all, I’m quite happy! Oh, maybe I’ll get two short stories published…oh wait a wee minute, maybe I could get three! Maybe I could write a novel?’


I was one of those people that when I went to a seminar or a conference and I went in to listen to a speaker I came out sure that was the writing I was gonna do. Science fiction? That’s me! Historical fiction? That’s me! So I tended to try a lot of different kinds of writing, which, in the end, was a really good thing cause I think it improved my writing, improved the way I wrote and, you know, how, it was how I learned to write, really.


JM: Do you feel that, obviously you’re writing to a children’s / young adult audience, do you feel like their needs have changed over the years? Do you feel like their reception to your work has changed, or their reading habits have changed?  

CM: Um, what I think is you know people always say ‘children don’t really read’ but actually if they get the books in school, and the teachers are brilliant at bringing books into school, introducing them to writers, I find children can be really enthusiastic. You know, I went to Hunter Primary yesterday and the kids were all waiting behind the gates, in a big long line, and as soon as I parked the car they were going ‘She’s here! She’s here!’ They were so excited. ‘We’ve just finished Dark Waters, we’ve just been reading this, we’re just really excited.’ And I’ve seen that same excitement away back, you know, years ago when I’d go to visit a school.


JM: Aye

CM: So, no I don’t think children’s…

JM: It hasn’t really changed?

CM: No, I don’t think so. You know, I got a lovely email last night from a parent of two children that I spoke to yesterday, thanking me for they came home so enthusiastic, and her son especially, had never liked reading. And now he’s reading all the time, he’s reading my books, but he’s reading all the time and he just loves it so much. So what you hope is that that is maybe going to keep on, he’s gonnae try other writers, he’s gonnae grow up with that. And that’s all you can hope for, isn’t it?


CB: So how does that make you feel, to be the person who has allowed him to start reading?

JM: It must be such a good feeling.


CM: Do you know, I put it on Facebook cause I thought it was so nice, that she had emailed me. In fact, no it wasnae the woman’s email I put on Facebook it was the reception I’d had at the school. And I actually said, ‘I love this job’. Because it really does make me feel that you’re doing something really worthwhile. You know? So, it’s a wonderful feeling…

CM: Aye, well there you are you had read Tribes (To Jonny). I’m still going to schools and children are asking about Tribes!


JM: That was, like, 10 years ago!

CM: I know! Run, Zan, Run came out in 1994

CB: That was the one I read when I was in school!

CM: 1994 that came out. I went yesterday to Hunter Primary and they had a whole wall of work the children had done on Run, Zan, Run. There’s not a mobile phone in sight in the whole book.

JM: That’s it, aye.

CB: Yeah.

CM: If I wrote it now it would be totally different. So, that’s what I mean, I love the fact that, especially with children’s books, that they seem to go through generations. It’s not a case of, ‘Oh, that’s an old book’.


JM: So what interested you about our project, when you first got the initial email from Camille?

CM: Well I think the first thing was because you said you were a student and you had this project. I thought it was an interesting project but I think especially because you were a student and you sounded so enthusiastic. And I suppose I wanted to help you, and when you said it was about Scottishness, although it is, as I say, kinda ‘Bloody hell, what is that about?’ I still think it was a very worthy idea, so that was really how I became interested in it. And since then I’ve been thinking, ‘Scottishness, what is that?’ and then, as I say, I came up with this story and I thought, ‘That would be good. Nice touch of the dark.’


JM: So I think this is the hardest question you’re going to get and I know you’ve been dreading it, so if you had to define Scottish identity, and I can see you’re struggling, it is, I think it’s hard. How would you define it in a sentence?

CM: Define Scottish identity…


JM: To you. I know it’s a toughie though.

CM: Um. It wouldnae be in a sentence but I think there’s, you know, I suppose Scottish identity has been a lot like my writing career. That I didn’t have the courage to believe I could be a writer and then even when I became a writer I didnae have the courage to think, actually believe, I was any good. It took me such a long time to actually think, ‘I am good. I can write. People like my books’ and in a way I think that’s kinda like the way I think of Scottish identity. That, you know, I can remember people, and you still hear them saying it ‘Oh typical Scotland, we’ll no win’, ‘Oh typical Scotland, we’re rubbish’ and then it takes a long time for that feeling of not being quite good enough to grow into that feeling ‘Yes we are good enough’ and then to become the feeling ‘We are pretty good’. So I don’t know whether that answers…


I think that we tend to look at all the negative things instead of the positive things you know? We tend to go ‘Och we’re no good, we’re rubbish at football.’‘Aw our team’s never win’ … ‘Oh look at all the blinking dumps we’ve got. It’s Greenock. Greenock’s a dump.’


Look over there [points to the Clyde waterfront], look at the views we’ve got. Greenock’s no a dump! And I think that’s a kinda Scottish thing, you know? It’s like never looking at all the wonderful things. The best whiskey in the world! I don’t drink whiskey, but I buy it simply because I want to, you know. We’ve got best gin in the world!


CB: You just need to take a look at our history as a country, weve had amazing people.

CM: Amazing. Look at the explorers, the scientists, the doctors… So yeah, there’s an awful lot of really interesting people have come from Greenock. They’ve left Greenock, right enough.


But then I think that’s a Scottish thing as well, that we should be proud of. It’s not a case of, ‘Oh everybody leaves this place’. I always wanted my children to leave, I always wanted my children to spread their wings and go elsewhere. So I haven’t a clue how to put that into a sentence!