It is the different styles, subject matter and audiences that attracts me. I worked as a journalist, a journalist that never really specialised. I started off being a newspaper reporter and I did the arts and a lot of features. I was always happy to be the sort of journalist that could turn their hand to anything. I think that by doing that my adaptability has been honed. I really do admire people who can specialise, but I have never been able to do that. I am just far too interested in far too many things and perhaps on a more superficial level, but I have never discovered any particular subject that has interested me enough to specialise in it. I wrote the story of Elsie Mackay because I was interested in her story and then I was asked to write a children’s book. I have no idea what I will work on next. I am also very happy facilitating other people’s writing through my publishing company, ‘Curly Tales’. I am a bit of a chameleon.
How did you come across the stories of Elsie MacKay and Mary Timney?
Elsie Mackay. Well, I heard something about her when I went to hear a talk in which she was mentioned, given by a local historian. I was so fascinated by this woman who had tried to fly the Atlantic that I went in search of a book about her, to find none. In the end I collected so much information on her that I turned it in to a book.
In the case of Mary Timney, I had gone round to a friend’s house for coffee and a chat and she had been researching her family history and had discovered a Mary Timney. She told me something of the story but thought I might want to follow it up. I wasn’t sure as I’m not really a fan of true crime books but the social history surrounding the case was fascinating. It was not the murder nor the gruesomeness of it, but the circumstances around the case and society at the time that drew me to writing the story.
What is your favourite piece of technology and how has it enhanced your world of writing, publishing and book selling?
I would say, the phone, with your phone you have access to everything. You can get information and keep up-to-date with everything. When you live in a remote area you it connects you to the rest of the world. I particularly love Instagram. I really like the fact that you can interact with people from all over. Everyone looks at social media as being so negative. There is that side to it, of course, because there is that side to life, but equally it can be a celebration in the way it creates a connection between people all over the world in a positive way.
In my industry it seemed that the e-reader had sounded the death knell for books and bookshops. It seems now as though it has been a really positive thing. For good or ill it has given writers access to an audience without having to go through the gatekeepers – that is the big publishing companies. There were some pretty good writers out there that couldn’t get published because they didn’t have the right connections, or because it was just so difficult to get their work seen. We all know the story of J.K. Rowling who was rejected by quite a few publishers. Technology has allowed writers to access an audience and an audience to access a larger variety of authors.
It has also made publishers change. Initially their gates closed even more as they stuck to stuff that they knew had an audience. However, as the sale of e-books goes down they are beginning to change again. They have started looking at the design, the illustrations, the quality of paper, and the cover. Technology has made us all think what we all like about books. It seems that people like that books are tangible and the quality of them. Publishers had been fixated on keeping down their unit price and the result was that they no longer had become the objects of desire that they used to be, for example, the books that have become worth something now. The industry has begun looking at what it does well, and it has gone back to producing a really beautiful item that somebody wants to have rather than reading a tablet. You see it in the production of children’s literature as well. Look at the amount of different materials being used. In fact our new book, ‘Nip Nebs’, by Ruthie Redden and Susi Briggs, is a beautiful book and uses foil on the cover. Even small publishers such as ourselves are willing to invest in such finishes. Carol Ann Duffy’s new book is again a good example. Such beautiful illustrations. Technology has been good for us.
Social media too allows us to have a much bigger profile without which our market would have been much more limited.
What do you miss about a world with less technology?
Whilst I love aspects of the mobile phone it has also made us read information in bite sizes and we want it immediately. Access to information is a great thing but having to go to the archives is a great thing too. There is something special about sitting in a library and using the expertise of archivists and librarians. I hope that we don’t lose that. Being able to preserve paper and objects is a highly developed skill. When researching Mary Timney I spent hours looking through papers and microfiche. You can be so easily distracted by all the information, but that allows you to read around the subject and get a sense of period. It is difficult to get a sense of time and context with the small bites of information that modern technology gives you. I also like the time that old fashioned research takes. We spend so much time rushing around in today’s world. When I was researching the book on Elsie MacKay I realised that I had to go all the way to the Mitchell library in Glasgow. It was a pain to have to go to Glasgow, and yet the pleasure of being in the Mitchell library far outweighed the irritation.
What made you move to Galloway?
My husband was with the forestry and we were based in Dumfries, when he was offered the job as District Manager here in 1999. I wasn’t very keen on the idea as it seemed (Jayne laughs here) so far away from anywhere, and it didn’t seem as though there was anything going on. I’m very interested in the arts and I just couldn’t imagine what I was going to do. Every day felt like a Sunday because it was so quiet. 1999 was, however, the first year of the Wigtown Book Festival and since then things have changed massively. So many people have moved to Galloway. There are so many artists, writers and creatives. There is so much going on. I see things now that I probably wouldn’t see in a bigger place. I saw some theatre here at the county buildings last week and I regularly go to the Swallow Theatre. Wigtown having been named as Scotland’s National ‘Book Town’ has attracted a lot of people too. I am very, very, happy to live here and I wouldn’t live anywhere else now.
What landscape or sites speak to you most?
I think it has to be where I live now. Garlieston. I grew up in the middle of our land mass in Yorkshire, but I have always loved the sea. My grandfather was a marine and was sadly lost at sea. My mother loved the sea too. I don’t know what it is, but when I got the opportunity to live by the sea I took it. I love living right down by the harbour. It is a working harbour, and that is important to me. There is always something different going on. Garlieston faces east and that, alongside the particular clarity of light here in Galloway, produces the most amazing sunrises. Even today when the sky is grey there was the most soulful purple hue. It is because of the clarity that we have the Dark Skies park of course. I look out on to the most stunning landscape. It is an unspoilt landscape. There is the harbour, and then farms opposite, and then then land rises and you have the start of the Galloway hills and Cairnsmore of Fleet. On a clear night you can see the blink of the Little Ross lighthouse too.
I grew up in West Yorkshire and that landscape too is a part of me. The Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor are so incredibly distinctive. They overlook the town and the whole Wharf Valley. My parents ended up living in a property from which you could see them, and recently my sister has moved in to a flat with the same view. There is a song about Ilkely Moor that has become a Yorkshire anthem. It is, of course, a very different landscape to Galloway being so close to the urban centres of Leeds and Bradford.
What are your favourite routes to drive?
The route from Gatehouse of Fleet to Laurieston, past the bluebell woods of Carstramon. The epic views over the landscape of rolling hills and down to the sea are stunning. You have to have the sea. To drive it in autumn with all the autumn colours and the light. I must have driven it recently as those colours are imprinted in my mind.
My parents loved the Dales, Grassington and North Yorkshire. My parents went out every weekend ‘up the Dales’. I was a terrible traveller as a child. I am also very fond of the coast; the east coast that includes Ravenscar, Saiths, Robin Hoods Bay and Whitby. Again, it is the high cliffs, and the sea.