Article published on August 2, 2016.
Author Helen MacKinven first came to our attention when we published a review of her debut novel Talk of the Toun here on nudge. Now she’s back with new novel Buy Buy Baby and explains why playing it safe isn’t for her.
I’m a writer who is not afraid to take risks. But it took me a long time to feel brave enough to write about issues such as racism, sexism, sectarianism and sexual abuse. As a new writer, I stuck to light-hearted topics that felt safe and wouldn’t offend anyone. This was the easiest route but I soon realised that it wasn’t exciting me in the way writing should and I decided to write the book I wanted to read. That meant digging deep into subject matters that weren’t for the easily offended and the way I chose to explore these sensitive topics was to use humour. I also decided to take another risk and use Scots dialect in my writing to make it more authentic. This decision comes with the danger of making my books less appealing to the mass market (although using dialect didn’t do Irvine Welsh’s career any harm!).
Over the years, I’ve developed a style of writing which could be summed up with this saying, “If you didnae laugh, you greet’, which for non-Scots means, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. I found black comedy is the way that many folk deal with the grim reality of life such as those who work in emergency services who rely on ‘gallows humour’ as a coping mechanism.
In my debut novel, Talk of the Toun, the main character is the antipathy of political correctness and says things that would be socially unacceptable nowadays. However, the novel is set in 1985 when attitudes to race, religion and gender were different. I didn’t use the terms of reference for shock value, I felt that they were appropriate in the context.
For my new novel, Buy Buy Baby, once again I haven’t shied away from exploring themes which some readers might find disturbing. The main characters are both obsessed with becoming mothers and are willing to commit morally unacceptable acts to the achieve their goal. The crux of the story is, what price, on every level, are both women willing to pay to fill the baby-shaped hole in their life?
Set in and around Glasgow, Buy Buy Baby is a moving and funny story of life, loss and longing. Packed full of bitchy banter, both women meet the same man who is a total charmer with a solution to their problems. Of course, that’s when their problems really begin and the book takes the reader down a very dark path. However, there are lots of laughs too along the way and even although there are graphic scenes of domestic violence, there are also lighter moments allowing readers to recover from the hard-hitting drama.
As a reader myself, I don’t want to read page after page of bleakness so I’ve used Glaswegian banter to soften the blow, literally. It’s a risky business trying to weave humour into the horror of the characters’ experiences of issues such as being a grieving mother and a victim of domestic abuse. But I hope the gamble pays off and readers feel I’ve tackled these topics in a sensitive manner.
– Helen MacKinven
Set in and around Glasgow, Buy Buy Baby is a moving and funny story of life, loss and longing. Packed full of bitchy banter, it follows the bittersweet quest of two very different women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby. Carol talks to her dog, has an expensive eBay habit, and relies on wine to forget she’s no longer a mum following the death of her young son. Cheeky besom Julia is career-driven and appears to have it all. But after disastrous attempts at internet dating, she feels there is a baby-shaped hole in her life. In steps Dan, a total charmer with a solution to their problems. But only if they are willing to pay the price, on every level…
About the author
Helen MacKinven writes contemporary Scottish fiction and graduated with merit from Stirling University with an MLitt in Creative Writing in 2012. Her short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and literary journals, such as Gutter magazine. Helen’s debut novel, Talk of the Toun, was published by ThunderPoint in 2015. Helen blogs at helenmackinven.co.uk and you can find her on Twitter as @HelenMacKinven
Buy Buy Baby by Helen MacKinven, published by Cranchan Publishing on 5 July, 2016 in paperback at £9.99