Tuesday 1 December 2015


I am delighted that THERESA TALBOT is joining me on my blog today. Her crime novel - Penance - was published by Strident Publishing on 2 October 2015. 

What inspired you to write your novel Penance?
I’m a freelance radio presenter with BBC Radio Scotland. Several years ago, I was researching The Magdalene Institution in Glasgow for a possible radio feature. The Magdalenes are synonymous with Ireland but they were actually widespread throughout the mainland. The Glasgow Magdalene closed its doors in 1958 after the girls staged a 3 day ‘riot’ amid claims of abuse. No one was ever brought to trial. I found some old newspaper articles in the archives and one had a photograph of the girls. I was just haunted by it and it raised so many questions in my mind. What caused them to stage such a protest? After all, the asylum had existed in Glasgow in one form or another for over 100 years. What happened on that particular day to spark such a reaction? I also wanted to know what happened to the inmates once they left the Magdalene. Did they end up on the streets? Were they sucked into a world of prostitution? That was my initial inspiration and it grew into a crime novel!

Your first book, This is What I Look Like, features humorous tales from your career at Radio Scotland. Did your writing process change when you switched to writing fiction?
I LOVED writing This Is What I Look Like. A friend described it as ‘an easy read’ but it was a very ‘easy write’ too! It’s very much in a conversational style and because I’m used to writing scripts for radio – albeit news scripts – I found I got into my flow very easily. Writing Penance was a whole different ball game…BUT Penance actually came first. I wrote it several years ago and tucked it away terrified to let anyone read it. When I wrote that I ate, breathed and slept the characters. I laboured over the plot – tied myself in knots sometimes. It took me a long time to learn that the narrative and the dialogue really had to drive the story forward or it quickly became stagnant. Penance is about social injustice, wasted lives and pain, but above all it is a crime novel so it had to flow at a certain pace. I would spend a day writing a chapter – go to bed satisfied that I’d worked hard, then wake up the next morning and think ‘Oh Gawd I need to do that all again…’ The final edits for Penance were done after T.I.W.I.L.L was published and that was actually harder than writing it!

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plot out a whole novel before you start or just start writing and see where it leads you?
A bit of both actually. With Penance, I had this ‘fabulous’ plot in my head…but quickly realised that plots were only as strong as the characters within the story. As I gave the characters flesh and blood, that ‘brilliant plot’ I was convinced was so good began to be a weight around my neck. I had to let it go and let the story unfold naturally – and the relationships between the characters often dictated to me what happened next. My main protagonist is Oonagh O’Neil and initially (during my brilliant plot era) I killed her off in the third chapter. I thought I was being terribly clever and brave in a sort of Hitchcock-ian way. Then I realised I was just being an eejit and once I re-established Oonagh as the main character Penance really took shape and it unfolded in a way that I wasn’t always prepared for. I’m glad I didn’t kill her off now as I really like her. I wish she was my pal!

Do you have any strange writing habits?
Not strange as such – but I do find the words flow better once they’re lubricated by a glass of wine. And I often go for a long walk to sort out a plot problem in my head so I sort of ‘talk’ to the characters and speak their dialogue as I’m walking. Actually reading that back it sounds as though I just get drunk then wander off into the distance talking to myself! But it’s not like that…I’m working. Oh and I never write on a Saturday. I don’t know why…I just don’t.

Can you describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
Oh no..this is hard. I’m sure I’ll either sound dead pompous or a total lightweight! Ok here we go…  (I need to change my writing style between radio bulletins, non-fiction humour and dark crime) humorous, dark, heartbreaking, tense and  straight to the point. 

How do you juggle writing with your day job at Radio Scotland?
I’m lucky that I’m freelance, so can work three days a week at the BBC and the other three days writing (remember I don’t write on Saturdays!) That’s the theory anyway..in reality what happens is I wait until I have a deadline then stay up until silly o’clock finishing an edit, or tweaking that final chapter. I just sort of squeeze it in somehow – and I often write during my lunch breaks.

Which authors do you admire most?
Oh crikey, almost too many to mention…the Bronte Sisters and Jane Austen to start with. I can read Jane Eyre over and over again – but reader I won’t! I love John Fowles – the Magus holds a special place in my heart - I think The Collector is terrifying…yet oddly benign at the same time. Crime authors - Denise Mina is wonderful (I have a soft spot for Glasgow based crime) – Val McDermid too. Anne Tyler has to get a mention for the way she portrays such mundane ordinary situations and pulls the reader in. Ask me the same question tomorrow and I’ll give you another 10 names.

I often ask authors – 'If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be' – but you’ve already written one! So my question is: Why did you choose This is What I Look Like as the title?
Ha ha ha! My publisher chose the name as working in radio, people often recognise my voice but they have no idea what I look like. I presented a gardening programme for BBC Radio Scotland and we did a lot of outside broadcasts and regular listeners would come along and many would say…’Oh..you sound blonder /darker /taller /shorter /thinner /fatter /older/younger on-air. Radio is such an intimate medium – yet anonymous at the same time.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Just write! I spent years saying ‘Oh I’d love to be a writer..’ then my partner said..’well you actually need to write something first!’ I was always a bit scared that it would never be good enough. So embrace your mistakes – love your errors – be proud of your achievements. Think of it like cooking – or driving – or any skill. It’s a learning curve – a process. And find your own voice. Also don’t try to exist in a vacuum – by that I mean mix with other writers. Attend writing classes – readers groups – go along to readers events in pubs/libraries etc…and be generous. Be generous of spirit. If you can help another writer give your time your advice your help freely. It comes back tenfold. The world needs more writers – the world needs more books.  

And lastly, why should people read Penance
Penance is a crime novel which tells the story of thousands of women who lived and died in shame because there was no-one to speak up for them. Set in the year 2000 to flash backs to the past. The characters are real flesh and blood people, it’s evocative, fast moving, tense and heartbreaking at the same time. And you’ll love Oonagh O’Neill.

About Theresa Talbot

Theresa is a freelance writer, journalist and radio presenter. She is best known as the voice of traffic and travel for BBC Radio Scotland and presented the weekly gardening programme The Beechgrove Potting Shed.
She has also worked as an independent producer and editor, creating programmes for the likes of BBC Radio 2 and wrote comedy sketches for Radio Scotland.
A graduate of The University of Glasgow, Theresa says she fell into her career in radio after eavesdropping on a conversation on the 66 bus! Prior to that she tried numerous occupations including library assistant, medical rep, waitress, care home assistant and Pepsi Challenge Girl.
Theresa's first book 'This Is What I Look Like' was a hugely entertaining voyage of self discovery and chronicles her life growing up in Glasgow and her career in radio.
'Penance' is her crime debut and was inspired by the real life events surrounding Glasgow's Magdalene Institution.

Find Theresa Talbot on Twitter - @Theresa_Talbot

Published by Strident Publishing (2 October 2015)

Oonagh O Neil has a challenge on her hands - and her head over a toilet bowl. TV journalist and media darling Oonagh O Neil faces danger and chaos when an elderly priest dies on the altar of his Glasgow church. His death comes as she is about to expose the shocking truth behind the closure of a Magdalene Institution. The Church has already tried to suppress the story. Is someone also covering their tracks? DI Alec Davies is appointed to investigate the priest s death. He and Oonagh go way back. But their friendship counts for nothing when Davies suspicions falls on Oonagh s married lover. Oonagh now faces the biggest decision of her life. But will it be hers to make? What secrets lie behind the derelict Institution s doors? What sparked the infamous three-day riot that closed it? And what happened to the three Maggies who vowed to stay friends forever? From Ireland to Scotland. From life to death.


  1. Great Q&A I went to the launch for this book but have yet to get it.

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

  2. I really want to read the book now as it sounds amazing. Will be doing so soon once I've finished writing my first draft.