Rosie Wallace talks to Liberal Democrat Voice about her books

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael’s Twitter account is always good for a laugh. At least, I hope he was joking here…

Rosie WallaceIt was from Alistair’s Twitter that I discovered that we have an accomplished and talented author in the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Rosie Wallace has written two novels, set in the same small town, about its parliamentarians and their families. She should know – she is married to Lord (Jim) Wallace who has been MP, MSP, Lord and minister in both Scottish and UK Governments. I caught up with her recently to discuss the books and how she started out on her writing career.

A speech therapist by profession, she moved to Orkney a month after her marriage to Jim Wallace in 1983. It took her 9 months to find a job, and she knew nobody so it was initially very isolating. She coped by knitting – and cooking elaborate meals for Jim’s return on a Friday night. She soon learned that after a week in London, more rich, fancy food was the last thing he wanted.

When Jim stood down as leader, and her youngest child left home, she decided she’s pursue a notion to write. She was, she says “every publisher’s nightmare, another middle aged woman who wrote a novel.” Her first took her 2 years to write. She’d write 3 or 4 chapters, get stuck and then inspiration would strike when she was walking the dog or in the shower. She’d flown to Edinburgh the day I talked to her and, while airborne, had worked out how to temporarily get a character of the way in the book she’s writing at the moment.

Rosie’s first novel, A Small Town Affair, published in 2010, featured three women whose everyday domestic lives,as she put it to me, were defined by their husbands’ occupations. Gill, the wife of Liberal Democrat MP who has to move to the constituency with her two young children, Ali, the wife of the local minister and Phyllis the wife of the local business “Mr Big.” The events of the book range from tragedy to heartbreak to  comedy. The pace is brilliant. She has a talent for  making you laugh out loud in even the middle of a big drama. This book serves as a health warning to anyone who ever contemplates having a relationship with a Liberal Democrat and contains some very funny and astute observations on life in a small town, gossip and the behaviour of the media.

The second, the Trouble with Keeping Mum featured Annie, the 44 year old health minister in the Scottish Government who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant – and not knowing who the father is, a question the Scottish media is determined to answer. She also has to deal with family issues which sometimes impinge on her ministerial responsibilities. Rosie said that someone had described it as “Holyrood’s Borgen.” This book has political intra-coalition bitching, ministerial mishap, family angst and what really comes across even more than in the first book is how politics really sweats the small stuff. Rosie says she doesn’t have the “sad political gene” but she clearly has a very clear understanding of how politics works. Again, it’s paced beautifully. Whenever she breaks your heart, she has you laughing your head off within a few pages. Peppered through the book are references to various saints, from the patron saints of venereal disease to taxi drivers. The things an author has to research! I also like the way she leads you to draw a certain conclusion and surprises you constantly throughout the books. If I could have asked for anything more, in both books, actually, it would be more back story about the main characters. There were things I was curious about that weren’t answered. But then I’m too nosey. And it’s a sign that characters engage you if you want to find out more about them.

Each book is  a thoroughly delicious read. You don’t have to be a Liberal Democrat to understand them, but if you are, there are certain parts with in-jokes and references that will make you smile.

Central to both books is Minty Oliver, an eccentric old lady with loads of common sense, who’s the backbone of the local party. I wondered who had been the inspiration for her. Rosie talked affectionately about Laura Grimond and a few other wonderful, philanthropic and community-minded ladies.

I asked her what it was like to open the parcel from the publisher and see her first book in print. She said it was quite scary, especially she had a deadline for novel number two. She was worried of, as she says, “being found out,”of not being able to pull it off again.

So, what’s next? Rosie is currently working on her third novel, which will be much darker, exploring the effects of a difficult upbringing on a child. There are elements of comedy, though and some characters with very unfortunate names. I’d like it if she would write a novel based on the House of Lords, but we may have to wait a while for that.

The Easter holiday is very close. You could do worse than read these books as you tuck into your chocolate when you’ve come in from campaigning in the county elections.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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