Is it just me, or is it scary that we’re already in April? Anyway, let’s ease into the second quarter of 2017 by reading what Emma Mooney has to say about a place that means a lot to her – Bathgate.
For World Book Day this year I was invited to give a talk to the first year students of my local secondary school. As well as being the school my three children attend, it’s also the school I went to as a teenager in the 80s.
Bathgate Academy plays an important in my latest novel, Wings to Fly, and I think our secondary education is a time we all remember, probably with mixed emotions. Since the 80s, Bathgate has witnessed many changes. The local Leyland plant closed in 1986 and this led to a sharp rise in unemployment in the town and a mention in The Proclaimers’ first hit song, Letter from America. The original Leyland site is now filled with modern townhouses and blocks of fashionable flats – all features of its industrial landscape are erased but the scars on the previous generation still remain.
When I was growing up in Bathgate there were two secondary schools in the town – Bathgate Academy and St. Mary’s Academy, and the only thing that separated them was Kirkton Park. In the 80s, the park contained a derelict band stand, two paddling pools, left abandoned and filled with leaves, twigs and shards of broken glass, and tennis courts, which were only ever filled during the two weeks of the year Wimbledon was on. The park was neutral territory and school lunchtimes always seemed to be filled with talk about fights. But talk is all it was. Bravado and tribal posturing.
I grew up in a time when you wouldn’t dare talk to a boy from the ‘other school’ and as I sat down to write the book I wondered what would happen if a girl fell in love with a boy who went to school on the wrong side of the park. The main character in Wings to Fly, Cathy, wonders if she’ll go to hell because she doesn’t pray like the Catholics do. She sets out on a mission to talk to God in the hope of securing her place in Heaven. So when the miracles start to happen, she’s sure she’s on the right track. But Cathy soon learns that her miracles have consequences and that life’s not as simple as she’d once thought.
St Mary’s Academy closed in 1994 and it was interesting speaking to the first year students who no longer have another secondary school on their doorstep. However, when I mentioned fights at lunchtime they smiled knowingly and I wonder if tribalism will perhaps always be a part of growing up.
Wings to Fly confronts small minded prejudices and this feels especially relevant in the current political climate. When I spoke about the importance of welcoming people regardless of their religion or culture, the youngsters nodded in agreement. They seem to me to be far more aware of politics than my generation ever was, and I came away filled with hope for the future.
Visit me at www.emmamooney.co.uk
* A range of events were organised for World Book Day by some sixth year students and it was an honour to be included. I’d like to extend my thanks to the staff in the English Department, the school librarian, Tom Oliver, and to the students of Bathgate Academy.