It was while “getting drunk on coffee and ideas” with TV’s Scotland From The Sky presenter Jamie Crawford that novelist Sara Sheridan decided to redraw her country’s map.
Where Are The Women? is the stunning result – a dip in, dip out “alternative guidebook” where Scotland’s late, great women are commemorated in its statues, on its streets and buildings and even in its hills and glens.
In this imaginary nation, women historically sidelined by men are finally given their due recognition. Arthur’s Seat in the capital belongs to St Triduana, rail passengers arrive at Dundee’s Slessor station, The West Highland Way ends at Forty Mary and the plinths in central Glasgow support statues of suffragettes. The people are real, their monuments fictitious.
Sara, inspired in part by Rebecca Solnit’s feminist re-imagining of the New York subway, says: “I did a book about two years ago, Bloody Scotland, with Historic Environment Scotland and had been part of a whole lot of events at their properties. I kind of had a go at Jamie, who is their publisher, because they didn’t have a lot about women at the properties.
“We had a discussion about what sort of book we could do. At first we thought about doing Edinburgh or Glasgow but we got drunk on coffee and ideas. We said, ‘let’s think big and do the whole of Scotland’.
“It took in all of history and even pre-history, so it was a massive research project.
“It was great fun and really inspiring making up the monuments. I hope some become a reality.”
Sara, named one of the Saltire Society’s 365 most influential Scottish women, past and present, writes across the genres but is arguably best known for her Mirabelle Bevan series.
The Edinburgh mum of one, who recently launched a children’s book with her daughter Molly and who has four books out this year, has always been a feminist.
She reveals: “My granny was born in 1909. She was too wee to be a suffragette but she instilled in me and my female cousins that we must vote and explained why.
“But I think this book has slightly changed me. I hadn’t quite realised the scale or depth of the way we just don’t commemorate women.”
Sara, who gave up her day job as a senior administrator when her daughter was born to write full time, adds: “Even I was surprised by how many great women I found. We think we don’t have scientists or travellers but we have Isabella Bird who travelled the world. We have Williamina Fleming who discovered hundreds of new stars, and Mary Somerville a great mathematician.
“The stand-out thing is how amazing our grannies are – we have forgotten about them.”
Sara Sheridan Where Are The Women?, HES, £14.99