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Cat Step Sounds by Alison Irvine: Glasgow Walking Tours Guest blog

Our first guest blog of 2021 is from the writer, Alison Irvine. Alison wrote her brilliant new novel Cat Step at the same time as she was writing about the Barrowland Ballroom for the beautiful Barrowland Ballads book, which we previously covered on our blog:

a person posing for the camera

photograph by Chris Leslie

We know Alison loves her music and wondered what she listens to as she writes. To ease you gently into 2021, then, Alison has put together a playlist for us, which you can listen to here:

We also have 2 copies of Cat Step to give away, see our Facebook page for details.

Cat Step Sounds

I wrote Cat Step, a novel about a former dancer who runs into trouble when she leaves her daughter in the car, at the same time as I wrote my non-fiction book about the Barrowland Ballroom. The contrast couldn’t have been more pronounced. Barrowland Ballads was all about noise: the roar of the crowd, the crash of the drums, the one-two one-two of the sound checks and the ‘make your way down the stairs now please’ of the stewards’ assertive voices at the end of the night.


Cat Step was different. The novel has a quieter more melancholy and menacing feel to it. My heroine, Liz, is a single mum whose decision to leave her daughter in the car attracts the eyes of locals, the police and social services.  From this one incident her unravelling begins. Yet the novel is also about love, about the delicate relationship between a parent and a child, intergenerational friendship and dance. It’s set in Lennoxtown at the foot of the majestic Campsie Fells. I’ve never known the Campsies to be anything other than stunning whatever the season, whatever the weather.

There were a few tunes I played over and over to get me in the mood for writing Cat Step. I listened to only one of them during the actual writing of the book. The others I exercised to or did the housework to or thought my characters might have listened to.

Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt

This came up as our family’s most played tune on Spotify for 2019 because I listened to it throughout the writing process on repeat. I preferred the version on the album of the same name or Nicola Benedetti’s version on her album Fantasie. I think this piece of music is utterly beautiful; heartbreaking, tender and full of loss and love all at the same time. It reminds me of dancing – ballet in particular. My heroine Liz used to be a dancer on cruise ships and in the novel she harks back to that exalted time where life and love seemed more simple.

Easy’s Gettin’ Harder Every Day by Iris DeMent

Country, folksy, simple yet with heart-splintering lyrics and a delicate guitar and DeMent’s extraordinary voice, this was a song to get me in the mood for writing. I couldn’t listen to it when I was actually writing because DeMent’s lyrics distracted me from my own words, but, boy did I appreciate this song. I saw Iris DeMent at the Glasgow Concert Hall at the beginning of 2020, just before lockdown, and she was mesmerising.

 Yellow by Coldplay

When I worked as Scottish Book Trust Reader in Residence for East Dunbartonshire Council, I used to drive from my home in Glasgow to Lennoxtown or Kirkintilloch and I would see the Campsies getting bigger and more glorious the closer I got to them. Sometimes they were submerged by cloud, sometimes they were a lush, deep green, and other times they were a dazzling, fiery gold. They looked exquisite, all yellow and sun struck and they are what inspired me to set Cat Step in Lennoxtown. So, Yellow, how could I not listen?


My Backwards Walk by Frightened Rabbit

I needed a song that the fitness fanatics on the cruise ships would run their 10Ks to. My heroine, Liz, watches them through the door of the gym and falls in love with Robbie who is running. This song has quite a slow start but that repetitive guitar – da-da da dum-dum – represents those pounding determined feet. Scott Hutchison’s impassioned vocals just grabbed me and didn’t let go and the sense of desperation in the song chimed with my character’s situation. I played this one over and over.

Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks

A nod to London. I love this song and I love the story of Terry and Julie meeting at Waterloo Station every Friday night. My heroine is a London girl who falls in love with a Scottish guy (there’s a lot of it about). It’s a song I’d often put on and crank up after I’d written something I was pleased with and was celebrating by cracking open a can of beer and putting the kids’ tea on.

 It has been a lot of fun writing this Cat Step playlist. It’s been much easier than novel writing and has in fact proved a lovely distraction from writing my next book. It’s also been easier than compiling a playlist for my book on the Barrowland Ballroom. That song list would have been enormous – how could I encompass all those bands and musical styles from when the building first opened in 1934 to the present, as it takes a long in-breath and waits to open its doors and exhale again? Give me a simple, melancholy, menacing novel to create a playlist for any day.

Cat Step was published by Dead Ink Books in November 2020 and is available from all good bookshops including and direct from the publisher.