How to End a Book

This is not a spoiler alert! I haven’t finished yet; I’m just about at the end of Chapter 5, with two further chapters to go. I’m not about to reveal how it ends, either, because (a) I don’t want to spoil it for you and (b) what if the closing chapters end up in a different overall order?

Two cartoon characters hold jigsaw pieces which will complete the puzzle.
Image by Alexa from Pixabay

I’m thinking about structure, really. When you’re writing about a subject that had a rise, a heyday and a decline, it’s going to be hard to end on a high. I’ve been pondering about which order to place the last three chapters in the book, and it came down to this:-

Option 1: Up-Down-Up (and Down)

  • Antepenultimate chapter: Hey look, they also did this!
  • Penultimate chapter: But they missed a trick here.
  • Ultimate chapter: Even though they also did THIS (and I find it so exciting), their heyday was over.

Option 2: Up-Up still Higher but Peaking – Down

  • Antepenultimate chapter: Hey look, they also did this!
  • Penultimate chapter: AND they engaged with this! It’s really exciting, but perhaps the writing was on the wall.
  • Ultimate chapter: And they didn’t do this. Would it have made a difference? Possibly not, in view of the wider context.

My instinctive feeling is that the Rise-Fall curve of the second option is going to be more satisfying for the reader. Indeed, as I was writing this post, I stumbled across a website about ‘story arcs’, with six different arc shapes being outlined. Admittedly, we’re only talking about my last three chapters, and I’m writing non-fiction, not a story with a plot. (In a previous existence, I wrote and published over thirty short stories, so I do have an interest in the genre, in a retrospective kind of way. But that’s irrelevant today.) Nonetheless, if we’re thinking about arcs, then …

My first option isn’t even described, so it can’t be a recommended option! Let’s call it the Tennis Ball Bounce. On the other hand, my second option is a classic ‘Icarus / Freytag’s Pyramid (rise then fall)’ arc. (Joe Bunting, ‘Story Arcs: Definitions and Examples of the 6 Shapes of Stories’

I think I’ve convinced myself. Option 2 it is! Watch this space.

Representation of Women Composers in the Whittaker Library

I’m delighted to see my article, Representation of Women Composers in the Whittaker Library, published in the Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice (pp.21-26) this week!

Vol. 11 No. 1 (2023): Special Issue on Breaking the Gender Bias in Academia and Academic Practice

Special Issue of JPAAP exploring and addressing issues, dimensions and initiatives related to ensuring a greater gender parity and representation within academic institutions, academic and academic-related work, and related professional practices. Guest edited by Alexandra Walker and Keith Smyth. (Published: 2023-02-22)

Direct link to entire issue:-

Retrospective 2022

I still don’t know if this kind of post is helpful.  To anyone who hasn’t many/any visible outputs, reading someone else’s list of what they achieved is probably the very last thing they need to brighten their day – and I apologise.  You’ve probably achieved other, equally or even more important things, which didn’t take the form of words on a page!

From my vantage point, as a researcher who sentenced herself to a career in librarianship, not necessarily as a first choice but what seemed at the time to be a reasonable one, I look at other academics’ lists of achievements and struggle not to compare myself – although realistically I cannot achieve as much research in 1.5 designated days a week as the average full-time academic. My research line-manager is more than content, so maybe I should remind myself of that more often.

So, what have I achieved?

As a librarian, I have spoken at two conferences, a panel discussion and as staff training for another library, about EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) in our own library.  I have a paper being published in an academic journal next year, on the topic of women composers in libraries; but my proudest achievement was actually in sharing a song by a Victorian woman teacher in the junior department of the Athenaeum, that I had discovered in a research capacity, and which a singing student eagerly learned and presented as one of their competition entries in a recent singing competition at RCS.  Discovering something, having someone else declare it lovely, and hearing them perform it beautifully, is a very special privilege.

Still hatching

As a researcher, I have another paper forthcoming in an essay collection, though I can hardly list details here before it has even gone through the editorial process.  And another magazine article which has been accepted for 2024.  Can’t include that either.  Nor can I yet include the monograph I’m halfway through writing.  I’ve done a ton of work in that respect, but it doesn’t count in a retrospective list of successes!

I’ve also applied for a grant which I didn’t get, and a fellowship for which the deadline is just today, so no news on that front for a little while.

That leaves this little list, the last item of which appeared through my letterbox at the turn of last year, so I’ve cheekily included it here again.


  • ‘Representation of Women Composers in the Whittaker Library’, Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice. Arises from a paper given at the International Women’s Day Conference hosted by the University of the Highlands and Islands, 2022.  Peer-reviewed and pending publication.


  • ‘Alexander Campbell’s Song Collecting Tour: ‘The Classic Ground of our Celtic Homer’, in Thirsty Work and Other Heritages of Folk Song (Ballad Partners, 2022), 180-192
  • ‘An Extensive Musical Library’: Mrs Clarinda Webster, LRAM, Brio vol.59 no.1, 29-42
  • ‘Burns and Song: Four New Publications’, Eighteenth Century Scotland, no. 36 (June 2022),12-15.
  • ‘Strathspeys, Reels and Instrumental Airs: a National Product’, in Music by Subscription: Composers and their Networks in the British Music Publishing Trade, 1676–1820, ed. Simon D. I Fleming & Martin Perkins. (Routledge, 2022), 177-197

Meanwhile, as an organist, I’ve completed my first year in Neilston Parish Church, which has been a very healing experience.  I love it there!  This Christmas has seen three of my own unpublished carols being performed, one in Neilston and two in Barrhead; and earlier in the autumn I contributed a local-history kind of article to the Glasgow Diapason, the newsletter published by the Glasgow Society of Organists.  Another publication! Might as well add it to the list:-

  • ‘Trains, Trossachs, Choirs and the Council: Neilston Parish Church’s First Organist’, in The Glasgow Diapason Newsletter

Confession time. Sewing is my relaxation of choice, often influenced by something I’m researching. This year’s project, a Festival of Britain canvas-printed linen piece, relates to the aforementioned chapter that I’ve contributed to someone’s book.

I know I would get more research writing done if I didn’t sew in my leisure time, but I need that for my mental health. Swings and roundabouts…

Wearing my Pedagogical Librarian Hat …

I’m gratified to have an article accepted for a special issue of Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice. It arises from a paper I gave at the International Women’s Day Conference hosted by the University of the Highlands and Islands earlier this year. You won’t find the article online yet, but bookmark this space for when the special issue does appear. My guess is it’ll be in 2023.

(This is what happens when a librarian – who is also a musicologist – decides to spend a day with pedagogues for a change!)

Read about Song-Collector Alexander Campbell, in ‘Thirsty Work and Other Heritages of Folk Song’ Conference Papers

I’ve just received my own copy of a new publication by Ballad Partners, Thirsty Work and Other Heritages of Folk Song, which contains my most recent Alexander Campbell article: ‘Alexander Campbell’s Song Collecting Tour: ‘The Classic Ground of our Celtic Homer’. There’s a section on Campbell and his musicianship – an entirely new angle which I spent some time contemplating during lockdown.

The book is Ballad Partners’ third book of Folk Song Studies.

I have just catalogued a copy for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Library – I listed the contents there, so I’ll repeat the list here for your interest. If you would like to purchase a copy of the book, please visit the Ballad Partners’ website. (I’m unconnected with the publishers – I am just one of the contributors!)


Thirsty work: traditional singing on BBC Radio, 1940-41 / Katie Howson — From Tyneside to Wearside: in search of Sunderland songs / Eileen Richardson — Sam Bennett’s songs / Elaine Bradtke — Newman and Company of Dartmouth and the song tradition of Newfoundland’s South Coast / Anna Kearney Guigne — Railwaymen’s charity concerts, 1888-89 / Colin Bargery — Picturing protest: prints to accompany political songs / Patience Young — ‘That is all the explanation I am at liberty to give in print’: Richard Runciman Terry and Songs from the Sea / Keith Gregson — Drawing from the well : Emma Dusenberry and her old songs of the Ozarks / Eleanor Rodes — Alexander Campbell’s song collecting tour : ‘The Classic Ground of our Celtic Homer’ / Karen McAulay — ‘Don’t let us be strangers’ – William Montgomerie’s fieldwork recordings of Scottish farmworkers, 1952 / Margaret Bennett — ‘No maid in history’s pages’ : the female rebel hero in the Irish ballad tradition / Therese McIntyre — Who is speaking in songs? / David Atkinson

My Article about a Remarkable Victorian Music Teacher: ‘An Extensive Musical Library: Mrs Clarinda Webster, LRAM’

Brio electronic archive for IAML(UK & Ireland) members

My latest article is on the IAML(UK & Ireland) website, in the members’ area, but paper copies will land on subscribers’ doormats and music library shelves this week! It’s about a strong and determined Victorian music teacher, who survived domestic abuse and made a remarkable career for herself – and I reveal her survey of music in Victorian public libraries, that I discovered literally by digging around online. (I’m rather pleased with this one – and it’s illustrated!)

Here are the details and the abstract:- 

McAulay, Karen E., ‘An Extensive Musical Library’: Mrs Clarinda Webster, LRAM, in Brio Vol.59 no.1, 29-42

Although there has been the perception that middling-class women’s lives were confined to domestic circles, there are plenty of examples that directly challenge this idea. The late Victorian Clarinda Augusta Webster ran a music school and a school for young ladies. She escaped domestic violence, overcame personal tragedy, and created a highly successful career first in Aberdeen and then in London. She published, gave talks, was active in professional circles, and travelled both to Europe and America. She also conducted a ground-breaking survey on music library provision in late nineteenth century Britain, delivering her findings to the Library Association. Although her report has not been traced in its entirety, many of its findings were reported in newspapers, enabling us to piece together the results of her investigations.  This article celebrates the sheer determination of a talented woman to make the most of her skills and create opportunities for advancement. It also demonstrates the perceived importance of music in wider late Victorian life. 

It should be possible to read this Brio article in a music library somewhere near you, and it will also eventually appear on the RCS research repository (Pure). But if you can’t get sight of a copy, please feel free to message me and I’ll share the proofs.

Am Writing: New Book Contract

Yes, folks, there really is going to be another book. Following on from my first one, date-wise, but with more social history, more about publishers, and more about amateur music making between 1880-1950.

Exciting? You bet!

Provisional Title

A Social History of Amateur Music-Making and Scottish National Identity: Scotland’s Printed Music, 1880-1950

Which half of me is winning?

Librarian. Time mainly spent cataloguing and working on the library equality and diversity project. In connection with this, I’m commited to giving a talk next month, and to submitting a librarianship-related journal article arising from a talk I gave earlier this year.

Musicologist. [2nd] book proposal submitted. Already committed to producing two book chapters for essay collections being edited by other folk.

Librarian meets Musicologist. Article straddling both worlds, due out in the next month or so. Also giving a talk in Edinburgh in June, in my capacity as Honorary Wighton Librarian.

If only I had a garden big enough for a secluded Writing Shed!

First publication of 2022 – a chapter

I have just catalogued a book containing my chapter on music subscribers to published strathspey and reel collections in the late 18th to early 19th centuries.  (Not every author gets to catalogue what they contributed to! Still, it means it’s now available in the library at RCS.

 Here it is:-

Chapter 10. ‘Strathspeys, Reels, and Instrumental Airs: A National Product’

And the book itself:

 Music by subscription : composers and their networks in the British music-publishing trade, 1676-1820 / edited by Simon D.I. Fleming, Martin Perkins.  (Routledge, 2022)

When Less is More (Blog to Book)

Returning visitors to these pages may find the content thinner than it used to be. Now that I’m working on my next book, I want my best content to be honed to perfection and triple-checked before I commit it to print. Rather than leave extended writings – which I posted as ‘work in progress’ – sitting on the internet, I’ve pruned what is here. In general, I continue to research the topics I posted here (Scottish music publishers James Kerr, Mozart Allan and many others, and interrogations of cultural issues), and any new details or dates which I didn’t know at the time of blogging, could potentially change what I originally wrote. And also, of course, I want readers of the book to be surprised and delighted by new insights that no-one knew before!

I shall continue to blog, of course. How could I not? I have so many ideas buzzing round my head that it’s hard keeping them all to myself!