Theresa Talbot and 'The Lost Children'

I'm so thrilled to be part of the wonderful Aria Family. As a freelance radio journalist I’ve written everyday of my professional life for the past 20 years - but it was only when my first book was published that I had the confidence to actually lay claim to the title and call myself a writer. 
 
The seed for The Lost Children was planted many years ago when I was researching a story for a possible radio feature.
 
In 1958 Glasgow’s Magdalene Institution was closed down after the inmates staged a ‘riot’ amid claims of abuse. This was part of Glasgow’s forgotten past and one I was keen to know more about. I came across newspaper archives and picture of a young girl running from the building stopped me in my track - she looked so tiny and vulnerable my heart went out to her.
 
The institution had existed in Glasgow since 1812. Something must have brought things to a point whereby the girls - who were all aged between fifteen and nineteen years of age - just said ‘no more; enough is enough’. I wanted to know what made them stage such a radical protest, but more than that I wanted to know what happened to them afterwards? They were just kids with their whole lives ahead of them, so where did they go? Did they have family to care for them? Or more likely were they left to fend for themselves?
 
I started jotting down ideas and before long the radio feature was forgotten and I realised I had a bigger story to tell. I suppose the premise for The Lost Children really is art imitating life - the main protagonist, Oonagh O’Neil, is a Glasgow-based journalist who comes across the same archived picture and thinks… ‘there’s a story here’. Her research uncovers more than she bargained for and leads her on her own journey. I’ve grown to love Oonagh, she’s almost like a friend to me now. She’s a pretty flawed character and makes loads of mistakes – but to me that makes her real. Her saving grace is that she always sticks up for the underdog.
 
I never intended to frame The Lost Children around a crime novel; it just seemed to happen that way. I wanted to use dramatic licence to give the women a voice. Although inspired by real-life events, the book is a work of fiction. To me the worst crimes of all are the ones which are carried out in the full view of the public - sanctioned by the establishment and those in power. Look at Jimmy Saville, look at paedophiles in positions of authority, look at domestic abuse. Many perpetrators will never be brought to justice and their crimes are so pernicious they seep into our psyche and become the social norm, which is why Harvey Weinstein was allowed to carry on for so long unchallenged. 
 
The more research I did, the more horror I unfolded. I’d often heard the Magdalene Laundries described as ‘Ireland’s Shame’, but they were widespread across Britain, Northern Europe and America. It may be time for rest of the world to get off the moral high-ground and look at the way women - especially un-married mothers - were treated in general. 
 
Glasgow’s Magdalene Institution was originally set up in response to the city’s growing concern about prostitution and sexually transmitted disease. The easiest way to deal with the problem was to incarcerate the women – at the time the term prostitute included sex-workers, single mothers, socialists and girls who dressed ‘immorally’.
 
Victorian Glasgow had a dual system in operation to deal with the problem. Women who were free of venereal disease and not pregnant went to The Magdelane – the others were committed to the notorious Lock Hospital which housed ‘dangerous females’. Many were never released.
 
None of these women were afforded the luxury of a fair and just society. They committed no crime. They were never convicted of any wrongdoing. So in essence they had no right to appeal. The Lost Children tells the story of the thousands of women who lived and died in shame because there was no one to speak up for them.

Theresa x