Lily Crawford and Jeanie Taylor, from very different backgrounds, are firm friends from their childhoods in Kirkcudbright. They share their ambitions for their futures, Lily to be an artist, Jeanie to be a dancer.
The two women’s eventful lives are intertwined. In the years before the First World War, the girls lose touch when Jeanie runs away from home and joins a dance company, while Lily attends The Mack, Glasgow’s famous school of art designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A chance meeting reunites them and together they discover a Glasgow at the height of its wealth and power as the Second City of the Empire – and a city of poverty and overcrowding.
Separated once again after the war, Lily and Jeanie find themselves on opposite sides of the world. Lily follows her husband to Shanghai while Jeanie’s dance career brings her international fame. But the glamour and dissolution of 1920s Shanghai finally lead Lily into peril. Her only hope of survival lies with her old friend Jeanie, as the two women turn to desperate measures to free Lily from danger.
Inspired by the eventful and colourful lives of the pioneering women artists The Glasgow Girls, particularly that of Eleanor Allen Moore, Daisy Chain is a story of independence, women’s art, resilience and female friendship, set against the turbulent background of the early years of the 20th century.
Spanning the period of dramatic change from 1909 to 1929, Daisy Chain was inspired by the eventful lives of the artists known as the Glasgow Girls. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s wife Margaret Macdonald was one of these pioneering women artists and designers who carved out a place in the male-dominated art world to create the distinc- tive Glasgow Style. These women – students or teachers at Glasgow School of Art – were recognised in their day but fell into neglect until they were rediscovered in the first retrospective exhibition of their work in 2000, when they were named Glasgow Girls as a counterpoint to the earlier Glasgow Boys.
The turn of the century was a time of opening opportunities for women. Most of the Glasgow Girls studied under the innovative Francis Newbery, who led the way in education reform and provided equal opportunities for women. In his time as director, 50 per cent of the students at Glasgow School of Art were female.
One Glasgow Girl in particular inspired this novel: Eleanor Allen Moore, who emigrated to Shanghai in the roaring 1920s when the ‘Paris of the East’ was a glamorous, wicked boom town. Her adventurous life was the model for my heroine, who, like the real artist, attended Glasgow School of Art and moved to Shanghai with her husband, a doctor, and their daughter. Despite the many social changes taking place during this turbulent period, Shanghai and Glasgow had much in common as industrial boom cities that thrived on the shocking disparity between the privileged wealthy few and the desperately poor masses.
To research the novel, I was granted a Society of Authors grant to travel in Eleanor’s footsteps, tracing her 6,000-mile journey from Scotland to China and exploring the historic parts of Shanghai to get a feel for her life. Walking the same streets of Shanghai as Eleanor, and experiencing the same sights, smells and sounds, gave me a unique insight into the rich, colourful life of this intrepid woman.