There is a wonderful, sweaty, brash, unforgettable buzz about Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom that has made it a favourite with gig-going fans and top acts from all over the world.

Writing about the famous east end establishment was a memorable project for Alison Irvine, who found the commission for her Barrowland Ballads book both exhilarating and rewarding.

But as she dug into the fascinating history and famously unique atmosphere of the venue, and the people who make it come alive, Ms Irvine was also forced to find space in her head and diary for the second novel she was writing at the same time, titled Cat Step, which was published at the end of last year.

She found that turning to music helped her to make progress with both books, working on them in parallel.

An Estonian composer of classical and sacred music, The Kinks, American singer/songwriter Iris DeMent, Coldplay and Scottish band Frightened Rabbit provided her musical bedrock.

“I wrote Cat Step, which is 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,” said Ms Irvine.

“The contrast couldn’t have been more pronounced.”

Barrowland Ballads, a project she undertook with photographer Chris Leslie and illustrator Mitch Miller, was all about the roar of the crowd, the crash of the drums, the sound checks and the stewards’ assertive voices at the end of shows.

“Cat Step, obviously, was different,” she said. “It has a quieter, more melancholic and menacing feel to it.

“My heroine in the book, Liz, is a single mother 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 but the novel is also about love, the delicate relationship between a parent and a child, inter-generational friendship and dance.

“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.”

Ms Irvine, who lives in Glasgow’s south side with her husband and three children, said Spiegel im Spiegel, by Estonian composer Arvo Part, was her family’s most played Spotify tune of 2019. “That’s because I listened to it and nothing else on repeat throughout writing Cat Step,” she said.

“I think this piece of music is utterly beautiful, heartbreakingly tender and full of loss and love all at the same time. It reminds me of dancing – ballet, in particular.

“My book heroine Liz used to be

a dancer on cruise ships and, in the novel, harks back to that exalted time where life and love seemed simpler.”

Alison also loves Easy’s Gettin’ Harder Every Day, released by DeMent in 1994.

“This is a song that is simple yet with heart-splintering lyrics and a delicate guitar,” she said. “This was a song to get me in the mood for writing.”

“I couldn’t listen to it when I was actually writing because the lyrics distracted me from my own words, but, boy, did I appreciate this song.”

When she worked as Scottish Book Trust Reader In Residence for East Dunbartonshire libraries, Ms Irvine would drive from her home to Lennoxtown or Kirkintilloch and enjoy views of the Campsie Fells getting bigger and more glorious the closer she got to them.

“They looked exquisite, all yellow and sun-struck,” she said. “They are what inspired me to set Cat Step in Lennoxtown, so how could I not listen to Yellow, by Coldplay?”

She also wanted a song the fitness fanatics on the cruise ships in the book would exercise to.

“Liz watches them through the door of the gym and falls in love with Robbie who is running.

“I picked My Backwards Walk, by Frightened Rabbit, as the repetitive guitar represents those pounding, determined feet,” she said.

“Scott Hutchison’s impassioned vocals just grabbed me and didn’t let go while the sense of desperation in the song chimed with my character’s situation. I played this one over and over.”

The Kinks’ hit Waterloo Sunset is another song that inspired Ms Irvine. “I love the story of Terry and Julie meeting at Waterloo Station every Friday night,” she said. “My heroine is a London girl who falls in love with a Scottish guy – I’d often put on this song and crank it up after I’d written something that pleased me, and I would celebrate by cracking open a can of beer and putting the kids’ tea on.”

Ms Irvine, who created the playlist as part of a special blog post for the Glasgow Walking Tours website, said it had been fun and “much easier” than novel writing.

“It was a lovely distraction from writing my next book and simpler than compiling a playlist for my book on the Barrowland Ballroom,” she added. “That song list would have been enormous.”