THE voice of BBC Scotland’s regular radio travel bulletins has turned to a life of crime, but she’s hoping to hit the headlines for all the right reasons.

We’re sitting in a quiet corner of Pacific Quay as Theresa Talbot takes a break from the airwaves to tell me about her recently published first novel Penance.

What started as research for a radio feature caught the presenter’s imagination and before she knew it she was writing a book.

Set in 2000 with flashbacks to 1958, the story picks up from a photograph Theresa came across in a newspaper story about a three-day riot staged by girls at the Magdalene Institution in Maryhill, Glasgow.

“They didn’t always evoke public sympathy – although they hadn’t committed any crime as such,” explains Theresa, who lives in the south side of Glasgow.

“There were pictures of the girls running down the road or loitering about outside the Magdalene Institution. I thought, ‘What did they do? Why after it had been standing for 100 odd years? What happened that day to spark something?’

“I once worked as a care assistant in a children’s home, I know how easy it is for people to be institutionalised and how much care they would need to fend for themselves because they weren’t used to ordinary family life.

“I thought, ‘Where did these girls go? What happened to them after that?’

“So many of them had such a stigma of being associated with the institution. Did they get sucked into a life of prostitution? Did they get married and have families? What opportunities were open to them?

“So I wrote the story of the girls.”

Based on real events with Theresa’s take on what happened after the riot, Penance follows journalist Oonagh O’Neil who uncovers the same photograph.

“In Ireland in the 1990s the church sold land, the site of an old convent, for flats to be built on. When the bulldozers moved in they found the bodies of 127 women,” says Theresa.

“These were people with no family to visit them, they lived and died in the convent, it was awful.

“There’s a part in the book when Oonagh is asking people, ‘Why didn’t you tell someone?’ and they said, ‘Who would I tell?’

“Because these women weren’t there under the judicial system, they didn’t really have any right of appeals.”

Theresa carried out intensive research, from reading transcripts of interviews with women who had been incarcerated to medical reports.

“One part of the research of the Lock hospital in Glasgow mentioned a doctor who said a seven-year-old girl had given herself syphilis. She was clearly born with syphilis or had been abused. This was only 1929. Is that how they still thought?” asks Theresa.

“The more I read into it, I could have written 100 books with all this information.”

Advice from Glasgow-based author of the Garnethill trilogy Denise Mina really focused Theresa’s mind: do your research, know what you’re talking about and tell your story.

“I had started timing myself driving places. Because it’s set in Glasgow I was thinking, ‘How long would that take in traffic? How long would that take to walk?’,” says Theresa.

“I thought I was going bonkers. I started getting really bogged down and realised I just had to tell the story. I really put my heart and soul into the research.”

The economic history graduate from the University of Glasgow who worked as everything from a medical rep to a Pepsi Challenge girl has been the voice of BBC Scotland’s travel updates for the past 12 years after starting on Radio Clyde.

Attending writing classes over the years helped hone the presenter’s skills and she reveals that she had actually written Penance a number of years ago but didn’t have the confidence to get it published. Despite the fact she wrote a humorous memoir last year, This is What I Look Like, profiling what goes on behind the scenes in the world of radio.

Now she has finally found her place in the crime fiction world, Theresa is already working on a follow-up that takes Oonagh back into another investigation of female incarceration.

“I like having a strong female character within the book who isn’t a figure like a policewoman, for example,” says Theresa.

“She’s quite flawed, there’s no point making her one of these heroes who saves the day. She makes mistakes but she means well. She does things that are maybe a bit wrong but I think everyone is flawed.”

Theresa says she has always been a fan of real-life crime, stories that stop you in your tracks really make you think.

In the acknowledgement of Penance, Theresa says the book is for every one of those women. By telling their story they will never be forgotten.

She adds: “I was very conscious that there are probably women still alive who were in the Magdalene institutes and I didn’t want to make it salacious or write anything that exploited their pain.”

Penance by Theresa Talbot is published in paperback by Strident, priced £7.99.