WE think we have equality – or at least, much of the language in mainstream culture assumes that we (more or less) do. As a historical writer I’d say that we have more rights than any other generation of women. But we live our lives to a background male beat – the patriarchy is still with us despite the tide of feminism rising from the 1960s on.

In this, the way we memorialise our history is key. As George Orwell noted in 1984: "He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past." He.

In 2016 writer and activist Rebecca Solnit published a map in the New Yorker which renamed the stops on the New York subway after women, and at a stroke highlighted the gendering of our built heritage. When I saw it I wondered why I had never noticed all the stops were named after men.

Our sense of self and where we come from is not confined to history books.

If women don’t see themselves represented in the world around them, the unspoken message is that our achievements don’t matter. This raises an interesting issue. All the men around me live in a world where images of them are raised on plinths and streets are named in their honour. I can’t help but imagine the entitlement I’d feel if that was my gender.

I discussed Solnit’s article with James Crawford, the publisher at Historic Environment Scotland. I had contacted him about my bugbear – the lack of memorialisation of women – and asked if he would be interested in commissioning something about women’s history in Scotland.

Over coffee we talked about creating a travel guide to an imagined Scotland that reflected what Solnit had done – but bigger: a map of the whole country.

The result of that conversation is Where Are The Women?, in which the cave on Staffa is named after Malvina rather than Fingal, and Arthur’s Seat belongs to St Triduana.

Where you arrive into Dundee at Slessor Station and the Victorian monument on Stirling’s Abbey Hill interprets national identity through the women who ran hospitals during the First World War.

Each imagined street, building, statue and monument is dedicated to a real woman and tells her (often uncelebrated) story.

I was so excited when I came home after the meeting, I started straight away. This was a huge project, and more than that ... it was an honour. It wasn’t only about the research to uncover the stories of our amazing Scottish foremothers, it was also about the creative imperative of imagining monuments that would do justice to their memories.

I wanted to make a female mirror – one that (like the real world) commemorated a wide selection of people. Around me, I began to notice benches and plaques dedicated to men – and not only the big hitters who had huge, bronze statues.

The lack of female documents and artifacts in mainstream history is acute. In 2016, historian Bettany Hughes estimated that female material makes up a mere 0.5% of historical records.

The same year, in a survey by English Heritage, 40% of respondents thought women did not impact history as much as men.

The outcome of these two facts in tandem is that women’s achievements are constantly downplayed and men’s are publicly more valued, hence equality remains an uphill struggle.

It’s a vicious circle demonstrating that while women make up more than 50% of the population, we are still a marginalised group. If proof were needed of how controversial this subject remains, the outcry in 2017 about Jane Austen’s appearance on the Bank of England £10 note is a good example.

The argument against this was that Austen wrote about “domestic” subjects unworthy of commemoration. In other words, women’s issues and indeed lives aren’t as worthwhile as male ones.

I read several traditional guidebooks and was outraged to find the same male stories again and again but hardly any of the female ones, even though it quickly became clear that there were, to use non-academic parlance, countless real crackers. We do not memorialise women. We have been terrible at it.

I decided to cram the book with stories, capturing a real sense of how limited our mainstream history is.

While I had the option of writing more about fewer women and cherry-picking 30 or 40, I wanted to take on the scale of our collective forgetting – the literally thousands of women in Scotland who discovered, invented, adventured, profited, suffered, created, thought, lead, healed and battled. Every time a reader dipped into the book, I wanted them to find something new.

I began counting. In 2017 there were only three statues to named women in central Edinburgh (fewer than the amount that commemorate animals).

There are a mere five statues to women in the whole of Glasgow. There were also in both cities female figures that represented abstract notions – Justice or Peace. There was a plaque or two. Some benches. But mostly the women were missing.

SHOCKING also was that where women were memorialised their memories were treated poorly. I almost cried after finding a plaque on a monument to Lady Margaret Crawford in the kirkyard of Dunfermline Abbey, where she is nameless, commemorated only as “William Wallace’s mother”.

Many people have asked: “So you think there are enough women to write about?”

The answer is yes. For this book I chose more than a thousand successful, pioneering women whose stories have, for the most part, been set aside. In central Glasgow I memorialised more than 170 – far more than the seven statues now in existence. Our grandmothers and great grandmothers were amazing and we have forgotten them.

One of the exciting things was discovering how hard generations of women fought for their principles – from the Jacobite era to the Highland Clearances – for the right to education, for fair pay and conditions, for the vote and beyond. Sisterhood is key to the feminist movement and as well as the thousand individual women I wrote about, I also imagined monuments to honour victims of oppression and activists who banded together.

Writing this book both inspired and radicalised me. I look forward to the day when feminism is no longer relevant but I fear we are nowhere near it. For this reason, I placed monuments to our sisters, mothers, wives and friends in places where statues already exist to men.

Where else was I to put them? If this is shocking then I am glad – welcome to the world of the “other gender” – this is how women feel all the time and they, mostly, internalise it.

If a proliferation of imagined monuments to women sets you on edge, why doesn’t the real-life proliferation of monuments to men? That is not to forget men’s contributions – it is simply to provide a provocation and hopefully return to the existing state of affairs with questions. This is something memorials are supposed to do. Ultimately, this book is a challenge laid down to men and women together. If the imbalanced situation we live with is to be remedied we need to act as allies. While this book won’t change the world, I hope it confronts how we remember where we have come from.

As a novelist, every book I’ve written has been a hymn to the women whose stories I have found in the archives, be it only one short letter. I feel compelled to engage with that material (and Bettany Hughes is right – it’s gold dust). We truly have only told half of our story and, logically, the next question is, what are we going to do about that? Last week Nicola Sturgeon urged us to dream a better country. This is one place that we can start.