On the 5th day of Book Week Scotland I am delighted to bring to the blog the lovely Alison Baillie author of “Sewing the Shadows Together”. I can promise you she is one of the most delightful women you will meet, she has such a passion for her work and is so supportive of the blogging community; meeting Alison is like having a great big hug!
Alison is going to talk to us about the significance of location in books and in particular Edinburgh, Portabello and The Outer Hebrides, where Sewing the Shadows is based. But first of all here’s a little bit about Alison:
ALISON BAILLIE was brought up in Ilkley, Yorkshire by Scottish parents. She studied English at the University of St Andrews, before teaching English in Edinburgh secondary schools and EFL in Finland and Switzerland. Now she spends her time reading, writing, travelling, playing with her granddaughter and attending crime writing festivals.
A sense of place in Scottish Crime Fiction
As a reader one of the things I love about Scottish crime fiction is its sense of place. The setting, whether urban or rural, is usually intrinsic to the plot of the book and reflects the action. I can’t think of any Scottish crime novel that could be transferred to London or the States without losing an essential element of its appeal.
When I started to write my book Sewing the Shadows Together, the setting was also very important. Much of it is set in Edinburgh, especially Portobello, its Victorian seaside suburb – places which are very special to me.
My mother came from Portobello and when I was a child I spent my holidays at my grandparents’ house, which was very close to the promenade which runs along the long wide sands. I loved to play on the beach and learnt to swim in the red-stone baths on the prom. I’ve always loved the sea and I feel more alive when I can smell the salt air and look at the wide horizon and the open expanse of sky.
After studying English at St Andrews and teacher training in Edinburgh, I was thrilled when my first teaching post was at Portobello High School. Although I lived up in Edinburgh, I felt a great affinity with the place and after my sons were born I still visited every week to see my grandmother and to walk in the wind along the water’s edge, whatever the weather, with my boys in their wellies.
Then something happened that has scarred the name of Portobello to this day. In July 1983 a five-year-old girl disappeared while playing on the prom. Her body wasn’t found until twelve days later, three hundred miles away. She was one of the victims of the serial killer, Robert Black.
In the days before she was found the atmosphere in Portobello was charged with fear and bewilderment. I felt it particularly as my sons were about the same age and the whole community was under a shadow. Even my granny’s garden and shed were searched by the police, as everybody desperately hoped the little girl would be found.
I could identify so much with the family, and wondered how they and friends could ever come to terms with what had happened. And so the seeds of my novel were sown. In it Tom, the brother, and Sarah, the best friend, of a murdered teenager continue to be affected by the tragedy, even more than thirty years afterwards.
I didn’t actually write the book for a long time, as I was busy bringing up my family, working full-time and moving to another country. Living in Switzerland and feeling homesick for Scotland I loved reading crime books set there. I especially liked to walk the streets and drink in the bars with Ian Rankin, as I’d lived in Edinburgh for more than twenty years, or explore the dark side of Aberdeen, my father’s hometown, with Stuart MacBride.
As my book was slowly taking shape in the back of my mind, different events in my life influenced what I eventually wrote. One thing was a very moving journey I made to the Outer Hebrides, where the ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered. The simple ceremony on Bonnie Prince Charlie beach, with the family gathering silently, silhouetted against the setting sun, is a picture which will always remain etched in my memory.
Without my really being aware of it, this incident became part of my book, as Tom goes to Eriskay to scatter his mother’s ashes on the island where she was born. The wild beauty of the Western Isles, with its long beaches, biting winds and empty landscape, combined with the stoical charm of the people I met there, made a huge impression on me. The atmosphere there helped me to form the character of Tom, and I feel this section of the book, where he discovers dark secrets about his family’s past, is one where the setting perfectly reflects the action.
Whenever I go back to Scotland I walk along Portobello prom, as Tom does at the beginning of Sewing the Shadows Together, and even as I write this, sitting in Switzerland, I yearn to go back to there or to one of the Scottish islands. My heart will always be in Scotland, but when I’m here in Switzerland I walk the streets and the shores of the country I love through my writing and reading.
A brilliant article by Alison on the importance of place – which is a huge factor for me in my enjoyment of books. I love to feel as though I have been picked up and placed in the location of the book I am reading – and Sewing the Shadows certainly done that for me!
To read my review of Sewing the Shadows Together you can click below:
To purchase Sewing the Shadows Together you can head over to Amazon – click on the link to take you there!