Today it is my great pleasure to welcome the very talented Alison Baillie, author of Sewing The Shadows Together, to damppebbles. Alison has written a wonderful post explaining the inspiration behind the people and places in her debut novel. If you haven’t come across Sewing The Shadows Together before, here is the blurb:
“Can you ever get over the death of your sister? Or of your best friend?
More than 30 years after 13-year-old Shona McIver was raped and murdered in Portobello, the seaside suburb of Edinburgh, the crime still casts a shadow over the lives of her brother Tom and her best friend Sarah.
“Shona had been gone for so long but the memories still came unexpectedly, sometimes like a video from the past, sometimes distorted dreams, but she was always there.”
When modern DNA evidence shows that the wrong man was convicted of the crime, the case is reopened. So who did kill Shona? Sarah and Tom are caught up in the search for Shona’s murderer, and suspicions fall on family and friends. The foundations of Sarah’s perfect family life begin to crumble as she realises that nothing is as it appears. Dark secrets from the past are uncovered, and there is another death, before the identity of the real killer is finally revealed…
Set in Edinburgh, the Outer Hebrides and South Africa, Sewing the Shadows Together is a thoroughly modern murder mystery that keeps the reader guessing to the end. Filled with characters who could easily be friends, family or people we work with, it asks the question:
Do we ever really know the people closest to us?”
Alison has kindly offered me a review copy of Sewing The Shadows Together so look out for a review on damppebbles soon (ish!).
Sewing the Shadows Together by Alison Baillie
Like many debut novelists people are always asking me if the story is based on my life, or if the characters are based on real people. It is totally fictional, but places and people have inspired the book and incidents from my life have been woven into it.
The story is told through the eyes of Tom and Sarah, the brother and best friend of a teenage girl who was murdered in Portobello, the seaside suburb of Edinburgh, in the seventies. They meet up again after many years, at a school reunion, and feel an instant connection because of their shared experience.
They have both been scarred by what happened. Tom and his family emigrated to South Africa after the tragedy, where Tom has drifted, never having a proper job or a real relationship. Sarah keeps up the pretence of a lovely family life in her beautiful Edinburgh New Town flat, typified by Sunday lunches with her TV chat show host husband, her grown-up twins and her widowed mother. However, cracks soon appear beneath the facade of her perfect life.
When the local misfit who had been convicted of the crime is proved to be innocent, Tom and Sarah are caught up n the search for the real killer and dark family secrets are revealed as suspicions fall on family and friends before the truth finally comes to light.
The idea for Sewing the Shadows Together first came to me when I was teaching at Portobello High School nearly forty years ago. There were several high-profile murders in Scotland at that time and I couldn’t stop thinking about the effect this must have on the family and friends of the victims. The seeds of the novel were planted then, but it took many years before I actually wrote it and many things that happened in-between influenced the plot.
The main settings of the book are based on places I know well. Portobello is a
very important place to me, my mother came from there and we always spent family holidays there when I was young. In the book I try to capture the special atmosphere of this Victorian resort with its promenade beside the long beach with the distant coast of Fife shimmering in the haze beyond the Firth of Forth.
I lived in Edinburgh for many years and I enjoyed writing about the Georgian buildings, the cobbled streets, the silhouette of the castle against the northern sky, and also the bars that I love there.
Part of the book is also set in the Outer Hebrides, where Tom goes to scatter his mother’s ashes (the reason he came back to Scotland) and this section was based on a poignant holiday I spent there with a dear friend of mine, when we scattered her husband’s ashes on a deserted beach at sunset. I’ve tried to capture the wild isolated atmosphere of these islands, which made a great impression on me.
When I started writing the book, Tom and his family went to Australia, a country I’ve only visited once. But I’ve spent several holidays in Plettenberg Bay, a beautiful seaside resort on the cape coast of South Africa and realised this would be a much better place for them to go. I wrote quite a lot of the book there, inspired by walks along the wonderful beach, watching the dolphins leap in the crashing waves.
People ask if Sarah is me, and I suppose she does reflect part of my personality (although I’ve never had to suffer as she did) but there are also parts of me in Tom, and Rory, Sarah’s husband, is partly based on my ex-husband. As the book is about ordinary people in extraordinary situations I always tried to imagine how I would react if I were in their position, although fortunately I haven’t had to suffer as they do.
Other incidents also found their place in the story. I went to a school reunion, and thought then that this would be a good starting point for the book, where back-stories could be introduced in a natural way. At this school reunion I also met my favourite old English teacher, who shares some characteristics with HJ Kidd, the teacher in the story, but only the nice aspects!
I vividly remember sitting in the classroom with this teacher as a thirteen-year-old when we read the poem Bat, by DH Lawrence. This poem is set in Florence at the Ponte Vecchio, where the poem was watching the swallows flying. Suddenly he realises that the flying creatures are not swallows but bats. This poem made a big impression on me, and I include this scene in the book as it reflects the theme of appearance and reality. The title Sewing the Shadows Together also comes from this poem.
All works of fiction are bound to reflect aspects of the writer’s life, and mine does too. Many readers have written to me saying how they could identify with certain scenes and characters. I’m always thrilled by this and am glad it also reflects the experiences of readers, as a wife, husband, brother, mother, child or friend. I also love it when readers say they could feel themselves in the scenes with my characters and experience the setting. Lots of people who have never been to Scotland have said it made them want to jump on the next plane!
My next book is partly set in Scotland, where my heart will always be, but there is also sections set in Switzerland where I now live. I hope that readers will also be able to identify with these settings.
Thank you, Emma, for having me as a guest on your lovely damppebbles blog. You can read more about me on my website, www.alisonbaillie.com on Facebook at Alison Baillie Author https://www.facebook.com/alisonbaillieauthor/ and occasionally on Twitter at alisonbailliex.
A pleasure Alison, thank you for your fantastic post. Please feel free to stop by damppebbles again soon.
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.