Today I’m delighted to welcome Alison Baillie to my blog. Alison was brought up in Yorkshire by Scottish parents. She studied English at St Andrews, before teaching English in Edinburgh, Finland and Switzerland. Now she spends her time reading, writing, travelling and attending crime writing festivals. I met Alison recently at a book launch and we discovered we knew quite a few people in common and that her great-aunt used to live just around the corner from me. Sewing the Shadows Together is her debut novel. Alison has agreed to share a guest post on the locations she has chosen for her book.
A few thoughts first from me: I was, of course, attracted to this book given the prominence of Portobello in the story. Alison used to work in Portobello and still has relatives and friends here so is very familiar with the area. I really enjoyed knowing exactly where her characters were and being able to place them precisely. Alison says at the back of the book that she has played a bit free and easy with the geography of the area and she has changed some names such as the High School. This actually added to my enjoyment as I played detective, working out what places had been changed.
Aside from enjoying the location, I found this a really enthralling read! When new DNA techniques prove that the man locked up forty years ago for the murder of Shona, Tom’s sister, could not have committed the crime, the police re-open the case. Co-incidentally, Tom is in Scotland to scatter his mother’s ashes in her native Outer Hebrides, the family having moved to South Africa following the tragedy. With a supposed confession and circumstantial evidence convicting Logan all those years ago, other suspects weren’t investigated very thoroughly. As you read, you start to suspect many of the people in Tom’s life but are never quite certain who the murderer might be. Alison has built up her characters in a way that makes it seem plausible that quite a few of them could have committed the crime. Sarah is the other main character in the book. She was Shona’s best friend and haunted by her death. As more evidence comes to light, it is clear that all is not well in her apparently perfect life. There are many secrets being kept within her family that she is unaware of but which are revealed in a serious of twists throughout the book. I liked the dreams and flashbacks at the beginning of each section which linked the past to the present.
This was an excellent read, with the tension building up nicely, with well developed characters and a excellent sense of place. All the loose ends are drawn together adeptly at the end in a convincing and satisfying conclusion. A promising new voice in Scottish crime writing and I hope to read more from Alison before too long.
Sewing the Shadows Together starts off with Tom coming back to Portobello after many years in South Africa and describes what he sees and feels as he walks along the prom. This is based on my own experience because, although I live in Switzerland now, my heart is still in Edinburgh, and especially Portobello. I never come to Scotland without having a walk along the prom in Portobello.
My mother was born in Portobello and was brought up in St Mary’s Place. When I was young we spent all our holidays there and I loved running down James Street and onto the beach. As in all childhood memories the sun was always shining and we even used to swim in the sea. My sister and I learnt to swim in Portobello Baths – which was sea-water in those days – and our granny always gave us two ginger biscuits wrapped in tissue paper as our ‘shivery-bite’ for after we came out of the water. Occasionally we would go right along the prom to the open-air pool where they had a wave machine, a total novelty in those days.
My grandparents had both been brought up in Portobello and we seemed to have relatives in every street. I loved walking through the village (it was separate from Edinburgh in those days) with my grandparents, as every corner held memories for them: where they had lived when they were young, the big house towards Joppa where the first car in Portobello caused a sensation, the Italian ice-cream parlours, where my grandfather knew everyone through his work for the Craigmillar Creamery. Portobello has always been a very special place for me because of these childhood memories.
After university I did a teacher training course at Moray House and was thrilled when I was offered a job as an English teacher at Portobello High. At that time it had over 2000 pupils and was said to be the largest school in Europe. The first year classes, all sixteen of them, were in the old school which was used as an annexe and it is this building I describe in Sewing the Shadows Together, although I have moved it down to the prom. My grandmother and mother had both gone to school there too.
When I started to write Sewing the Shadows Together I used many of these memories of Portobello, especially from the seventies when I was teaching there. Tom, Sarah and Shona could have been my students. I have changed several of the names and have moved places around deliberately, partly to emphasise that this is a work of fiction, and that the incidents and people are not based on real ones, and also to fit in with the plot.
My grandmother’s beautiful house becomes HJ Kidd’s house, but in the book it is on the prom, by a greatly enlarged Abercorn Park. I have so many memories of this house, from my childhood but also from when my sons were young. We lived in Leith at that time, but we came down to Portobello every weekend to visit my granny and run on the beach, whatever the weather. As I wrote the description of this house in the book I was transported back in time; I could smell the old roses in the garden, the polish in the hall and see the high rooms and the wide stairs.
When I see Joanne’s blog, with its lovely picture of Portobello beach, I feel homesick for Portobello and as I’m writing this I’m taken back to the prom; I can smell the sea and hear the seagulls. Portobello is a very important character in my book and in my life. Thank you Joanne for being part of my book launch and for inviting me to write this piece.
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. 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?