I am SO grateful that Alison Baillie took the time to answer my interview questions. I’m sure you’ll be just as interested in what she has to say as I was.
F. Congratulations on the publication of “Sewing the shadows together”. What do you think is the single most influential factor in your success as a debut novelist?
AB. Any success that “Sewing the Shadows Together” has enjoyed is totally thanks to bloggers, reviewers and internet book clubs. If it weren’t for the fantastic support of this community, nobody except for my family and friends would ever have heard of my book. I’m so grateful to them.
F. What inspired “Sewing the shadows together”? How long did the writing process take?
AB. My first teaching post was at Portobello High School, in the seaside suburb of Edinburgh. Portobello was also where my mother was born and brought up so I spent all my childhood holidays there. Then in July 1983 something happened in Portobello that affected me and the whole community deeply. A five-year-old girl disappeared while playing near the beach. Her body wasn’t found until twelve days later, three hundred miles away. She was one of the victims of a serial killer, Robert Black.
Even though I didn’t know the family personally, I could identify with them so much as my sons were about the same age and we often played on the beach near the place where she disappeared. In the days before she was found the atmosphere in Portobello was charged with fear and bewilderment. The whole town was on edge, desperately hoping the little girl would be found. Rumours and suspicions ran through the community, and even my granny’s garden and shed were searched by the police, I will never forget that mixture of hope and apprehension before the body was discovered.
I wondered then how her family and friends would ever be able to come to terms with what had happened. And so the seeds of Sewing the Shadows Together were sown. The story remained in my mind for over thirty years before I eventually had the time and freedom to be able to actually write it. I’m quite a slow writer, and am always going back over what I’ve already written, so once I started writing it still took me about three years.
F. How long did it take for you to find a publisher for your novel? Was it ever rejected before finally being published?
AB. Because I didn’t know anything about publishing at that time I submitted the book to a few agents and when I didn’t have any success I was completely disheartened (now I know that I gave up far too quickly). However, I wanted to see my book in print so I went the way of assisted self-publishing through a company called Matador.
F. Did you have family and/or friends proof-read your novel, or did you depend on your publisher’s editorial staff?
AB. My first readers were family and friends and they gave me very good feedback. However, I also had my book professionally edited, which I think is essential for any self-published author.
F. What part of your new career as a novelist do you dislike the most?
AB. I like everything about it! I love the writing, the editing and the contact with my readers. Fortunately I’m not totally dependent on my earnings as a writer. If I were, I think I’d feel compelled to do more marketing and promotion, which I don’t think I’d like so much.
F. You were born in England, now live in Switzerland, yet you consider yourself Scottish. Do you think you will likely ever live in Scotland again?
AB. I would love to! My heart has always been and always will be in Scotland and I go back there as often as I can. I still have a lot of friends and relatives there and I love the scenery – and especially the sea. The only thing that keeps me in Switzerland is my adorable four-year-old granddaughter with whom I spend most weekends.
F. I can completely understand this. I could never live far from the sea. I live in Nova Scotia (New Scotland). Nowhere in Nova Scotia is more than 67 km from the Atlantic Ocean.
F. In your novel, Sarah had a difficult relationship with her mother who was a social snob and dominated every conversation. Did you purposely make Sarah’s mother unlikable?
AB. I had three maiden great aunts and Flora is a combination of them. Many of my readers have said that they know people just like her – I think she is typical of a certain kind of Scottish woman of her generation. She is supposed to be awful, but also instantly recognizable.
F. Was the relationship between Sarah and Tom partly a result of the fact that Sarah had little to no emotional support from anyone else? Do you suppose their relationship will be successful? (Yes, I know I’m talking about them as if they are ‘real’ people – don’t judge me!)
AB. I love the fact that you think they’re real – I do too. I used to dream about them when I was writing the book and would often say things to myself like ‘Sarah wouldn’t do that.’ I agree with you that Sarah didn’t have emotional support from anybody, and was never really close to anybody after she lost Shona, her best friend. Tom was also a loner, similarly emotionally deprived, and when they met again they found the love they had missed. I hope and believe that they will enjoy the rest of their lives together.
F. I was delighted that you included a cat in your novel. Is there a cat in your life now? Do you consider yourself to be a ‘cat person’?
AB. I live alone and travel a lot so I don’t have any pets, but I love cats and dogs. Sultan, the cat, was not in the very first draft, but I wanted Sarah to have somebody that she could stroke and feel close to.
F. Reviews, both good and bad, are part of the writing experience. How important do you think they are to the success of a book? Do you think blogger’s reviews are honest and fair for the most part?
AB. I think reviews are really important and the contribution from bloggers has been invaluable to me. I think most bloggers are honest, although I believe they do concentrate on what they think are the positive aspects of a book. Sometimes you can tell what they really think by what they don’t say.
F. Love this answer!
F. Writers are also avid readers. What type of book do you like to read for pleasure?
AB. I read a lot, mainly psychological thrillers set in Scotland. There are a lot of brilliant Scottish authors writing at the moment.
F. Truer words were never spoken!
F. If you could sit and enjoy a chat and a glass of wine with another crime novelist – who would it be?
AB. Definitely Ian Rankin. I have loved his books for years and have also seen him on panels at crime writing festivals. He seems such a lovely genuine person I would love to have a chat over a glass of wine with him and discuss books and life.
F. Are you working on another novel? If so, is it a stand-alone novel? Tell us a little about it.
AB. I’ve just finished my second book which is called “Echoes of Other Lives”. It is another standalone and this is the blurb:
A missing girl, disturbing notes, the feeling of being watched, Olivia’s idyllic life with her family in a Swiss Alpine village is beginning to crumble. Does somebody know her secret – the reason she left Scotland?
And what is her connection with Marie, a lonely, book-loving girl in Scarborough and Lucy, a student at St Andrews University? As people from her past return, Olivia has to face up what she has done.
F. Sounds great! Hope I get the opportunity to read it!
F. I am a huge fan of cover art and have been working on a blog series called “Cover Love”. How much input did you have in choosing the cover for your novel?
AB. I didn’t have very much influence on my cover, and I must admit that at first I didn’t really like it. I’d wanted a bit more colour in it. Now, I appreciate it a bit more and several people have said they really like it. As I’m self-published, the cover is the same all over the world.
F. Has your novel been equally well received in both North America and Europe?
AB. It has mainly sold in Europe, and the North American readership has mostly come from a Bookbub promotion I did. That’s one reason that I was so thrilled to read your lovely review and hope that more North American readers will find my book because of this.
F. Are there some books that you find yourself recommending to all your friends? Tell us two titles that you recommend. One thriller and one other.
AB. A book I’ve read recently and really enjoyed is “Valentina” by S.E.Lynes. It has an intriguing plot, brilliant characterization and I love the Aberdeen setting. An old book that I often reread is “Diary of a Mad Housewife” by Sue Kaufman. It is a haunting description of a woman suffocated in a marriage with an overbearing husband.
F. I’ve never read “Diary of a Mad Housewife”, but I DID read and review “Valentina” which I enjoyed very much.
F. What current novelist do you feel is underrated or deserves to be more well known?
F. Wow! That’s a glowing endorsement. I guess I’ll have to add her to my TBR!
F. I’ve recently retired from a library career and have known for some time that mysteries/crime thrillers are some of the most widely read genres of fiction. Why do you think crime fiction is so popular?
AB. I’m not sure, but I think most people like the puzzle element, trying to spot the clues and work out what has happened. Also crime thrillers tend to show ordinary people in extraordinary situations, where readers can share the danger, but remain safely reading at home. Another factor in most, but not all. mysteries is the importance of the setting where a light is shone on certain aspects of contemporary society.
F. What interview question have you never been asked that you wish had been asked? What’s the answer?
AB. Nobody has ever asked me who the most important people in my life are. I’ll answer that now – my wonderful sons Alexander and John and their lovely children (one each) Akira and Magnus.
F. How do you wish to be contacted by ‘fans’? Facebook? Twitter?
AB. I love hearing from fans in any medium, although I feel most comfortable on Facebook.
Thank-you SO much Alison. It was great having you visit my blog, and I look forward to your next novel!
If you have not yet read “Sewing the Shadows Together“, 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?”
“Sewing the Shadows Together” can be purchased from the following online retailers: