1. How did you get started writing
Well, I suppose writing fiction was something I had always wanted to try, so my first attempts were really writing ‘scenes.’ After that I started stitching scenes together, and gradually a plot emerged. Finally I built up enough courage to show someone, had some useful feedback and it went from there – but it was a long process of learning.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel
Finding a body in an abandoned house immediately raises lots of questions – who? why? when? how? and provides a great way to explore different back stories and motivations. The body also served as the link between the two interwoven stories which make up Bhalla Strand. It was the idea of an unknown crime, and a body successfully hidden for decades which really kick-started me into thinking seriously about plot, and then the characters began to emerge. Useful things, bodies!
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing
I love the writings of A.S. Byant while The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney and Bella Pollen’s The Summer of the Bear have been recent favourites. They are very different styles but in all cases I like the layering of stories, and how they pick up the threads of the past. And then, as the plots develop, seeing the characters begin to understand, and then deal with, events that have shaped their lives. I grew up reading, and loving, Daphne du Maurier’s books, and I still re-read them.
5. Did any real Island in the Outer Hebrides become your inspiration for your island in your Novel
The house and the island are fictitious places. I drew inspiration from a number of places in the Western isles, and then rearranged the local geography to fit the plot. The challenge then was trying to put something together that was convincing.
6. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one.
I have to say it’s the artist Theo Blake, although he is the darkest. He’s also the most complex and he dominates everything. The characters in both the past and present stories are all seeking to understand him and what caused his descent from a passionate and famous young artist to a haunted man on the edge of madness. I tried to draw him very much as a product of his period and his class, with all the prejudices and attitudes of his times, and to show how these shaped his personality – and his destiny. So he’s a bit of dark force but I hope he’s not entirely unsympathetic. I also tried to make the modern characters in some ways echoes of their predecessors, with similar flaws and passions, translated into a modern context, so that they too become threads of the past continuing into the present.
7. Why did you choose to set your novel in the Outer Hebrides
It really chose itself! The natural landscape became an important part of the plot. For years I’ve spent at least part of the year in the Hebrides and somehow the plot just emerged while I was up there. The islands have such rich seams of legend, personal struggle and class conflict to draw upon. I think it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and this made it irresistible – open skies and wide horizons. And all those wonderful seabirds.
8. Would you prefer to see Bhalla Strand as a stand a lone novel or as part of a series.
It’s a one-off plot so has to be a stand alone.
9. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novel.
Doing the research was fascinating. I had to try and understand the period in general, what it was like on the Islands in the years leading up to the First World War, as well as getting to grips with current tensions for the modern part of the plot. In some ways there are parallels to be drawn between Edwardian issues and those of the 21st century, just as there are parallels between the characters in the two timeframes. So there was a lot of reading to be done, as well as a lot of just sitting in the sand dunes watching the sea and the birds, and letting the plot develop.
10. Are the characters in your book based on any real life
No. But having said this I tried to draw the characters as being very much of their period and place in society. Victorian industrialists like Theo Blake’s father liked to spend their fortunes on lavish houses to show that they had made good, while their offspring could then afford to indulge themselves, as Theo did. The women of that class, on the other hand, had little sense of purpose and Beatrice ‘wanted more’. And all that was in the pre First World War context of a rising tide of resentment from those who had nothing – so the scene was absolutely set for trouble. In the modern story the conflict is between progress, development, need for jobs on the one hand and environmental and conservation concerns on the other, so the modern characters personify these different forces.
11. Since you have started writing have any well known authors given you any advice
Other writers and friends have been generous with their time reading early drafts and helping me learn; there is nothing like a fresh set of eyes on a manuscript and some good constructive criticism to sharpen things up. The seminars offered by the Writer’s Workshop were very useful in understanding and developing technique. The best, and most consistent advice I have had is to write every day, even if only a little, and to stick at it. It’s a long, but very rewarding process.
12. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa
Not intentionally, but perhaps inevitably. After all, like it or not, we see the world through our own eyes however much we try to see it through our characters’, so a bit of our individual perspectives get embedded into all the characters.
13. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.
The one I’m writing now opens with a murder (first line!) on a sporting estate in the Tweed valley in the last decades of the 19th century. From almost the start the reader knows the killer and the killed but not why the murder was committed, and the plot becomes entangled in a web of lies which stretches from Scotland to Chicago, and then to northern Canada where matters are played out and resolved. It’s all about vengeance and settling scores, and again landscape plays an important role.
14. You are being already compared to some of the well known female crime writers, how does that make you feel.
When one reviewer wrote that there were echoes of Rebecca in Bhalla Strand I was bowled over and incredibly flattered. Comments like that are very encouraging when embarking on a nerve-wracking second novel.
15. As an up and coming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share.
Really, I can only pass on the advice that I was given. Read books you like twice – once for the story and then again to see how they do it. Listen to criticism, it’s probably justified, but remember it’s your story. As for the writing, stick with it and don’t give up. If it starts to go off track, leave that bit for a day or two and go back to it fresh. And above all, enjoy writing!
A beautiful debut novel set in the Outer Hebrides, Bhalla Strand combines archaeology and dark mystery. In the present day, Harriet Deveraux returns to the family home of Bhalla House on a remote Hebridean island estate following the untimely death of her parents. Torn between selling the house and turning it into a hotel, Harriet undertakes urgent repairs, accidently uncovering human remains. Who has been lying beneath the floorboards for a century? Were they murdered? Through diaries and letters she finds, Harriet discovers that the house was occupied at the turn of the century by distant relative Beatrice Blake, a young aristocratic woman recently married to renowned naturalist and painter, Theodore Blake. With socialist and proto-environmentalist leanings Beatrice is soon in conflict with her autocratic new husband, who is distant, more interested in Cameron, a mysterious young man from the island. As Beatrice is also drawn to Cameron, a single kiss sets off a chain of events that will change all their lives, leaving Harriet to assemble the jigsaw of clues piece by piece one hundred years later, as she obsessively chases the truth.
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