The island has always seemed such a safe place, such a friendly community. Now the possibility of a killer on Bancree is dangerously close to home. Nobody moves to the remote Scottish island of Bancree, and few leave – but leaving is exactly what seventeen-year-old Flora intends to do. So when a mysterious man and his daughter move into isolated Dog Cottage, Flo is curious. What could have brought these strangers to the island? The man is seductively handsome but radiates menace; and there’s something about his daughter Ailsa that Flo can’t help but feel drawn towards.
People aren’t only arriving on Bancree – they are disappearing too. Reports of missing islanders fill the press and unnerve the community. When a body washes ashore, suspicion turns to the strange newcomers on Dog Rock.
Convinced of their innocence, Flo is fiercely determined to protect her friend Ailsa. Could the answer to the disappearances, and to the pull of her own heart, lie out there, beyond the waves?
1. How did you get started writing? 3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing? (The author Simon Sylvester has combined Q1 & Q3)
It’s all Hunter S. Thompson’s fault. When I was in my mid-twenties, I was feeling a bit lost. I was working in television as a camera assistant, but the London lifestyle was grinding me down. When I was offered a job on a travel video in Australia, I decided to stay on and wander around for a year. While I was backpacking between hostels, I read pretty much constantly – and one of those books was The Proud Highway, the first collection of letters by Hunter S. Thompson. I already liked Thompson’s work, but The Proud Highway finds him at the same age as I was then, and just as poor, and burning with this righteous outrage about the world. I found his writing addictive. I started keeping a blog about my travels, and copied Thompson’s style pretty much exactly. When I moved back to Britain, that blog was enough to land me a job writing for two magazines, and soon after, I started writing fiction. I wrote short stories, mostly, and then an experimental novel. It wasn’t very good, but it was all part of moving away from writing like Hunter S. Thompson, and towards writing like me. I suspect a lot of writers go through a similar journey of aping and then rejecting their heroes. I have a much healthier relationship with my favourite authors now: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Sarah Waters, Iain Banks, Roberto Bolano.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I just knew that The Visitors was a mystery story, and mysteries need to be solved. Everything around that has been quite organic. I simply had an instinct that it was the right genre.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
I was halfway through the first draft of The Visitors when a friend introduced me to his agent. I sent her a short story and a synopsis of the novel. She asked to see the finished manuscript, which took me another six months. I sent it away, prepared for a rejection, but somehow she loved the book and wanted to take me on. She’s great – quite aside from our 40-minute debates about Game Of Thrones, she knows the publishing business inside-out. She knew which editors at which publishers were looking for what sort of work, and placed The Visitors with Quercus Books in the first round of submissions. I’ve been very lucky to have found such an amazing agaent and such a great publisher.
5. When you first thought about writing The Visitors, what was your inspiration?
I was on holiday in Grogport on the inner coast of Kintyre, looking out across the Kilbrannan Sound to Arran, and the bay in front of us was a mirror. I had an overwhelming sense of all the life boiling below the water, but unseen on the surface, and I started to wonder what that might look like as a story. We saw seals and otters swimming at dawn and dusk, heads above the water for heartbeats and then gone, and the story began to draw together in my head. There were seals everywhere. By the time we left, I’d filled an A4 pad with notes. I started writing almost as soon as we were home.
6. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
I especially like Izzy, the beachcomber. He’s a cheery soul, for the most part, and he’s a great storyteller. The longer I spent with Izzy, the more I came to believe in the power of stories. That in turn has brought me closer to storytelling in my own writing. I know it sounds like that’s back-to-front, but one of the reasons I write is to interpret my world. It’s often through writing about something that I come to understand it.
7. Why did you chose to set your novel on a Fictional Scottish Island? / 8. Is the Island of Bancree based on a real Island in Scotland? (The author Simon Sylvester has combined these questions as well) I knew right away that I wanted to set The Visitors on an island. Kintyre would have been perfect, but it’s a peninsula, and that makes it too easy to access and escape. I fished about for a better place, but couldn’t find anything quite right. Islay was too big, and Gigha was too small. Jura was too desolate. Iona too empty. In the end, I invented my own. I grew up in Inverness, and factored my own experiences in – canoeing on Loch Maree, drinking in Dores, camping in Applecross, bouldering in Torridon. My island, Bancree, is a jigsaw of all those places.
9. What kind of research have you had to undertake for your Novel?
Most of my research was taken up with selkies, which storyteller Izzy brings into the book. I also looked at things like the migration patterns of basking sharks and birds, maps of the Hebrides, ferry timetables, Gaelic words and whiskies. Between completing my first draft and beginning my first redraft, I took a week’s holiday on Islay, and drowned myself in the sights and sounds and smells of the island. When I returned to the manuscript, all those sensations were fresh for the redraft.
10. Are the characters in your book based on any real life?
No more than all people share similar traits. I haven’t based any of the characters on real people, but all people share some universal experiences: love and loneliness, comfort and hate. In knowing real people, and in living my own life, I try to bring those same experiences to my fictional characters. If I ever based a character on a real person, the end result would very, very far removed from the original. I write fiction to get away from real life, not to replicate it.
11. Since you have started writing have any well known authors given you any advice?
I’m good friends with the novelist Ali Shaw (The Girl With Glass Feet, The Man Who Rained), and he’s been incredibly helpful. He doesn’t really give me advice so much as discuss his own experiences. Having gone through a similar journey several years ahead of me, he’s able to share his own highs and lows. I would feel quite isolated to do this entirely alone. Writing thrives on community.
12. Do you see any of your characters’ personality in yourself and vice versa?
Not really. My lead character in The Visitors, Flora, is the kind of teenager I perhaps wish I’d been – a little more courageous, a little less scared of doing her own thing. I think there’s a real danger in trying to write yourself as a character, especially in genre fiction. You’d wind up obsessing over how you presented yourself to the world, rather than how the character reacts to the unfolding story.
13. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned?
I’m well into the first draft of my next novel, which is called The Hollows. It’s another mystery, about a woman returning to her childhood home after years away, and unlocking secrets her father has buried in a huge swamp. After a couple of wrong turns, I’m starting to find my way, and I’m enjoying it. After that, I’ve another three or four novels planned. There’s a murder mystery in an Ullapool retirement home, a road trip in a polluted mountain range, and a ghost story in black-out London. All I need is time to write.
14. The Visitors has already received positive reviews and has already been compared to the writing of some of the well known crime writers, how does that make you feel?
Crikey, has it? I didn’t know that, so I don’t know who those writers are – but it’s very humbling to be compared to anyone. After spending so long inside my head while writing the book, it’s now both petrifying and exhilarating to share it with other people. The good reviews are wonderful. The Visitors plays with genre a little, and it feels like readers are getting what I tried to do. It’s validation, I suppose, and it gives me confidence for writing my next books.
15. As a up and coming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share?
It feels very strange to be up and coming. For whatever it’s worth, my advice is to carry a notebook and pen, all the time. Take public transport and eavesdrop. Work crappy jobs in bars and cafes. Listen to unfamiliar radio stations late at night. Read books about completely new things like sumo wrestling or glassblowing or the history of salt. On the days you don’t feel like writing, research or redraft or go for a walk and a think. Travel. Live out of a suitcase or a backpack for a while. Support indie bookstores. Read your work aloud, even if it’s to an empty room, then have someone read it back to you. Fight like hell for your local library. Go to open mic nights and scare yourself. Talk to strangers. Keep a blog. Stay hungry. Be honest. Be kind.
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