I first met Alison in Reykjavik at the crime writing festival Iceland Noir in 2014. I filmed her speaking about her passion for Nordic Noir and crime writing festivals for my research. I did not know she was a writer then as she never mentioned it so when I met her again at the Newcastle Noir festival this year and she told me she was having a book published I was intrigued.
Sewing the Shadows Together is a well written mystery with its roots firmly planted in Edinburgh. In this case the age-old advice ‘write what you know’ has served the author well. The characterisation is strong and the sense of place is solid. It is a well-rounded story based on family secrets, lies, ambition and love.
The majority of this credible tale is set in well healed Edinburgh but we are treated to a beautifully descriptive trip to the Outer Hebrides and a short time in South Africa. The story swings between two main characters. Sarah, the best friend of murdered teenager Shona and Tom the murder victim’s brother. Both of them good-natured characters surrounded by a motley crew of family members and hangers-on. The badness in the story makes the reader slightly uncomfortable but it is not a tale of gore or particularly violent descriptions and this is contrasted with some gratifying descriptions of positive family relationships as well as just a hint of romance as the tale unfolds.
I had the chance to speak to Alison about the origins of this book, her writing career and her ambitions for the future….
What inspired you to write this book?
The idea for Sewing the Shadows Together has been in my mind for over thirty years. I was teaching at Portobello High School in Edinburgh at that time and there were several high-profile murders in the area – the World’s End Murders and the Robert Black cases. I couldn’t stop thinking about the families who were left behind, and how the murders would affect them. Over the years the story was taking shape in the back of my brain and I became interested in miscarriages of justice and the way DNA has been use to prove that the wrong man was convicted. It was only when I retired that I had the time and freedom to actually write it down, and I was surprised how relatively fully formed the story was after its years of fermentation.
Do you see any similarities between Scottish crime writing and Nordic crime writing?
I do feel there is a link. In both the landscape and the weather play an important role, often reflecting the action and infusing it with their atmosphere. I also think there is an emphasis on character and motivation. I particularly like Scandinavian and Scottish crime because I am drawn into the lives of the main characters, who are often strongly influenced by their personal experiences, and whose back stories and those of the victims are of great importance.
Why do you think so many women like to read crime fiction?
An interesting question. I don’t really know, but I think women like the human interest element and solving puzzles. We are interested in motivation and seeing how ordinary people react when they are caught up in extraordinary situations. We also like following clues and trying to guess who committed the crime. It could also be that, as our lives are generally free of danger, we like to experience it in a safe fictional way.
Can you mention some of your favourite crime authors and why you like them?
When I was young I read Agatha Christie (for the puzzle element) and Raymond Chandler (for the characters and language). Later I discovered Reginald Hill, Henning Mankell and other Scandinavian writers and loved their characters and sense of place. I’d lived in Finland for year after university and this awakened my interest in Scandinavian literature. In the nineties I devoured everything by Ian Rankin and also read all of Peter Robinson. I was living in Switzerland then and I was attracted by their sense of place, being transported to Edinburgh and Yorkshire, as well as their characterisation and plotting. Now I read almost exclusively Scottish and Scandinavian crime, sometimes venturing down as far as the north of England. There are so many brilliant writers around in these countries at the moment, and I’ve been introduced to so many great new ones since I started going to Crime Writing Festivals, that I can’t possibly mention everyone I love reading now.
I believe you attended an Arvon creative writing course. Could you tell us a bit about that? What goes on at these courses?
I’ve been on two. I had always wanted to write, but working full-time and being a single parent I’d never had the time. When I retired I realised I had no excuse anymore and started writing the novel which had been developing in my head for so many years. I’d heard good things about the Arvon courses, so I firstly went to a Starting to Write a Novel course in Lumb Bank in Hebden Bridge. There I started to really write: we had input sessions in the morning, but in the afternoon we had to write – there were no distractions, no internet, newspapers, television. I was amazed how much I wrote in the five days and it made me realise that I could actually write a novel.
The next year I went to a crime writing course in Moniack Mhor near Inverness and this was very significant in my development as a writer. It was led by Karen Campbell and Peter Robinson, who were great, but the most important thing was the people I met there. I finished my novel quite soon after going there and I had people who I could trust to read my book. Writing had been a totally solitary experience for me up until then – nobody had read any of my novel – but there I found a community of like-minded people who read my book and I read theirs. I am still friends with several people of them and I have to thank them so much, especially Sarah Ward, who opened my eyes to the world of blogs and crime festivals – things I hadn’t come into contact with before and which are now very important in my life.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
When I started writing I didn’t really think about publishing. I just wanted to write this story that was in my head and prove to myself that I could do it. I used to compare myself to an amateur painter just doing it for personal satisfaction. I was told by Karen Campbell that when I finished my novel I would want people to read it, and I did have that experience. Now I’m so excited about publishing my novel, and I’d like people to read and enjoy it, and care about my characters. Now my ambition is to see if I can write the second novel which has been fermenting in the back of my brain for the past couple of years. I won’t be able to let it form for as long as the last one though and I have to get writing!
Thanks to Alison for the interview. The book is now available in paperback and for Kindle and if you want to read some more about Alison and the novel you can check out the other blog sites mentioned in the Blog Tour poster above.