Monday, January 23, 2017

Introducing Alison Taylor

Annamaria on Monday

I met Alison Taylor first online, thanks to our mutual friend Mike Linane (who makes a cameo appearance in my Idol of Mombasa, as the Deputy Treasurer of British East Africa).  Last year's Icelandic Noir give me an opportunity to spend time in person with both of them.  Born in Yorkshire to Scottish Parents, Alison studied at the University of St. Andrews and has taught English at the His School level and as a second language in Finland and Switzerland.  Today she is introducing us to the background behind her debut novel.  Take it away, Alison.

Places often inspire novels, and this is definitely the case with my first book, Sewing the Shadows Together. Portobello, the seaside suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, is the setting for much of the book and is where the idea for the book first came to me. 

Portobello is a beautiful small town on the Firth of Forth, with a wide sandy beach edged by a long promenade. When I was a child I spent my summer holidays there because my grandparents lived in a grey-stone Victorian villa close to the prom. It was a very special place for me; I loved playing on the beach and learnt to swim in the red-stone public baths. Later, after university and teacher training, I was thrilled when my first teaching post was at Portobello High School. Then after my sons were born I lived up in Edinburgh, but we still visited my granny every weekend and always walked along the beach, whatever the weather. Looking out over the water to the huge sky, smelling the salt air and feeling the wind on my face always made me feel at home.
Then something happened that has cast a shadow over the name of Portobello to this day. In July 1983 a five-year-old girl disappeared while playing on the prom. Her body wasn’t found until twelve days later, three hundred miles away. She was one of the victims of the serial killer, Robert Black.
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,
Like many others I was deeply affected by the tragedy, even though I didn’t know the family. I could identify with them so much as my sons were about the same age and we had often played near the place where she disappeared. 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. In it the lives of Tom, the brother, and Sarah, the best friend, of a teenage girl murdered in Portobello are scarred by the tragedy for many years afterwards.
I didn’t actually write the book for more than thirty years, as I was teaching, bringing up my family and I also moved to Switzerland, where I now live. However, the story was gradually forming in the back of my mind and when I stopped working full-time I eventually wrote it.

The book opens with Tom walking along Portobello prom. He has returned to his birthplace after many years in South Africa, where his family emigrated after the tragedy in an attempt to escape their memories. At a school reunion he meets Sarah again and when the man convicted of the murder is proved innocent, they are drawn closer together as suspicion falls on family and friends in the search for the real killer.
Other places and events also influenced the story. A few years ago I made a very moving journey to the Outer Hebrides, the island chain off the north-west coast of Scotland. The ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered in a simple ceremony on Bonnie Prince Charlie beach on the island of Eriskay. The memory of the family gathering silently, silhouetted against the setting sun, is one which will always remain etched in my memory.

Without my really being aware of it, this incident became part of my book, as Tom goes to Eriskay to scatter his mother’s ashes on the island where she was born. The wild beauty of the Western Isles, with its long beaches, biting winds and empty landscape, combined with the stoical charm of the people I met there, made a huge impression on me. The atmosphere there helped me to form the character of Tom, and this section of the book, where he discovers dark secrets about his family’s past, is one where the setting perfectly reflects the action.

Whenever I go back to Scotland I walk along Portobello prom, like Tom does at the beginning of Sewing the Shadows Together, and even as I write this, sitting in Switzerland, I yearn to go back to there or to one of the Scottish islands. My heart will always be in Scotland, but when I’m here in Switzerland I walk the streets and the shores of the country I love through my writing and reading. 



  1. Welcome, Alison, and thanks for writing. Whether on sandy beaches or in alpine snow, our footprints record the days of our lives.

  2. Hi Alison. STST sounds fascinating. Having the location arrive before the plot -- or as an integral part of it -- always makes the story stronger, doesn't it?

    I used to occasionally go to Edinburgh on photoshoots and spent quite a bit of time a little further along the coast in Musselburgh and Port Seton. Beautiful places.

    1. Thanks Zoe. I also have relatives in Musselburgh and my grandmother used to teach in Port Seaton (until she had to give up because she got married!) so I know these places well. I love the sea on this east coast.

  3. I, like many others, think of that wee girl the minute I hear the name Portobello.
    Sad case, a very sad case.

    1. I think that the case, and the photo of the little girl taken the very afternoon she disappeared, will always remain etched in the memory of everybody who lived then. So tragic and poignant.

  4. Hi Alison and welcome to MIE with STST! A powerful story and you've already captured me with the settings, though I must admit my Americanized ear had a bit of a buzz for a moment at "Firth of Forth." I guess because it summoned up "childhood" memories of "a fifth (of whisky) on the fourth (of July)." But Sis AmA can tell you more about that.

  5. Hi Jeffrey Whisky is also a very important part of the Scottish settings. By the way, I loved the hot and sultry settings in Sunshine Noir - and your and Annamaria's stories. Love this site too, such a great variety of topics and voices!

  6. It sounds like a fascinating story and setting, Alison. And with South Africa involved, I obviously couldn't resist it.
    It seems to be a real bargain on Kindle right now, for people who would like to join me!

    1. Hi Michael Thanks! I wrote quite a lot of the book in Plettenberg Bay. I feel inspired by the sea, beaches and fascnatng history.