I am thrilled to welcome Joanne who blogs at Portobello Book Blog and Alison Baillie author of Sewing the Shadows Together to put a book on the map in the suburb of Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland. Joanne and Alison have taken the role of interviewer and interviewee to bring Portobello to life – they have kindly provided all the wonderful photos that accompany this piece.
Sewing the Shadows Together gives us the beautiful setting of a seaside suburb of Edinburgh, Portobello, as the backdrop of a horrible crime, that of the murder of a young teenage girl, Shona McIver.
Can the mystery of who killed her possibly be solved more than thirty years later? Tom, Shona’s brother, hopes so having heard that the man who committed the crime is to be released from hospital which coincides with his return from South Africa to scatter his mother’s ashes and to attend a school reunion.
Portobello is a coastal suburb of Edinburgh the capital of Scotland. This residential area has a promenade stretching between Joppa and Craigentinny.
Without further ado I will hand over to Joanne and Alison.
Hi Alison – when I first heard about your book, I knew I just had to read it as it’s not just set in Edinburgh, but right here in Portobello where I live! What made you decide to set the book here?
Portobello, the beautiful seaside area of Edinburgh, is where my mother was born and brought up. As a child I spent all my holidays here with my grandparents so it has always been a very special place for me. I love the long golden beach, the promenade running along it and the grey-stone Victorian villas. Later my first teaching post was at Portobello High School and it was then that the idea for Sewing the Shadows Together first came to me.
Thanks Alison – I know that you were inspired (if that’s theright word) by really awful events which took place in and around Edinburgh. Can you explain about that and say a bit more about what the book’s about?
Yes, Joanne. Around that time there were two tragic events that made a lasting impression on me. Firstly, in 1977 two seventeen-year-old girls disappeared from the World’s End pub on Edinburgh’s Roval Mile. I knew this place well as it was near Moray House College where I had done my teacher training. The bodies of the girls were found a few days later, but the identity of the murderers was not discovered for many years. This uncertainty and lack of closure had a devastating effect on the families, and I think every young person in Edinburgh at that time felt very aware of the crime. It could have been any one of us who went out for a drink on a Friday night.
Then in July 1983 something happened in Portobello that affected me deeply. 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. 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 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. 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 their whole lives. They meet up again at a school reunion many years later and when the local misfit who’d been convicted of the crime is proved innocent, suspicions fall on family and friends. They discover dark secrets before the real killer is eventually revealed.
I remember being in holiday in the Borders then and the police searching the river for the missing Portobello girl. I didn’t live here then: I lived in Leith. Both places have a really strong sense of community. When you and I were first in touch we realised we knew a lot of people in common in Portobello. That sense of community is one of the reasons I love living here. Do you have a favourite place in Portobello?
The sense of community is very strong in Portobello, and it is one of the reasons I loved it, especially as a child. My grandparents had both been born and brought up in Portobello, so they seemed to know everybody and we had relatives on every corner. My grandfather was very sociable and it took ages to walk along the High Street with him as he stopped to tip his hat and greet everyone we met. I loved walking round with my grandmother too as she could talk about the history, the long-gone pier, the ice-cream parlours and the first family to have a motor-car.
My favourite places have to be the beach and the prom. When I go back to Portobello now I always walk there, looking across the Firth of Forth to Fife and smelling the sea air. Sewing the Shadows Together starts with Tom coming back to Portobello and walking along the prom and for him like me the place is full of memories, such as the red-stone swimming baths where we learnt to swim.
Another favourite place has to be my grandparents’ house in St Mary’s Place, a quiet street not far from the prom. I loved it, a typical grey-stone Victorian villa, which I used for HJ Kidd’s house in the book. It was a very short walk down James Street to the beach and when I go back to Portobello I always walk down from there to the prom as I did as a child. My grandmother had lived in one of the red-stone tenements on the corner of James Street and the prom when she was young, and I used that flat for Tom’s childhood home. Just writing about this takes me back to this place I love.
Yes I love the prom too. I walked along the beach this morning and even though it was dull and a bit misty, it was still beautiful as the sea was so calm and peaceful. When I was reading Sewing the Shadows Together, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the geography wasn’t quite as it should be and some places had different names. Why did you decide to do that?
I wanted to capture the atmosphere of Portobello, rather than be strictly geographically accurate. I also didn’t want to the scene of tragic events, for example where the body was found, to be too recognisable. I therefore invented an imaginary park, moved buildings to fit in with the story and changed the names of institutions, like the school, because they were not true to life.
Well I think you did an excellent job of making Portobello a character in itself in your book. As you know, I really enjoyed Sewing the Shadows together. If anyone would like to read my review you can read it here
Book Reviews from around the Blogosphere
Sewing The Shadows Together
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I’d like to say a huge thank you to both Joanne and Alison for this wonderful post which I had a sneak preview of before recently reading Sewing the Shadows Together. It is wonderful to see the pictures, to read the inspiration behind the story and of course read the book itself which is my favourite type of crime fiction, one that brings the past and the present together.
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