Thursday, 3 May 2018

A Fractured Winter by Alison Baillie

I was very pleased to get a copy of this book from the TBC Reviewers Request Group on Facebook. I have had the pleasure of meeting Alison a couple of times and was looking forward to reading her work. I haven't yet read her previous book (shame on me!) due to my ridiculous TBR pile, but I intend to remedy that very soon! I am also delighted that I managed to grab Alison before she arrived at Newcastle Noir to ask her a few questions.

The Blurb:

A missing girl.

Threatening notes.

Sinister strangers.

Olivia's idyllic family life in a Swiss mountain village is falling apart. She thought she'd managed to escape the past, but it's coming back to haunt her.

Has somebody discovered her secret - why she had to leave Scotland more than ten years ago?

What is her connection to Marie, a lonely schoolgirl in a Yorkshire seaside town, and Lucy, a student at a Scottish university?

A story of the shadows of the past, the uncertainties of the present and how you can never really know anybody.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book. It's a slow burner, set mainly in Switzerland, but with flashback chapters to Scarborough and Edinburgh. I thought the sense of place was terrific. I have never been to Switzerland, but it was so well described, I almost feel like I have been. And I loved finding out about the various Swiss traditions.

I liked Olivia, the central character, but thought she was too trusting, particularly taking account of the missing girl and the threatening notes. But she was clearly just trying to make connections, be accepted, after her formative years which were full of rejection. I was conflicted about Christian. I spent much of the book disliking him for his selfishness and the way he treated Olivia, but them when it really mattered, he was there.

There are several more characters playing important roles in the story so I won't mention them all, but they are all beautifully described. I particularly loved Stevie, the aging, faded rockstar!

I found it hard to put this book down because I wanted to know what happened. The whole thing has a slightly sinister feel to it helped, I think, by its setting. I certainly didn't guess what Olivia's secret was, or what had happened to the missing girl - I was particularly shocked about that. In a good way!

This book is very atmospheric, and touches on self doubt, emotional abuse, rejection and cults. It builds well towards the conclusion, throwing in a few red herrings along the way, and is populated by well described, well rounded characters. Highly recommend.

Mini Q&A:

I caught Alison just before her appearance at Noir At The Bar in Newcastle - the start this weekend's Newcastle Noir - to ask her a few questions.

1. Please can you tell us a little about your journey to writing.

I've always loved writing and reading and had the idea for my first book in my head for thirty years before I actually wrote it. It was only when my sons had moved out of the house and I stopped working full-time that I had time to begin writing. When I first started, I went on two Arvon courses, which helped give me the confidence to believe I could actually write a book. I also met other writers there, particularly Sarah Ward and Tana Collins, who have become my great friends and have been very supportive. I originally only wrote Sewing the Shadows Together for myself, but was encouraged to publish it. After that I was hooked on writing, and had to begin my second one immediately because I loved the process of creating another world so much.

2. You have young grandchildren, to whom the book is dedicated. Is it hard for you to write a storyline where young children are or might be in danger?

Because the fear of losing children is such a basic emotion, I think it’s a very powerful subject for a novel and one which I must admit I am also drawn to as a reader. I think every parent, and grandparent, knows the moment of panic when you don’t know where your child is. My younger son often wandered off and there were a couple of occasions when he disappeared for a short time. I will never forget that terrible feeling of fear, desperation and helplessness. Now I literally never let my grandchildren out of my sight when I’m looking after them (but the oldest one is only five so they don’t protest about this yet).

3. This book touches on the subject of cults. How did you research the topic?

I was once nearly drawn into one myself! When I was accompanying a group of Swiss students on a language stay at a school on the south coast of England, one of the teachers there invited me back to the house where he lived. I soon realised it was a very creepy set-up with some very strange people. The teacher had been living with them since he was a young teenager – he was in his thirties by that time. The ‘leader’ gave me a book about their beliefs, which I still have, but I got out of the house as quickly as I could and didn’t go back. I later heard that the whole group moved to Italy shortly afterwards.

I’ve also read several books about people who have been brought up in cults and am fascinated by any news reports of people living in them, of which there have been quite a few recently.

4. This is your second book. For those that haven't read it, can you give a wee synopsis of your debut, Sewing The Shadows Together.

Sewing the Shadows Together is set in Edinburgh, the Outer Hebrides and South Africa. It’s about the brother and best friend of a young teenage girl who was murdered more than thirty years before. They’ve both been emotionally scarred by the death and when they meet at a school reunion they feel a connection. They grow closer as the man who was convicted of the murder is proved to be innocent, and suspicions fall on family and friends in the search for the real murderer. Many dark secrets from the past are uncovered before the truth finally comes to light.

Many thanks to Alison for taking the time to answer my questions. Enjoy the weekend!

About Alison:

Alison Baillie was brought up in the Yorkshire Dales, but has always felt Scottish. Her parents were both from Scotland and, as soon as she could, she went back there to study English at the University of St Andrews. After a year in Finland she taught English in several Edinburgh High Schools. She then moved to Switzerland, where she still lives, but her heart will always be in Scotland, where she goes as often as possible. She loves travelling, reading crime fiction, going to crime writing festivals and being with her family and friends. In 2015, her first novel, Sewing the Shadows Together, set in Edinburgh, the Outer Hebrides and South Africa, was published. To find out more about her and her books, visit her website or follow her on Facebook at Alison Baillie Author or Twitter alisonbailliex.

You can buy A Fractured Winter on Amazon UK and US, and in all good bookshops.

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