One summer’s day, Freya’s husband and son vanish at sea.
A year on, and struggling to cope, Freya returns to the lighthouse-keeper’s cottage on a remote Hebridean island, where she and her family spent so many happy times.
Haunted by visions of her old life, Freya’s dreams are dark and disturbed. And when a stranger, Daniel, is washed ashore during a storm, they turn even more menacing.
As dream and reality start to merge, Daniel seems to be following Freya’s every move. What does he want from her and is he everything he seems to be? Is her mind playing tricks? Or is the danger that she senses very real?
Beyond The Sea is the second novel from Melissa Bailey, published on 16th July by Arrow Books (Penguin Random House) in paperback and for kindle, but my first opportunity to read her work. I’m delighted to have been invited to be part of the blog tour – my thanks to the author for her early invitation, and to Philippa at Arrow for my advance reading copy.
My thoughts on the book follow, but first I’d like to welcome Melissa Bailey to Being Anne, telling us (and showing us) the book’s wonderful Hebridean setting. Welcome Melissa!
A lot of people have asked me whether I visited the Hebrides while I was writing Beyond the Sea, set on a tiny (fictional) island off the coast of Mull, in the Western Isles of Scotland. The answer is yes. I love visiting the places I write about, to experience the mood and landscape first hand, to absorb the atmosphere. I find it easier that way to bring it to life on the page.
As the ferry advanced up the Sound of Mull and we passed Duart Castle in the south east corner of the island, I remembered from my research that the Swan, a Cromwellian warship, had sunk at this exact spot on 13 September 1653 – almost 360 years ago to the day. I began to think of shipwrecks and sailors and letters in bottles and another strand of the plot began to emerge. It was an exciting day for me and one that remained imprinted firmly in my mind. This journey, made in 2013, is the same one taken by Freya in Chapter 1 of the novel.
I travelled all over Mull that autumn, circling the whole island on its single track roads, past the towering grandeur of Ben More, the fragile beauty of the grassy machair.
I watched sunshine break over Loch Scridain, turning its seawater brilliant blue, then saw it transformed to dull grey when the mist rolled in later that day.
I drove to Knockvologan on the south of the island, waited until low tide, and then crossed the exposed white sand beaches of the tidal island of Erraid (the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped).
I trekked past the now abandoned lighthouse keepers’ cottages and tried to imagine what it would be like to live on a tiny island like this, isolation complete when the sea rolled back in. I looked out across the vastness of the ocean and caught sight of the shadowy lighthouse, Dubh Artach, floating on the horizon, somewhere between land and sea, a mirage perhaps.
|Dubh Artach lighthouse|
I travelled far and wide, looking, thinking, jotting in my notepad. I wanted to remember the sights, sounds and smells, the colours and tones of the landscape. I wanted to remember my smallness in the face of all this immense Hebridean beauty. And I wanted as much as possible to echo it faithfully in the narrative of my book.
Thank you Melissa – the perfect article for me, and I’m already googling the logistics of doing the trip myself!
My thoughts on Beyond The Sea
When I started reading, I was rather expecting a psychological thriller, based on the emphasis on Daniel in the book’s description – but this book wasn’t really that. Or more precisely, it was actually a lot more than that. I wasn’t expecting the rawness of emotion around Freya’s loss of her husband and son, sensitively written and achingly real. There’s a point in the book where Freya explodes in anger for her husband’s part in her son’s death, harrowing to read, full of passion, horribly wonderful when her emotions have been managed so tightly with pills and wine.
The setting is perfect – the isolated lighthouse, the cottage alongside that was once their family home, the wild beauty of the scenery, the sea in which Freya swims capable of turning wild in an instant. I loved the mythology that gives the book its haunting quality, the stories of Beira and the Ceasg – not overdone, the elements well chosen to enhance the story. And the Daniel story was well done – a little mysterious, heartbreakingly sad, but also sinister and threatening. And I liked Freya’s remaining family and friends – her sister’s wry humour and inability to form a meaningful relationship, her mother’s good intentions, gentle Callum and ancient seer Torin. The letters from the 1650s found in a sea jar, written by a sailor lost at sea with Cromwell’s navy, his isolation every bit as extreme, give the book an added dual-time element that I really enjoyed.
A lovely read from a talented author – and very much recommended. Do check out some of the other stops on the blog tour… meanwhile, I’ll return to my Hebridean googling…
Melissa Bailey read English at Oxford, before studying law in London and then pursuing a career in Media Law. Beyond The Sea is her second novel (her first was The Medici Mirror). She lives in London with her partner, a human rights lawyer.