Throughout May, we’re taking a tour of some of the fascinating locations that have inspired Prime Writers. Today, Melissa Bailey takes us to the wild landscapes of the Hebrides.
I have been asked a lot about the setting of Beyond the Sea, and why I chose the Hebrides as the landscape in which the action of the novel plays out.
While the book emerged from a single image of a woman, her hair turned white in grief, standing alone by the sea, a lighthouse in the near distance behind her, I think I probably knew even then, way back in the beginning when I didn’t know much else, that the woman was standing on a beach in the Inner Hebrides.
It is a part of the world that I love and have been visiting for many years: Mull, Iona, Skye and the small islands, the stunningly isolated Rum, Canna, Muck and Eigg.
I’m drawn to its raw beauty, its wildness, the fact that the weather can change in an instant, sunshine becoming rain becoming sleet. It is brutal, elemental, timeless – craggy mountain ranges, desolate moorlands, restless ever shifting seas.
Yet, I feel there is also something redemptive, magical almost, about this landscape. The sea takes away, and yet it also gives back. It is an endless, eternal pattern. The sea is often death, but it is also life. So the remote fringes of the British Isles, the untamed edges of civilisation, seemed a very natural and fitting backdrop for a woman touched by devastating loss, her emotions as turbulent and fast changing as the winds or the tides, but perhaps moving slowly towards redemption.
So a story began to evolve. The woman became Freya, whose husband and son vanish at sea the year before the novel begins. She returns to the lighthouse keeper’s cottage they once called home, seeking solace, trying to lay to rest the dreams that haunt her sleep. Beyond the Sea is the story of her journey. But it also tells the story of the Hebrides and the sea – characters in their own right.