Thursday, 2 July 2015


I am delighted that MELISSA BAILEY is joining me on my blog today. Her latest book - Beyond the Sea - is being published by Arrow on 16 July 2015. 

So Melissa, what inspired you to write a book in the first place?
I’ve always loved books and reading and from being a small child I was always writing - poems, short stories, things like that. I went on to become a lawyer, but in the back of mind there was always a small voice that kept saying ‘you should write that novel you want to write’. That voice kept getting louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it any more. At which point, I went part-time at work and put pen to paper in a serious way.

Where do you get your ideas from?
The spark of the idea for my first book, The Medici Mirror, actually came from reading A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite novelists. In that book, the protagonist is holed up alone in a spooky house miles from anywhere and comes across a dirty old mirror. The atmosphere at that point of the novel was spine tingling - claustrophobic, magical. It gave me the idea of using a darkened mirror and of creating a book of my own which was haunting and mysterious. When I started researching the history of mirrors, the name I kept coming across was Catherine de Medici, who had a vast collection. Not only that, she was a member of the infamous Medici clan - plotters and poisoners – and had a reputation for involvement with magic and the occult. From there the plot really began to take off.
With my second novel, Beyond the Sea, the plot developed from a solitary, yet very clear image I had in my mind – a woman, with white hair, standing on a tiny island alone, a lighthouse in the near distance behind her. From that single image, and an obsession with fairy tales and myths of the sea, a novel emerged.
So clearly I tend to start from one image and move outwards from that.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing? If so, how?
I loved ghost stories, the supernatural, from being a child but I have vivid memories of feeling acutely frightened at the same time - fearful of the unknown, of what lurked just at the edge of my vision. As an adult, I’ve found it a rich source of creative inspiration to go back and tap into those childhood fears once again. It’s been a great place for me to occupy, explore and develop from.

Describe your writing style in 10 words or less?
Haunting, charged - but I also like to keep it simple.

Do you have any strange writing habits?
Hmm. I do have the odd dressing gown day – where I’m so desperate to get an idea down before it disappears that I find that I’m writing until about 4pm without getting dressed. And a lot of cake gets eaten while the writing is happening – but I’m not sure that’s all that strange. I know a few writers who operate the same way. I like to think it helps my creative juices flow!

Do you plot out the whole book before you start or just start writing to see where it leads you?
I don’t plan a novel in a huge amount of detail but I work from a general outline that’s specific enough to keep me on track, in theory at least, but loose enough to allow the story to develop in its own way.

What do you consider to be the hardest part of your writing?
Sitting alone, day after day. Sometimes, when the writing isn’t going well and the words just won’t flow, it can feel like the most isolated, difficult job ever. But on the flip side, when it goes well, there’s no feeling in the world to beat it.

From the blurb, Beyond the Sea seems very different from your first novel, The Medici Mirror (published in 2013). Is this the case?
That’s an interesting question. But I think that they’re more similar than perhaps they appear at first glance. The Medici Mirror is part historical, part supernatural love story, part ghost story, moving between the sixteenth century court of Catherine de Medici and twenty-first century London where Johnny, an architect, is renovating an old Victorian shoe factory. It’s about the imprints that are left behind by those who came before.
Beyond the Sea, while set in the Hebrides, a completely different location, is also a love story with a ghostly theme, focusing on Freya and her return after the death of her husband and son to the home they once occupied. There’s also a historical thread running through it in the form of letters written by a Cromwellian sailor despatched to battle in Scotland in 1653, his own sense of isolation and alienation mirroring Freya’s. Again I’m looking at the past and its echoes in the present. And the supernatural mirror of the first book is replaced by supernatural forces of the sea in the second book.
So I think you’d probably know the books were written by the same person.

Do you read? If so, who are your favourite authors?
I love reading. When I’m not writing I’m reading. My all-time favourite novelist is a Japanese writer called Haruki Murakami. His books are modern, surreal, weird and wonderful - fish rain down from the sky and cats talk. For the same reasons I also think Michel Faber is great. But I love older more traditional writers as well, Dickens and the Brontes, as well as modern British writers, Rose Tremain, Maggie O’Farrell, David Nicholls.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would be the title?
That’s impossibly difficult! So I’m copping out and getting Ian McEwan to help me. One of his great early novels is called ‘The Cement Garden’. We’ve got builders in at the moment and while it’s only been a few weeks the title of that book feels totally appropriate as a summary of my life right now!

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Keep writing. The more you write the better it gets. Read lots – you get great ideas and learn a lot simply from seeing how other people write. But inspiration comes from all sorts of places – magazines, music, films, galleries, even simply going for a walk, so keep yourself open to everything. And most of all keep plugging away at it. Don’t get disillusioned – the writing road can be a long, hard, solitary one. But keep going. Don’t give up.

And lastly, why should people read your book?
It’s a spooky tale, with a historical bent, chock full of twists and turns. It’s very evocative, with a keen sense of place, and at its heart is a strong and compelling female character that I’ve really enjoyed writing about. I hope people are going to like it.

About Melissa Bailey
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. She lives in London with her partner, a human rights lawyer.

Find Melissa Bailey on her website and follow Melissa on Twitter - @mbaileywrites.

Beyond the Sea
Published by Arrow (16 July 2015)

One summer's day, Freya's husband and son disappeared on a boating trip.

A year on, and struggling to cope, Freya returns to the lighthouse-keeper's cottage on a tiny island in the Hebrides where they spent so many happy times.

Haunted by visions of the life she used to have, Freya finds comfort in the discovery of her son's diary, written in the weeks before he disappeared.

Until a man, Daniel, is washed up on the shore during the storm, and suddenly her dreams turn menacing. As dream and reality merge, Daniel seems to be turning up wherever she goes and she has no idea what he wants from her.

Is her mind playing tricks? Or is the danger she senses real?

Join me on Friday 10th July for my review of Beyond the Sea, as part of Melissa's Blog Tour.

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