I've never read a book before about the Hebrides Islands and I love how vivid and fascinating the descriptions of both the island and the islander's lives are written about. And I couldn't be happier to have Julia here on the blog discussing her inspiration and experiences in visiting these islands. Over to you, Julia...
Julia Green talks about islands
by Julia Green
My most recent novel, This Northern Sky, is set on a remote island in the Hebrides – the archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. I’ve written about islands before – Breathing Underwater is set on a fictional version of St Agnes in the Isles of Scilly, south-west Cornwall. I love the feeling of being cut off by water, at the mercy of the wind and tides. I love the sense of remoteness, isolation: being at the edge of things seems to set my mind and imagination free. But these are real places too, where people live and work. In my novels I try to capture a sense of the community you can find in such places, as viewed by someone who is an outsider, since that is what I am when I visit. Feeling like an ‘outsider’ is a bit what it’s like being a teenager, perhaps: you’re caught between childhood and being an adult, with only limited ‘power’ over your own life, at the edge of things. It’s a time of change and transition.
In This Northern Sky I am drawing on my first experience of staying with friends on the isles of Harris and Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. We helped our generous hosts (the parents of my boyfriend’s friend, living at the Manse) with bringing back the cut peat and stacking it ready for winter fuel. We rowed to an uninhabited island to collect cockles, and most miraculous of all, we camped overnight at a beach and saw the Northern Lights. All these real experiences found their way into my novel and became Kate’s.
I carried these memories inside me for years. Now, finding I was writing them at last, as fiction, I went back to the Hebrides to do more research. I’ve been back to two different islands now, and have woven the memory and research together to create my own island, as the setting for Kate’s story. On my first research trip, I walked every day, exploring the vast and beautiful beaches, and saw hardly a soul. The wind blew every day, and it rained most of the time. Every day I came back to the cottage and wrote about what I’d seen and heard, trying to capture the feeling of this remote, wild, beautiful and sometimes harsh place. I knew my character, Kate, would not love this landscape at the beginning of the story – she’d rather be anywhere but here, with her arguing parents, but I knew she would change, and grow to see it differently because of what happens to her; because of the people she meets and the friends she makes. I tried to write as vividly as I could, but in quite spare, honed language, because that is the sort of place it is. I wanted to make my readers feel that they had been there too.
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