Tuesday 27 August 2013

My Guest on the blog is Elisabeth Gifford....

I am delighted to introduce to you

Photo by kind permission

author of 

1 August 2013

A Bit of Book Blurb

Scotland, 1860. Reverend Alexander Ferguson, naรฏve and newly-ordained, takes up his new parish, a poor, isolated patch on the Hebridean island of Harris. His time on the island will irrevocably change the course of his life, but the white house on the edge of the dunes keeps its silence long after Alexander departs. 

It will be more than a century before the Sea House reluctantly gives up its secrets. Ruth and Michael buy the grand but dilapidated building and begin to turn it into a home for the family they hope to have. Their dreams are marred by a shocking discovery. The tiny bones of a baby are buried beneath the house; the child's fragile legs are fused together - a mermaid child. Who buried the bones? And why?

Elisabeth I'm delighted to welcome you to the blog and thank you 
for visiting us to chat about your book Secrets of the Sea House

You set Secrets of the Sea House on the Hebridean island of Harris - how important is location to your story?

Harris in the Outer Hebrides is almost another character in the story. I thought we’d make one or two visits there, but we were soon smitten and kept going back. It was a combination of the wild beauty of such empty spaces, and the isolation so far out in the Atlantic that made it feel like stepping back in time. It’s a bit of an effort to get there, and that’s helped preserve the old crofting ways. It’s one of the last outposts of Scots Gaelic. (See the book trailer to hear Gaelic psalm singing.) Writing the book was almost a way of recreating the place when I was back home in London doing the 8 am commute. Just thinking about the vast beaches and skies, I could feel my heartbeat slowing and calming.

I also loved the island legends of the seal people. I first came across them when my small daughter told me with awe that she’d heard from her island friend that magic people came out of the sea. Later, I found out that the sea people legends had something very real behind them.

Looking down over Seilebost and Luskentyre in Harris
Photo courtesy of the author

What is it about your book that will pique the reader’s interest?

Perhaps the same thing that piqued mine. I couldn’t believe it when I came across a real letter to the Times reporting a mermaid sighting by a Victorian schoolmaster – and in some detail. Whatever he saw, he was certainly convinced it was real. I read the research on the sea people legends by John MacAulay and his theory was that the many mermaid sightings once reported around Scotland contained hints of an ancient people who really did visit the Hebrides from the ice age onwards, and still did up to 200 years ago – the time of the letter.

What do you love about Writing?

There are two things that I really love. One is being in the moment, being in a place and letting yourself experience that. I want to find ways of trying to transpose that experience to the reader through words and images and by attention to detail. The second really fun thing about writing is story. I’m a bit of a nerd for studying the craft of story; that’s probably why I ended up doing the creative writing MA. I love how story follows a person’s journey as they grow and change – or don’t - and reach where they need to be. Story comes from getting to know a character. This morning, the last of my characters in the new book finally told me how her story was going to end. It was a bit of a surprise, but then I’m only the writer.

Also, I was very affected by Talking of Love on the Edge of a Precipice, by Cyrulnik. He had a traumatic time as a child in Nazi-held France, but now works to help people build resilience to trauma through how we choose to tell our stories; what we choose to see and believe. Story can entertain but it can also do some very deep work.

Which writers have inspired you?

I read nearly all the classic nineteenth century French novels as part of a French degree– not so useful for jobs at the time, but essential now. Maupassant, Flaubert and Balzac are my poster boys. After that it’s Marilynne Robinson, and lately Catherine O’Flynn and Tan Twan Eng.

Do you have a special place to do your writing?

I have various nooks round the house. Living in London with a family it would be a problem if you had only one area where you could work. It depends if there’s building work, music lessons or bright sun. I pick up my laptop, and move to a quiet space. I didn’t think I could, but I can work anywhere quiet now. The book was started in a remote cottage in Drinishader, Harris, but some of it was written in an airport, and some in hot and humid Beijing. I try to spend so many hours a day alone, in a quiet place with the laptop.

Can you tell us what are you writing next?

It’s a story about girl who runs away from her wedding, and at the same time the groom’s father is struggling with a secret he’s never told his family. It’s a story that stretches back to the Second World War before it’s finally untangled. It was thrilling to uncover that my husband’s grandfather had been part of a community around the Madrid embassy carrying out covert operations to smuggle Jewish refugees through Spain to safety. We only found that out through researching the book. We went out to Madrid and ate in some of the same cafes where they would have met and operated and we were shown photos by the cafรฉ owner.

I like how writing a book can really surprise you!

Book Trailer on You Tube

You can find out more about Elisabeth on her website 
And find her on Facebook at Elisabeth Gifford Author

My 5 ***** Review

This dual time narrative is set on the tiny Hebridean island of Harris and focuses on the secrets of the enigmatic Sea House which  in the 1990s is the dilapidated home of  Ruth and Michael who are doing their utmost to turn the house into a family home. When they unearth a set of tiny baby bones which are buried beneath the house, Ruth is determined to discover their tragic secret. Ruth’s quest for the truth will take her back in time to the 1860s, when Reverend Alexander Ferguson, a naive and newly ordained minister,   takes up his new post on the isolated island, and whose time at the Sea House will be challenging and fraught with danger.

This is a really accomplished first novel, from an author who clearly loves to write intricate and detailed stories. Her obvious love of the folklore and legends of the islands is beautifully explored and her interpretation of both time strands is quite seamless. Her fine attention to detail and the way she allows the evocative unfurling of the story, makes for a captivating read.

I enjoyed this novel and hope that the author comes back soon with another lovely story.


Elisabeth thank you so much for chatting with us - it's been a pleasure to host this blog interview with you.

 Do come back and see us again soon.


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