‘People often talk about landscape when they talk about Highland Noir, but though the scenery is lovely, I think the character of Highlanders, particularly Highland women is unique, so I wanted to explore that – hard as nails, no nonsense and genuinely thrawn.’
Highland Fling: A Mirabelle Bevan Mystery
By Sara Sheridan
Published by Constable & Robinson
The book as . . . memory. What is your first memory of books and reading?
I was definitely the weird kid in my family and the only one who was into books. We didn’t have much to read around the house when I was growing up, at least not initially, but I encouraged my parents to invest in some books for me. I remember visiting the old Bauermeister shop on George IV Bridge and also going to Morningside Library (which was VERY exciting) I find it difficult to remember much from being very young but my father read me Peter Rabbit and I learned the word soporific and I remember being excited – soporific remains one of my favourite words. I still get excited when I find a new word I like the sound of.
The book as . . . your work. Tell us about your latest book Highland Fling. What adventure does Mirabelle Bevan find herself in?
Highland Fling is the 8th Mirabelle Bevan mystery. I’ve been writing my way through the 1950s for 9 years now and I’ve got to 1958 at last! I’ve been dying to bring Mirabelle home to Scotland, but I was waiting for the Cold War to get fully underway… and for her relationship with Superintendent Alan McGregor to get to the point where he could introduce her to his family, specifically, his cousin who lives outside Inverness. I love Agatha Christie and I wanted to write a traditional country house mystery and of course, Mirabelle and McGregor have barely arrived when a the body of a glamorous fashion buyer commissioning a range of cashmere for a New York boutique is found in the orangery. Scotland in the 1950s is fascinating – for a start it’s when we stopped voting majority Tory but also, in the Highlands, most landowners were right wing and had been since before WWII when they mostly supported Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement plans. Plus the 1950s was the genesis of modern press so I wanted to have paparazzi, whisky cocktails and courtesy of the American contingent of characters, a dollop of 1950s New York chic. People often talk about landscape when they talk about Highland Noir, but though the scenery is lovely, I think the character of Highlanders, particularly Highland women is unique, so I wanted to explore that – hard as nails, no nonsense and genuinely thrawn.
The book as . . . object. What is your favourite beautiful book?
This is a tough one. I love Kate Leiper’s illustrations and her Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Mythical Creatures is magical. But also, I am obsessed with maps. I’ve got Edinburgh Mapping the City by Chris Fleet and Daniel MacCannall on my desk at the moment and I love it. But then, the Common Weal’s Atlas of Opportunity is also on display in my study and has been since it came out cos I want to keep it in mind.
The book as . . . inspiration. What is your favourite book that has informed how you see yourself?
Straight up – my daughter wrote me a notebook for my birthday this year of memories and also of things we’ve learned and how we’ve grown in our family since she left home and it’s the most inspiring thing I’ve ever read. So personal but important to me.
The book as . . . a relationship. What is your favourite book that bonded you to someone else?
When I met my now-husband, he gave me a copy of Water Music by TC Boyle which is hands-down my favourite historical novel and I suppose I knew then he was a keeper (the husband, not TC Boyle)
The book as . . . entertainment. What is your favourite rattling good read?
I love Eva Ibbotson – she’s my favourite mid-20th century writer and her novels for adults are good-hearted and whizz along. I’d choose A Countess Below Stairs or Madensky Square. That’s what I’d take to the beach.
The book as . . . a destination. What is your favourite book set in a place unknown to you?
I go back again and again to Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s Worst Journey in the World which is his account of his expedition with fellow Antarctic explorers Birdie Bowers and Edward Wilson when they walked through the harsh Antarctic mid-winter to collect Emperor Penguin eggs. The book was recommended to me by a writer friend I bumped into deep in the shelves of Thins on South Bridge. It’s probably why I wrote The Ice Maiden which was my imaginative response to the stories about polar explorers of the heroic age – with an added supernatural element.
The book as . . . the future. What are you looking forward to reading next?
Because I’m writing a novel right now and I find it difficult to read fiction and write fiction at the same time, I’m saving books to read. When I next get a reading break, I’m slowly working my way through some of the little-known female Scottish writers I discovered last year while writing Where are the Women? So I have a Jane Porter novel on the side plus Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver and also an anthology of short stories to which I contributed a Mirabelle Bevan short – I’m dying to read the others. It’s called Noir from the Bar and all the profits go to the NHS.
Highland Fling: A Mirabelle Bevan Mystery by Sara Sheridan is published by Constable & Robinson, priced £8.99