I am delighted that Sylvia Hehir joins me on the blog today to discuss her Y/A novel, Sea Change and participate in the 4×4 challenge.
First, let’s hear about Sea Change.
Struggling to look after his grieving mother, sixteen-year-old Alex wants nothing more than to leave school. All right, he made some poor decisions during the summer holiday, not least of which was getting involved with Chuck, a stranger hiding out in this remote part of the Scottish Highlands. Chuck was exciting, challenging Alex to take ever-increasing risks. But Chuck wasn’t supposed to turn up dead next to Alex’s fishing boat. With the bills mounting, Alex has to accept that he is struggling to cope. But things get even worse when his best friend goes missing.
‘A community cracked by crime and a friendship strained by secrets are at the heart of this compelling and atmospheric thriller.’ Keith Gray, author of Ostrich Boys
Having worked as a secondary school teacher, Sylvia is aware of how young peoples’ futures can be frustrated by obstacles not of their own making.
She says: “In Sea Change, I wanted to create a young adult crime novel that doesn’t sidestep tricky issues. My aim was to capture those identity-defining moments when we are pushed right to the very edge.”
Sea Change was winner of the Pitlochry Quaich in 2018 and was shortlisted for the prestigious Caledonia Novel Award in 2017.
It is also in the running for the 2019 McIlvanney Debut Crime Fiction prize at this year’s Bloody Scotland festival in Stirling.
Sylvia’s Young Adult fiction novel is set in a Scottish West coast fishing community and brings a new twist to the Tartan Noir genre .
In this page turning thriller, a small Highland community becomes the setting for a serious crime. But unlike much of the popular crime fiction genre which graces many Scottish bookshelves, the cast of characters in Sea Change centres around the struggles of teenager Alex, who is trying to keep his family afloat and negotiate the challenges of teenage relationships including coming to terms with his own sexuality.
Aimed at a young adult readership, all of the main characters in the novel are teenagers, including the perpetrator of the crime, the victim and the investigators. On another level, the story explores how a friendship can survive when secrets lead to disastrous consequences. As is often the case in young adult fiction, the characters are also growing up a bit, taking those necessary steps towards an independent adult life.
So let’s find out more about the book and its writer by taking the 4 x 4 quiz.
4 key characters in your book, Sea Change, and why they are important
Alex has been described by book blogger Bookwitch as an ‘interesting – if somewhat idiotic and naïve – main character’ and that seems a fair assessment to me. He is torn between his filial duties and his need to become the person he really is. His responses to events that overtake him and his best friend when a stranger comes to the area can be considered questionable but given his situation they are perhaps understandable.
Daniel has been Alex’s best friend since they were at primary school together. And although they have very different family situations and aspirations for the future, they are alike in that they are both considered misfits by their peers. But Alex, as a good friend should be, is there for Daniel when he most needs him.
Caitlin, whose ambition is to study psychology, is clever and self-assured. She has romantic designs on Daniel, and Daniel is certainly pleased about that. Caitlin is also the chief investigator in this crime fiction in which all the traditional roles of the genre are filled by teenage characters.
Of the adult characters in Sea Change, Aunty Joan is Alex’s nemesis. She is ever-ready to show her distrust and disapproval of Alex’s actions and motives, and, as she is his grieving mum’s sister, Alex has to capitulate to her decisions.
4 pieces of music that you listened to/make you think of Sea Change
There is some fine music in Scotland that has its roots in the traditional yet is not afraid to bring a 21st century take. Martyn Bennett (1971-2005) was a frontrunner with Grit and I felt the haunting atmosphere underpinning the phenomenal track, Blackbird, resonated particularly with the feelings of the main character, Alex.
The track Nigerian Princess by J.R. Green was The Janice Forsyth Culture Show’s Single Of The Week on Radio Scotland while I was writing a first draft and, for me, it epitomises the youth voice from our rural and remote area.
Daniel is an AC/DC fan and I couldn’t get away without listening to at least a few tracks for me to understand his devotion. My favourite, headbanging track, (and therefore Daniel’s) is Thunderstruck.
Dances are a significant part of west highland social life and there is plenty of traditional dancing going on at them. Popular bands usually mix in a few covers, however, and a perennial favourite locally is The First Cut is the Deepest, which is very appropriate for the teenage characters in Sea Change.
4 places that remind you of Sea Change
The west highlands is full of beautiful places and the seascape off Ardtoe and the fishing communities around Arisaig are typical of the settings in Sea Change. I also visited a local Manse and its overgrown garden, and a lochan covered in waterlilies to help with description in the novel.
4 films that convey the atmosphere you are writing about in Sea Change
My favourite film is My Beautiful Laundrette and I would be wrong to gainsay the influence it has had on my storytelling. Films in keeping with the atmosphere and genre of Sea Change would include Stand By Me and River’s Edge. If I can be allowed a TV series, One Summer by Willy Russell beautifully captures the world for teenagers who really don’t have much going for them.
What’s next for you ?
I hope to bring some of the characters in Sea Change back for a companion novel, where Caitlin might have to face a knock to her confidence. In the meantime, I’ll be on bookshop tours and school visits with Sea Change.
Sea Change was published by Stone Cold Fox Press on 3 July 2019