Guest author: Sara Bailey on writing Dark Water

A big welcome today to Sara Bailey, who is here talking about writing her debut novel, Dark Water. Sara and I met on an online course several years ago where we were both learning to edit our work so I saw this novel in it’s very early stages. Thrilled for Sara that is now out in the world and doing so well. Over to you, Sara. 


The most common question I’ve been asked since the book came out is ‘How do you write?’ Which I’m taking as, ‘How do you find the time?’ Well, when I’m working on a book, I try to set up a routine. It’s changed a bit since I moved to Orkney, and since I got a puppy, but essentially it’s the same. Clear the decks and my mind and get on with it.

As soon as my husband leaves for work and I’ve had my second cup of tea, I pull on dog walking clothes, grab the whistle (as only thing Molly the dog responds to when we’re out), the dog and head to the sea. It’s a five-minute walk down the hill to one of Orkney’s most glorious beaches. Every day it’s different and no one could fail to be inspired by the breath taking views I live with on a daily basis. This morning it is bright and windy and the bay is beautiful with great stretches of sand and rolling indigo waves bringing in the tide. Molly knows the way now and she’s off, head down, sniffing out and hiding amongst the sand dunes to leap out at me when I reach her. Occasionally she’ll try and chase a seagull, but they always get away.

The sea is rough today, indigo and turquoise. Other days it can be almost black or white with reflected light. It can be flat calm or great walls of glass that crash in terrifying thunder on the beach, hurling seaweed, shells and pebbles, dead seals, seabirds, a bottle or part of a creel, then retreating back, dragging flotsam and jetsam back into it’s tidal maw. There are four seals bobbing about in the bay today. I love their curiosity and soulful eyes. Selkies play a definite role in Dark Water, so I watch out for them whenever I am down on the beach. Most of the myths and legends of Orkney come from the sea and I can’t think of a better source of inspiration.

When I was first asked by Amanda to write this guest blog my mind went blank. She had very kindly suggested that I write about the themes of my debut novel, Dark Water, which pretty much floored me – themes? What themes? Oh yes, those, ah..

Writer’s shouldn’t be lost for words or unable to explain the themes and layers in their books – all this should trip off the tongue. But it doesn’t, not for me, because each time I think about the novel I realise that it’s about something else. I suppose the most obvious theme is water, specifically the sea but it is also about truth, if truth can be a theme and it’s about friendship and island living.

Orkney as a setting is ideal for these themes because firstly islands have their own rules, their own truths if you like and their own way of seeing things. As an island, of course, it is surrounded by water and the water is both part of the island and separate. It is the gulf you have to cross to become a part of the mainland and it can be the reason you are shut off, sometimes for days at a time. The sea provides sustenance and livelihood for many. It has to be treated with respect. No ones knows this better than islanders.

Friendships on an island are more important than anywhere else or anything else – you rely on your neighbours so much more on an island – by necessity if not always by design. In the book, the two girls are almost an island in themselves. As outsiders they cling to each other in a sea of families and familiarity bound by decades, centuries even. They rely on each other so much more than they would have done if they’d met, say somewhere in England or mainland Scotland.

When Helena returns to the island, there is a sharp contrast with her life in London. In London, she is surrounded by a sea of people, but she is very isolated, with few if any close friends. Back in Orkney, we, like her, are struck by how much she is part of the fabric there.

Helena has her own version of the events she left behind, and much of the novel is concerned with what she will allow herself to remember or acknowledge.

I don’t want to say anymore in case of spoilers. Let’s just say, sometimes it’s hard to tell which way is up and which is down.


Thanks for coming, Sara. Orkney sounds like a wonderful place to live, write and walk.

You can get a copy of Dark Water here; and connect with Sara on Twitter.