Edinburgh crime writer Emma Christie reveals the part a pair of hamsters played in the writing of her new twisty thriller
A short time later, having fallen in love with Edinburgh’s seaside, the writer, who turns 40 today, moved to the area, which features in her recently released debut novel, The Silent Daughter.
Originally from Ayrshire, Emma confesses, “I didn’t know Edinburgh had a beach until about 10 years ago - I don’t know how I didn’t know that. I’d come to Edinburgh loads of times before and even done a show at the festival... a terrible show in St Cuthbert’s Church, we were in the same venue as Paul Daniels and Debbie McGhee,” she laughs.
“I’d even lived in the city but never knew it had a beach. Then a good friend of mine bought a house in Portobello and, when she was going on holiday, asked, ‘Can you come and look after my hamsters?’ I was free at the time so I did. She’d said the beach was just a the bottom of her street and I thought that was strange, but I went and that was when I fell in love with Portobello.”
So much so, a few years later the writer, who splits her time between Scotland and Spain, moved there herself.
“At the time I was thinking about coming back to Scotland,” she recalls. "So I rented a place in Portobello for six months and within two months had bought a wee flat near Figgate Park. The original idea was to spend half the year in Portobello and half the year in Barcelona where I work as a tour guide,” she continues, “but I now try to come home every two months.
"Portobello never ceases to amaze me. I’m a runner so I have an amazing running route; I go around Figgate Park and look out for the otters, which I’ve seen a few times, and then I run all the way along the Promenade and back along the High Street, so I get the whole tour all at once.”
It’s hardly surprising then to discover that Porty features in The Silent Daughter, which is described as a ‘unique twisty thriller’ that asks the question: How well do you know the ones you love?
The book is centred around a journalist, a job Emma has a valuable insight into having worked as a reporter. When news reporter Chris Morrison’s wife Maria ends up in a coma after a serious fall running, the first thing he does is try to assemble the family at her bedside... but his daughter Ruth doesn’t respond despite repeated calls and emails. This isn’t unusual - Ruth is frequently gone for months at a time working abroad, only communicating via social media - but when he thinks about it, when was the last time anyone actually spoke to her? As questions are raised about the circumstances surrounding Maria’s fall, Chris starts to question everything he knows.
It’s gripping stuff and a book that has been 15 years in the making, reveals Emma, who has been invited to read an extract from it at this year’s Bloody Scotland Festival.
“The story is about a news reporter who finds himself on the wrong side of the story, he is the one with the family drama, it’s about family secrets and things that remain unspoken and the consequences of that,” says the writer. “From start to finish, it took me about two years to write, but I quit my job as a news reporter in Aberdeen 10 years ago to try to write novels. The idea was to take a year off and write a book... it took a wee bit longer,” she laughs.
“The main character Chris Morrison, however, is what inspired me to quite my job - I’ve had him in my head for 15 years. I remember the first time I ever mentioned him out loud, I went for a walk with a friend and said, ‘I have this idea...’ So it was bugging me and bugging me as I tried to find a story to fit around the character. That was the sticking point but once I started writing it, the story just started making itself - I knew how it began and how it finished but all the little bits in between just came to life as I wrote.”
Morrison is not based any one specific person, insists Emma.
“I was a reporter for five years, a young reporter and looked up to these people in the office who had been there for 30 years. I learned a lot from many, many different people, so I suppose the character is inspired as much by my experiences on the ground and the things that go through your mind as a reporter.
“I always found myself thinking about what happened next. I’d interview a family who’d had a tragic event, do the story and maybe follow it up but you never really know what happened to that family a year or a couple of years later. Also, as a court reporter you see these very, very young criminals coming in, teenagers who have done really bad stuff, and you get an insight into their chaotic lives, that made me think... I’ve tried to explore that in The Silent Daughter.”
Emma admits to having a wee tear in her eye when she first held a copy of her book - two arrived by post at her flat in Barcelona the day before publication after an original consignment went astray in the post.
"I got up about half past five on the morning of publication, I was that excited I couldn't sleep, it felt like Christmas. I went through to my favourite chair, had an espresso in one hand and a this package in the other, the moment I opened it and held the book was quite overwhelming after so many years of work, disappointments and rejections, and I was very excited to discover it had an embossed cover, which I hadn't realised.
"But it was funny because the book was released a week or so early in the UK as part of a special offer, so most of my family and friends had already bought a copy of it and been sending me pictures - everybody had held it, except me and yes, I have to confess I did shed a wee tear when I held it."
She reflects, "So I have a lot of affection for those hamsters, without them I might not have discovered Portobello."
Emma Christie reads from The Silent Daughter at Bloody Scotland, 20 September, 11am, free but ticketed from https://bloodyscotland.com/
DON’T MISS: Read the first of our extracts from The Silent Daughter here tomorrow
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