1973. Malik has always been something of a misfit. Born to a Greenlandic mother and an English-Explorer father, he has one eye of black and one of watery-blue. As a child his mother’s people refused to touch him and now his own baby daughter’s family feel the same way.
Never having known his father and with his mother and uncle dead from alcoholism, Malik’s only companion is a guiding spirit no-one else can see.
One day a white man with a nose like a beak and a shadow like a seagull appears on his doorstep and invites him to England.
Martha has had enough, living with domestic abuse and expected to turn the other cheek for the sake of appearances. She compares bruises with her friend Neil, who regularly suffers homophobic attacks. With Martha’s baby, they go on the run to Shetland, where Martha has happy childhood memories of summers spent with her aunt.
On their way up north in a camper van, they come across a dejected Malik, alone again after a brief reconciliation with his father’s family.
The three of them find peace and safety in the Shetland Isles, but Malik still needs answers to the identity of the beak-nosed man who casts a shadow over his life.
What music means to me
My dad used to make mixtapes, back in those recent but distant days before iPods and MP3 players, when you had to sit next to the CD player, listening to each song one by one from a pile of your favourite CDs, while the player recorded them onto a cassette tape in real-time. He has since been modernised, but for many years I held onto his cassette collection, packing it and unpacking it as we moved from house to house until eventually, in our most recent house move, both cassette player and collection seem not to have made it through with the rest of our possessions. There are other things that managed to get left behind, too: the bike trailer, my favourite bowl… But it is the cassette tapes-loss that saddens me the most.
Music was a big part of my childhood – or more specifically, my dad’s music collection was a big part of my childhood. We would listen to his mixtapes on the frequent long car journeys to visit grandparents or old friends. There is nothing to do when you are a car passenger on an endless journey, except listen to the music, every last note, and let your mind wander freely. I remember sitting in the car with Van Morrison, Robert Cray and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant – me getting stroppy whenever my dad, in the driver’s seat, would refuse to rewind the tape back to the beginning of my favourite song just one more time.
Tom Waits’s Downtown Train reminds me of those car journeys without fail, every time I hear it. Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell II – the entire album – takes me back to being eight years old, worried and unable to sleep, listening to the album every evening while I lay awake in bed and let the music take me somewhere else. I cannot describe where it took me, but I can taste that nowhere-place within me as soon as I hear the opening notes of I Would Do Anything for Love (and I still remember all the words). Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited takes me to Iceland as a teenager, camping with my parents and sister – the beginning of a landscape love affair that would lead me to study Icelandic and Old Norse and develop a mild obsession with the music of Sigur Rós.
The connection between music and landscape has always been foremost in my imagination. Every year my dad, a headteacher, would give a slideshow presentation in the school‘s small lecture theatre: his most atmospheric photographs of Greenland or Iceland (which he would visit most years with a small school expedition) meticulously sequenced and arranged to music. And the results were magical. For a long five minutes you could lose yourself in the beauty of the landscape and the sense of otherwordliness, to the meandering melodies of King Crimson‘s guitars or the haunting notes of Jan Gabarek‘s saxophone. It amazes me to think that these connections that were forged in my mind over twenty years ago are still strong now: every time I hear the opening voices of O Salutaris Hostia by Jan Gabarek and The Hilliard Ensemble, I experience a sense of peace that I cannot put into words. And my mind takes me – without my willing it to – to Greenland‘s icy mountains, to endless skies and all that space.
These northern landscapes are, of course, my biggest source of writing inspiration. In my imagination, this sense-of-place feeling merges together with the music that has come to accompany it, to create a tangible world that I long to disappear into as often as I can, often through writing. My second novel, The Seagull‘s Laughter, is also strongly intertwined with the idea of music and the places that it can take you to. It is set in Greenland as well as 1970s Manchester – the time and place in which both my parents grew up. At first I thought this an odd combination of places and worlds; it was only after I finished the novel that I began to look back in search of the origin of these connections that my mind had forged. And I found myself in the lecture theatre as a child, mesmerised by my dad‘s slideshows – merging Greenland, Manchester and my parents‘ taste in music. I was born in 1990 – at least twenty
years too late, I‘ve always thought. But music allows me to travel through time, as well as across oceans, to the times and places in which my stories can take place.
Thank you, Holly Bidgood and Love Books Group Tours.
About the author
Holly grew up in Derbyshire but has always been drawn to the sea. She has written from a young age. Her love affair with island landscapes was kick-started on a brief visit to the Faroe Islands at the age of eighteen, en route to Iceland. She was immediately captivated by the landscape, weather, and way of life and it was here that she conceived the idea for her first novel, The Eagle and The Oystercatcher.
Holly studied Icelandic, Norwegian and Old Norse at University College London. She also studied as an exchange student at The University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands) and spent a memorable summer working in a museum in South Greenland.
She decided to start a family young, and now has three small children. Holly helps run Life & Loom, a social and therapeutic weaving studio in Hull. She likes to escape from the busyness of her life by working on her novels and knitting Icelandic wool jumpers.
The Seagull’s Laughter will be published in November 2019.