A girl, a bear and a travelling circus, floating but never quite belonging. We spoke to Kirsty Logan, author of The Gracekeepers, about the inspiration for her debut novel, and where she wrote the book.

THE GRACEKEEEPERS - JACKETHappy book birthday Kirsty! Tell us a bit about The Gracekeepers.

The Gracekeepers is a novel about two women trying to make a real home in a difficult world.

North and her bear live on a circus boat, floating between the scattered archipelagos that are all that remains of the land. To survive, the circus must perform for the few fortunate islanders in return for food and supplies. In the middle of the ocean, Callanish tends the watery graves along the equator, as penance for a long-ago mistake. A storm brings a change in both their lives that they may not have been expecting, but could bring them the peace and happiness they have yearned for.

What lead to you writing The Gracekeepers?

I wrote the book a few years after my father died very suddenly at the age of 58. He was rushed into intensive care, and was there for a week before my family had to make the decision to switch off the life support. He never woke up in that week, and I don’t think he even knew he’d been in hospital. While he was there, I visited every day and read him Rudyard Kipling’s The Just So Stories, which he’d read to me when I was a child.

You never stop missing the person who’s gone, but it does get better. Around that time, I was out on a boat with my uncle, and on the water I saw floating lights in cages. They looked like birdcages, and I started to wonder why there would be birdcages at sea. The idea of the graces appeared in my head, and the whole novel began from there.

Where did you write your novel?

A retreat at Cove Park, which overlooks Loch Long

A retreat at Cove Park, which overlooks Loch Long

The first chapters were written by the sea: first at Belhaven, and then at Cellardyke. Belhaven (‘biel’ means ‘shelter’ in Gaelic) is a small town on the east coast where I stayed in a two-room cottage; the beach is long and silvery with a view of Bass Rock, and there’s a strange little low-tide bridge which at high tide is surrounded by water and can’t be crossed. Cellardyke is a fishing village on the east coast with a harbour built in the 16th century; while I was there a storm blew in with incredibly high waves lashing the walls, and the harbour was closed to stop people being swept out to sea. While there I bought an antique brass compass, which I then developed a writing superstition about: every morning before beginning my writing, I had to make sure the compass pointed north.

Hawthornden Castle, near Edinburgh

Hawthornden Castle, near Edinburgh

Later chapters were written at Hawthornden Castle, which is a 15th century ruin with a 17th century castle attached, in a woodland estate near Edinburgh. It was January, and it snowed – the castle looked glorious covered in snow, and I spent many happy hours tramping through the woods and curled under a yellow woollen blanket in the library. Every evening I spent hours in the deep Victorian bath, reading poetry books and listening to the rain fall on the skylight. There was a wonderful chef who served up traditional Scottish food – haggis and neeps, roast chicken, baked fish, sausage and mash, and cranachan. Evening meals were taken with the five other writers staying there; after that we went to the drawing room to drink port, play Scrabble, and talk nonsense until we started dozing off.

The Gracekeepers, Kirsty Logan (Harvill Secker) is available now. Read the design story on the Vintage design blog, CMYK. Follow Kirsty on Twitter @KirstyLogan.

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