Orkney Twilight is a thriller seen through the sometimes-stoned eyes of Sam, a teenager who falls into the shadowy world of her father, Jim, an undercover cop. It was inspired by my relationship with my own father. He was an undercover cop. I was a bolshie teenager. Just for the record, I didn’t inhale.
It is my first novel. It took me a while to work out how to do it. I started writing in 2010, juggling work and family. I was living in Washington D.C. and the sticky heat of the subtropical summer drove my head home to cooler places. Orkney, where I spent many childhood holidays. The dank Greenwich foot tunnel underneath the Thames. Tilbury Docks, watching the boats with my dad.
The truths in Orkney Twilight are the human ones. The father and daughter relationship is at the heart of the story. Neither Jim nor Sam is emotionally articulate – but then the novel is set in 1984, and people didn’t emote in those distant days before Diana’s death. Particularly not if they were a cop. Jim drinks. Communicates in edgy banter. Has a secret other life and has been absent for most of hers. She barely knows him. Feelings are suppressed and can only be found etched in the landscape and the things left unsaid.
The Norse mythology running through the plot stems partly from the sense I had of my father as a master storyteller, continually weaving his facts and fictions. The book’s structure and pacing reflect my experience of information revelation about his work. I did not know the details of his job until 2002, three years after he died, when a documentary, True Spies, revealed some of what he had been doing in the seventies. Once an activist myself, learning that part of my father’s job was to infiltrate activist organisations was a bit of a shock.
There is something of the old-school thriller about Orkney Twilight. My main point of reference was early John le Carré. I had my eye on that fictional territory which, funnily enough, felt quite like home to me. Spies. Tradecraft. The agent as mystic and mythmaker. But I view that world from an infiltrator’s perspective. The subversive approach. I wanted to see if Sam could sneak through a gap in the fence to take a quick pot shot at the stronghold of the political spy thriller. Without getting jumped on, hopefully.
Orkney Twilight is published by Head of Zeus