Thursday, 22 November 2012

Celebrating Scotland - past, present & future

Author Showcase - introducing Ali Bacon and her debut novel: A Kettle of Fish


It’s fantastic to be here with Janice in her author showcase and from my home in Bristol, I’m trying to imagine I’m actually in glorious South West Scotland which I know a little, though not as well as I know the east coast where my novel A Kettle of Fish is set.

Is it a good idea to use real places in a novel? Major cities, I think are fine, because their buildings and views are in a sense public property. But the places I grew up feel more personal. What if I somehow offended the locals? What if readers mistook Ailsa’s life story for autobiography? (However unlikely that is!) In a last-minute panic I considered changing the location to a fictional town, but in the end, I left it as it was (and hopefully is). Fife in all its guises is very much the inspiration for this book, so why not celebrate it?  Here’s a quick tour of some of the places in the novel and what they mean to me – and my heroine!

I was born and brought up in Dunfermline, now a fair-sized town with mix of industries and a football team whose moment of glory was in the nineteen sixties. As the ancient capital of Scotland, its history goes back to King Robert the Bruce (of spider fame!) and beyond. It was also the birth place of national benefactor Andrew Carnegie not to mention the constituency of a certain recent prime minister. (For more check out
But what teenager really cares about history or politics when there’s a big world out there? One reviewer has described Alisa’s home town as a village. When I saw this I panicked – had I got the description all wrong? But on second thoughts I’m quite pleased, because that’s a bit how it felt to me in my school days, and how anywhere feels to someone like Ailsa Robertson who’s dying to get out!

Visiting Dunfermline a few years ago, I was struck by how much had changed, and while writing Kettle I did have to make sure that it’s described as it is today and not just as I remembered in my childhood (this is contemporary fiction after all!) But I was surprised and gratified to find that the sea-side village of Lower Largo, which plays such a big part in Ailsa’s memories, has barely changed at all. It’s still off the beaten track and has nothing to offer other than a tiny harbour and a never-ending beach.


In my early teens I spent several summers and winter weekends there and I admit to indulging in plenty of nostalgia in putting it on the page, safe in the knowledge it is still the perfect holiday retreat.

About half way through the book my heroine moves to Edinburgh, a city I love but have never lived in. For many of the locations I plundered Google, Wikipedia and Flickr to refresh my memory, or in some places to augment it. In fact I had never been up Carlton Hill, the city’s famous viewpoint until after the book was written and resorted to Google maps to trace Ailsa’s route from Dean Park to the summit.

I was very pleased when I got there myself to discover I’d got it right.

Back to the future

Finally, Ailsa and I went to the same school, a four square brick construction of the 1930s with a concrete and glass extension which I thought would never change. But I’ve just learned that ‘The High’ has been completely rebuilt and now looks like this. I’m amazed – I think Ailsa would be too!

Thanks to John Burrel of Dunfermline for this image. Also to Flickr users dugspr-homeforgood for Dunfermline High Street  and chattygirl for Lower Largo beach (

A Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon

Ali's Links
Kindle edition from Thornberry Publishing
Twitter @AliBacon
Amazon UK Author Page Author Page


Sheryl Browne said...

I enjoyed the tour, Ali. Thank you. It is always gratifying when you research somewhere and get it right (shows the importance of research). Um, they closed my school the year I left. No, it was nothing to do with me, honestly! Good luck with A Kettle of Fish! :) xx

Patricia said...

Lovely interview, ladies. It's very interesting to hear about life in a different part of the world and I believe readers enjoy having a peek at the depth of research required of writers.

Melanie said...

Loved the post. I've climbed to the top of Calton Hill but have only driven through the Kingdom of Fife with a stop in St Andrews to visit the castle and the cathedral.

Well done with your research getting everything right.

Linn B Halton and Lucy Coleman said...

Fab post Ali! The reference to village, whilst incorrect, I think might have signified how 'small' our world seems to be as a youngster. When we are growing up we are only affected by those very close to us and our immediate surroundings. For instance, I was brought up in Bristol - which is now rather sprawling. But within that I lived in a much smaller 'community', a suburb really and that was my world. All the best with A Kettle of Fish!

Kit Domino said...

Great post and photos. Am great believer in using real places in novels even if bits are inventions and praise for Google for research when you can't physically go somewhere to check it out.

AliB said...

Hi Sheryl - they closed your school? that's nothing, the church where we got married burned down soon after and was never rebuilt :(
No going back there, as DD always says!

Ali B

AliB said...

Hi all - thanks for visiting with us today. Melanie - hope you notice that St. Andrews also gets a scene in the book. I was at uni there and couldn't resist completing the journey.

Heather said...

Lovely post, Ali. And (boooo) it's been far too long since I visited Scotland. Another favourite place for me was Stirling Uni, situated on a small loch. *sighs* Heather x

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I love Dunfermline and the East Neuk of Fife, although I live in the west coast! All the bestw ith your novel, Ali.

AliB said...

Hi Rosemary - I don't think I appreciated my surroundings until I moved away - you know how it is!
Ali B

Janice said...

One of the things I loved about A Kettle of Fish was the setting - I'm familiar with Edinburgh and The Kingdom of Fife and 'Deep Sea World' in South Queensferry (where Ailsa goes with her mum in the story) as one of my sons actually works there. He's a part time diver and zoology graduate from Edinburgh Uni and he looks after and feeds those huge sharks in the tank - although only of a weekend now that he also has a full time job in the week. So I know first hand that the background to Ali's wonderful book is absolutely spot on!

Janice xx

Talli Roland said...

Congrats on the novel, Ali! I love learning more about new places - can you believe I've never been to Scotland? I must remedy that.

AliB said...

Hi Taili - yes you must, although I can't get up there very often now myself.
Janice - that's amazing. what a great job - my son was also shark mad for a while but has become a financial adviser instead!
By the way, John Burrell has been in touch and alerted DHS former pupils to this post, so look out for more visitors. I also have to apologise for mis-spelling his name (two ll's)and he lives in Aberdour now not Dunfermline. Apologies for not getting it right first time. Ali B