SAM AND THE SALT MARSH – WRITING A TRILOGY BY CLARE CARSON

Clare Carson is an anthropologist and works in international development, specialising in human rights. As a child, she spent many holidays in Orkney with her father, an undercover policeman which inspired her first novel Orkney Twilight. She will be taking part in the Endeavour Press Crime Fiction Festival.

The Salt Marsh is the second in a trilogy of spy stories told from the point of view of Sam, a young woman whose father was a police spy. When I wrote my first novel, Orkney Twilight, I assumed it was a one-off. Writing a trilogy has allowed me to develop the character and voice of Sam in ways which explore the impact of spying on the families of the spooks.

My late father was an undercover policeman and, growing up, I was an avid reader of books about spies. The classic spy thrillers are written from the inside, through the eyes of the agent deeply embedded in the subterfuges of the secret state. Wives and children are peripheral characters, if they are there at all, pawns in the plots of the heroic spy. When I started writing myself, I wanted to turn this perspective upside down and view the shadowy world of the spy from the edge. Sam is an insider-outsider, reluctantly drawn into action and danger because of her father.

In Orkney Twilight, Sam is a teenager. It is, in part, a coming of age story. Growing up as the daughter of a spy means that Sam has taken on some of the characteristics of an agent herself. She is paranoid and wary. Her father’s mysterious absences, and the tension when he returns home, have cauterised her feelings. She escapes by imagining she is playing the part of somebody else – a Viking seeress. She is more at home with birds and the landscape than other people. The story is told in close third person, a slightly distant voice that seemed fitting for a girl who is detached from herself. Events force her, in the end, to confront her feelings about her father.

The Salt Marsh is set two years later. Sam is in grief, but it is a difficult kind of grief because she is mourning the loss of somebody who had secrets, and she is scared of her hidden legacy. Has she inherited her father’s enemies? Will she be made to pay for his sins? Who can she trust? In this book, Sam is older and dealing with emotions that are so pressing they can no longer be contained. She is less able to maintain a feisty cover. Her feelings and perceptions run amok and she cannot always control them. The story is still told in the close third person, but sometimes it nearly slips into a first person voice as Sam grapples with her demons and her boundaries dissolve.

I am currently writing The Dark Isle, the final part of the trilogy. Sam has come full circle. She is vulnerable, but she is more in control and self-aware. She has to use the tradecraft she has learned to try and turn the tables on the spooks. She is still on the edge of the shadows, but she’s searching for resolution about her father – looking for the light.

Find out more about Clare by following her on Twitter: @clarecarsonpen

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