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Liam Bell and the locations in The Sleepless

  • Submitted: 29th May 2024

Liam Bell and the locations in The Sleepless

Let’s head off to Bonnie Scotland today and to a very small village in the Highlands…..

The Sleepless Liam Bell

Locations in The Sleepless

I wrote the majority of my fourth novel, The Sleepless, during the first UK lockdown. It’s a thriller centred on a commune whose disciples believe that we’re too dependent on sleep and that we can train ourselves to survive on less. In terms of the setting, I knew two things: firstly, the commune would need to be somewhere isolated enough for the cult to conduct their business unhindered; and, secondly, that with me confined indoors whilst writing, it needed to be somewhere that I knew intimately.

Kilchoan (c) Liam Bell

Kilchoan (c) Liam Bell

Locations in The Sleepless

The village of Kilchoan, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, is the most Westerly point on mainland Scotland. It is about four hours drive away from my home in Stirling, but it takes longer if the Corran Ferry is off – which it so often is – or the driver gets nervous on the single-track roads which wind through the countryside – which I definitely do. It is certainly far off the beaten track and so fulfilled the first part of my brief perfectly.

Holiday Chalet (c) Liam Bell

Holiday Chalet (c) Liam Bell

Locations in The Sleepless

I spent a week or two there most summers as a child, along with my parents and my sister, staying in wooden holiday chalets on the hillside behind the old stone kirk. I used to walk along the shore road each morning to the tiny Ferry Stores to fetch milk and bread for the family and then go along to the ferry terminal itself to watch the CalMac boat coming in from Tobermory. Those locations feature prominently in the novel, then, and that simplified map of the village – which I’d paced out every summer – was the one the disciples in my fictional commune navigated through the pages of the story; often wreaking havoc as they went.

Sanna Sands (c) Liam Bell

Sanna Sands (c) Liam Bell

Locations in The Sleepless

The main character in the novel, Grafton, is a wannabe journalist who travels up to Ardnamurchan to try to infiltrate the cult in search of answers about both their teachings and his ex-wife, who disappeared years before to join a similar group in India. And Grafton’s status as an outsider means that he can show the reader not only the dangerous eccentricities of the disciples but also the unparalleled beauty of the peninsula itself.

Liam Bell

Liam Bell

Locations in The Sleepless

A key scene is set on the beach at Sanna Sands, a stretch of coastline that is simply breathtaking with its broad sweep of pristine sand, the calls of the oystercatchers, and the rolling waves. It is one of those beaches which you only find on the west coast or western isles of Scotland – picture perfect and often completely deserted for hours on end.

Ferry Stores (c) Liam Bell

Ferry Stores (c) Liam Bell

Locations in The Sleepless

It wasn’t until the summer after I’d finished a full draft of the novel that I could return to Kilchoan, now with my own children in tow. And I discovered that the single-track roads were just as petrifying and the Corran Ferry was just as unreliable. Also, I found that those important locations of the Ferry Stores and the ferry terminal were to all intents and purposes unchanged and that the beach at Sanna still had the fine sand that is as white as spilt-salt and which slips between your bare toes like water.

The Sleepless Liam Bell

There was one shift, though, one thing which I’d misremembered. The distances between the key locations on that ‘map’ in my mind – holiday chalets to Ferry Stores to ferry terminal – were all a little different than what I’d remembered from my wanderings as a ten- or eleven-year-old. I’d shortened some and elongated others. The Kilchoan I’d constructed in the novel – the one the Sleepless disciples terrorise and, to a certain extent, destroy – was both the village of my childhood memories and a slightly skewed, partly fictionalised version of it. And I realised that was perfect, because I could let the unhinged cult members run riot, safe in the knowledge that the real Kilchoan waits there, unspoilt, awaiting my next visit.

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass: The Sleepless

Twitter: @fly_press

 

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