TINA BAKER: Why I Escaped to an Island

Written by Tina Baker

My latest psychological thriller, What We Did in the Storm, is set on the Isles of Scilly – a cluster of unspoilt gems off the coast of Cornwall. It’s a big departure for me. Yes it’s dark, like my other novels. And funny (think David Lynch directs an episode of Doc Martin) because dark humour literally keeps me sane (ish.) But I’m also known as the queen of domestic noir – according to one literary festival panel host at least. I like ratcheting up tension in a domestic setting, sometimes in a single room; everyday stresses building and building until, like a pressure cooker … Violence! Murder! Worse!

But in What We Did in the Storm, I’m suddenly outside, the wind in my hair, paddling in the sea, hiking up to the cliffs, walking through the glorious Abbey Gardens, and the island of Tresco is as much a character as the cast. What horrors could possibly lurk in this paradise of perfect beaches, crystal-clear waters, a place where there are no cars, and people don’t bother locking their doors? 

(Spoiler alert – a lot.)

I didn’t know the domestic noir genre existed until I accidentally fell into it. Like the label kitchen sink dramas, often attached to soaps, I feel there’s snobbery surrounding it, as if the bad things that happen in home settings to working class people aren’t on par with spy thrillers where protagonists jump out of helicopters and blow up the lairs of evil billionaire scientists, or the derring-dos of swashbuckling knights on the castle battlements of historical novels. 

For me, the very worst things happen at home.

Write what you know they say, and, obviously, I’ve spent more time in my flat than jumping out of planes – although I have done that for charity. (Sick as a dog. Wouldn’t recommend.) 

Like any writer, most of my time is spent in front of my computer. And I don’t go out to coffee shops to write, so even before lockdown and shielding (dodgy lungs) I had cabin fever.

I needed to escape. But, due a combination of world events, health, and my hilariously expensive hobby of cat rescue, I’ve not had a holiday in a fair few years. So a thriller set on the Scillies it was.

It’s a part of the world I know well.

I met my lovely husband, Geoff, on the Isle of Tresco, not in the aisle at Tesco, as most of my friends assumed. I went there on holiday one Christmas and of all the bars in all the world, I walked into his. The rest is the history of our twenty-year marriage. On paper it should never have worked. It started as a long-distance relationship, where I commuted from London to the islands whenever I could, using, at various times, most modes of transport known to mankind – taxi, tube, sleeper train, helicopter, plane, ferry, jet boat, rowing boat, tractor, golf buggy. Once, after being fogged in, it took me 26 hours to get home. It’d have been quicker to date someone in New Zealand. I also suffer terrible travel sickness and have been hauled from boat to quay like a sack of potatoes on several occasions. Such is love.

My husband is a good old Cornish boy, and that part of the world is wonderfully atmospheric. And it’s just too tempting not to use a beautiful backdrop for terrible things, in the same way I ruin any sense of safety the word home suggests.


My first novel, Call Me Mummy, is mainly set in the house of a woman who steals a child and keeps her prisoner. My second, Nasty Little Cuts, is even more constrained, with the action taking place over one night, as a husband and wife fight to the death in a kitchen. (Who amongst us has not wanted to stave in the skull of a partner at Christmas?) Make Me Clean is about a cleaner doing bad things in other people’s houses. But for the right reasons.

In contrast, What We Did in the Storm has vast skies and epic seas. I’m not exaggerating when I say Tresco looks like a stunning Caribbean island. And yet…

People run away to islands to hide in small communities. Holidaymakers pack secrets along with their waterproofs. In any holiday destination there can be tensions between the haves and have-nots who serve them.

And then there is the cliff edge.

Who hasn’t stood near the abyss thinking about taking that next step forwards into oblivion? Might you lash out in a moment of madness and push someone to their death? Or do you fear a sharp blow to your back sending you spiralling over? 

These are the thoughts I pack on my getaways. And these dark impulses crawl amongst my pages and inspire the drama. Enjoy! 

'Tina Baker's best yet' - JANICE HALLETT

'Brilliantly atmospheric' - L.V. MATTHEWS

'Compelling and suspenseful' - LISA HALLE

  • Publisher: ‎ Viper; Main edition (15 Feb. 2024)

Tina Baker

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