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Journey into the world of The Sleepless

Imposing mountainous regions. Vast swathes of heathered moorland. Endless stretches of soft sand, carpeting the waves that extend out to meet the distant horizon. ‘No scenery more Scottish’: this is Ardnamurchan, the real-life setting where the Sleepless commune in Liam Bell’s latest thriller reside.

We imagine cults to situate themselves in places far-removed from our normal lives and on the brink of unreality, in alignment with their beyond-the-pale beliefs. However, for the residents of Bell’s Ardnamurchan, this is something they can only wish for. Against the background of a setting noted for its unspoiled beauty, is the settlement of the Sleepless commune: they believe that sleep is a social construct; that sleep has become chemically ingrained within us. The commune are ultimately striving to purge this toxic urge.

Beneath the ‘terracotta’ skies, to the soundtrack of ‘rippling and reflective’ waves, encased in the haze of ‘mist drifting down from the summits’, the followers of the cult go to tortuous extremes to stay awake. When our protagonist, Grafton, a journalist looking to uncover the secrets of the Sleepless, arrives in Ardnamurchan, he penetrates the literal and metaphorical mist to vividly render both the beauty of the landscape and the horrors of the commune.

Marvel at the real Ardnamurchan where the Sleepless commune reside, to become a passenger travelling alongside Grafton as you further immerse yourself in their world.

As Grafton takes the road into Ardnamurchan, the vastness of the scenery he is faced with has him yearn for this ‘simple, uncluttered life, with time and space to concentrate.’ Flanked by ‘blind summits’, he travels along the road that cuts through the mountains and moves with the landscape’s undulations where ‘sweeps of green and brown turn slate grey in an instant.’ Little does he know what awaits him at the end of the road.

Ardnamurchan is a landscape of extremes, where windswept and treeless flatland suddenly becomes ‘scarred through with grey rock, ridges and overhangs.’ As such, it is a fitting setting to locate a seemingly harmless group of people whose disturbing methods to stay awake are rendered by Liam Bell as vividly as the surroundings.

As Grafton takes a journey with the commune to the beach at Sanna, this duality of calmness and chaos continues. Indulge in Liam’s description of the beach for yourself:

‘Sand as white as spilt salt was flattened, spread and rippled by the wind until it looked like a second sea – purer and calmer – beside the churning grey water […] the dominant sound was the fall and drag of the water on the main stretch of sand – the shushing of a patient mother comforting a newborn.’

Even amongst the danger and jeopardy in which Grafton finds himself, Liam Bell capitalises on the setting he has chosen to slow the pace of the narrative, replacing the twists and turns that Grafton must undergo, with moments of pure appreciation for his sublime surroundings.

‘He listened to the silence. Not even an owl hoot. If you listened intently, though, then the sea started to murmur. And enough of a breeze stirred to carry the smell of seaweed.’

This is a setting that is brought alive. Whether it be the murmuring sea, the sand that holds your toes, or the encircling arm of the grey rock, Ardnamurchan is as much as character as anyone else and enriches this text with it’s the energy of its rugged topography. If you dare to journey into the world of the Sleepless, you are sure to find pockets of beauty within.

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