Hayling Island, opposite the Isle of Wight in 1971 during my first year at college. They bought a house a minute's walk from the beach at Sandy Point, right down the bottom of the Island where a well known yacht club is situated. They lived on Hayling for over twenty years and my brothers and I and our families all came to love this quiet little backwater. Hayling Island is completely flat, twenty five miles square and before the steam train, the Hayling Billy was built, the only way to reach the Island was by boat.
There was also another way to reach the Island at low tide before the bridge was built and that was on the Wadeway. The Wadeway is believed to be a thousand years old and is a rocky footpath which has been laid out at the top of the Island right across the treacherous mudflats to the mainland. You can't use it now because the channel has been widened in the centre for sailing. I've tried walking along the top end which is uncovered at low tide but its incredibly slippery and if you slip into the mud you can sink up to your waist. The coastguards have to rescue one or two people a year.
My life has been linked to Hayling Island for over thirty years and therefore I decided to set a children's novel on the Island. I was walking on the beach one day and wondered what would happen if a couple of kids found an illegal immigrant washed up on the beach. I had just had a short story accepted by Tony Bradman for his anthology, Give me Shelter, about child asylum seekers. My story, Samir Hakkim's Healthy Eating Diary focused on a ten year old boy smuggled out of Saddam Hussein's Iraq to save his life. Samir finds himself abandoned at Heathrow airport by his escort, a regular occurrence for unaccompanied child asylum seekers and taken into care. I have worked with refugees and asylum seekers all of my working life, first as a teacher in London schools and then as a writer with Exiled Writers' Ink!, the Medical Foundation and PEN. There seemed to be much more to say about Samir than I could write in a short story. So I picked him up four years later, now aged fourteen. Walking on the beach on Hayling with his friend, Alix, they come across Mohammed,thrown out of his smugglers' boat and nearly dying of cold. Samir persuades Alix to help him hide Mohammed to save him from being deported. My novel, HIDDEN, will be published by Meadowside Books, March 2011.
Hayling Island is a perfect setting and coming back to the Island, walking the beaches, taking photos and writing in my notebook,has given me a whole new world of writing which I know I will return to again and again.
ON HAYLING BEACH
The wind, the greydeep sea.
Gulls, shots of white light
meeting still water
hunt for fish.
She is digging now
heaping sandcastles expertly in a line,
pointed rainhood, yellow spade.
She is the relief
on the flat edge of loveliness
dimenstion on the straight line of content.
She fills the space between
horizons, empty days.
"Watch me mummy,"
keeps at bay
the fierce dogs of night
snapping in my face.
(c) Miriam Halahmy
See my website : www.miriamhalahmy.com
Read my blog : http://miriamhalahmy.blogspot.com
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.