Each of my three novels set on Hayling Island features a different part of the Island.
HIDDEN is set on the south coast, facing the Isle of Wight, near the lifeboat station.
ILLEGAL is set in the north part of the Island in the little lanes near Northney,
STUFFED which is coming out Feb 24th 2014 is partly set around the old oyster beds, looking out towards Portsmouth and across Langstone Harbour.
Hayling Island has a history which goes back to the Iron Age. The sea around Hayling is considered the warmest around the UK and it’s estimated 7/10 of the birds around Britain can be seen on Hayling.
Hayling had an oyster industry that dated back to the 14th century but pollution and food poisoning at the end of the 19th century put an end to the oyster beds.
In the 20th century the oyster beds were transformed into bird sanctuaries and in STUFFED, the old oyster beds are the favourite place on the Island for fifteen year old Jess.
I get off the bus at the top of the Island. Nana Hat lives in a flat for old people near the oyster beds, my favourite place on the Island. When Nana could walk better we used to go and sit on a bench and she would name all the birds for me. The oyster beds don’t have any oysters now, they’re like nature reserves.
It has been a lot of fun setting three books on the Island because it has allowed me to choose my favourite places to set the books and of course have lots of reasons to go and visit the Island. I often go for walks around the oyster beds. The route of the old Hayling Billy, the train line which once ran onto the Island, runs alongside that part of the coast and you can walk the entire five mile length of the line between beautiful countryside and the beaches.
Hayling has the site of an old Iron Age fort, Hill Fort and down at the oyster beds, there are chalk and flint beds. This must have been where flints would have been harvested for tools and weapons. Jess’s boyfriend, Ryan, has a passion for tools and when they meet at the oyster beds he can’t help noticing the flint, even though he has a lot on his mind.
We wander off, not speaking, and turn onto one of the spits of land which goes out to sea. We walk all the way to the end, where the ground falls away into chalk beds. I’m kicking through the chalk, almost without thinking, looking for flints. I like looking for flints. They were the first proper tools. I watched someone make a flint knife on TV once – he sheared an entire fleece off a sheep with it. “Sharp as a surgeon’s knife,” he’d said.
The water’s lapping at our feet and the chalk goes right out to sea. It sparkles under the water, which is transparent, like there are no secrets here. But I’ve got a guilty secret and when I tell Jess she won’t want to go out with me anymore.
“I come here all the time,” she says.
I wonder who she comes here with? There’s a burnt-out log on some blackened stones on the beach. People must come down here to party. I bet that Scott bloke brings girls here at night for bonfires, and to make out. Maybe that’s what Jess wanted.
Without realising it, I’ve let go of Jess’s hand and she’s fallen behind me. I walk further over the chalk. I’m standing there all on my own and I just want to howl and howl at the sea. Lee wants to meet up. I’ll have to drive to Portsmouth. What about me and Jess?
Me and Jess. What a joke.
Jess has come up behind me and she’s got her iPod out with the wire hanging in her hand. I turn and stare at her like we just met.
“Have you heard this track?” she asks. She hands me one earphone and puts the other one in her ear.
The oyster beds attract tens of thousands of wading birds providing the most spectacular sight on Hayling and the noise they make is so loud you can hardly hear yourself think. Ringed Plovers, Oystercatchers and Little Terns all use the long narrow islands created in the beds for breeding, hoping to keep themselves safe from foxes which are capable of crossing at low tide and consuming hundreds of eggs. The salt water lagoons also provide feeding grounds for Red-breasted Merganseres and Golden Eye.
When you go down and visit Hayling Island, make sure you take a walk around the old oyster beds and see if you can name the birds. I'm still learning!!