Sunday, 25 August 2019

Stories of the Sea

Stories of the sea

What inspires you as a writer?  Where do you get your ideas from?

Familiar questions?  Yes.  The ones most likely to get us sighing and rolling our eyes.Yet the graphic novelist Alan Moore, says this isn’t because we are frustrated or bored by the question.  It is because – fundamentally - we have no idea.
 I think that’s fair. Ideas, or at least, concrete ones, such as those that form a plot, or characters trait or flaw, come from nowhere we can quite identfy. Like any conscious thought, they simply appear, they are just ‘there’ and no amount of analysis of your own imagination or mind will really tell you what led to the point where they appear.

Knowing where your ideas come from is as slippery a business as ‘knowing your own mind,’ and that one keeps philosophers and psychologists pretty busy. No, we don’t know. But perhaps we know the themes.  And perhaps we only know how strong a grip they have on us, when we are a long way down the track.  I’ve had four books published. Storms and the sea feature very strongly in all of them. I honestly never planned it that way. 
 Only now can I see how my teen obsession with The Tempest has really played out, and also with a  favourite poem by e e cummings
May came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea


I was young and holidaying in Cornwall. It was so wet there was nothing to do but stare at the stormy ocean through a rain-streaked window. From the dusty sheIves I plucked an ancient paperback, Clare Francis’s Come Hell or High Water, the story of her solo sail across the Atlantic. 

I read on… and on, feeling the cold wind and fierce spray, gasping, sea-sick and with my heart in my mouth, as page after page she faced 60ft waves and ferocious storms.

I’ve been hooked on tales of ocean adventure ever since. From Robinson Crusoe to Life of Pi, via Moby Dick and Lord of the Flies, I’m transported by stories of the blue. Now, if I’m not in the water or on it, reading or writing about it, there’s a part of me that feels not quite complete.

The sea, you won’t be surprised to hear, is a huge part of my latest: Girl. Boy. Sea.(Zephyr, August). It is not just where the adventure takes place, it is an important character in its own right.

As someone who works in ocean conservation ( and as a member of @authors4oceans, I wanted to explore the ethical issues around the sea. A strong theme of the book is why the ocean matters and what we are in danger of losing.

The sea is stranger than any planet we can imagine, full of beings too alien to be real. A wilderness that is unlike the land, where we’ve lost nature, have tamed it. With too many factories and roads, and too few trees. There’s no deep forest to hide our darkest dreams or monsters; to feed new fairy stories.

But the sea does have that wildness still. It can’t be tamed. You can’t plough it, fence it or build on it.

Or is that just a fantasy? Because we can still drill the seabed, fill the water with plastic, ravage fishstocks, upset the chemical balance of the 7/10 of the surface that gives us 50% of our breath and regulates atmospheric carbon.

I wanted Girl. Boy. Sea to be set in a pristine ocean world. It is about what we are losing but still have time to save.

The MCs, Bill and Aya’s survival depends on the sea, but like the dark forest of a fairy tale, it’s a thing of terror as much as beauty; that gives life and snatches it away in an instant. On their odyssey they encounter whales, turtles, and a gull who becomes their friend. But they are threatened by storms, and a dark shadow, lurking in the deep, that follows, getting closer day by day.

The sea puts Bill and Aya – who are as unlike each other as two characters ever were – through trials of fear and starvation. To survive, they have to work together, and in so doing, discover who they really are and what they have in common. It’s an experience that binds them, showing their power and vulnerability.

Like e e cummings poem, Girl. Boy. Sea. is about what we lose and what we find in the sea.


Sue Purkiss said...

It sounds fascinating, and that's a beautiful cover. Will send for it forthwith!

Chris Vick said...

Thank you, Sue :)

Chris Vick said...

And actually, you've inspired me to think: I'll write about covers ina future blog.
Never judge a book by its cover. But we do precisely that in some ways.

Unknown said...

I love your explanation of how the sea came to be a key theme in your life and that your books are tightly meshed with the path you have chosen (or perhaps the path that has chosen you). I'm so looking forward to reading this one.