Celtic myths abound about the selkies – seals who can shed their skins to become human…or is that humans who can take up a skin to become a seal? Our fascination with creatures of the sea is a long-standing one, from the classical sirens who tempted Jason and the Argonauts to Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid. Yes, long before Disney. And who can forget the Attack of the Mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean?
Of course, all earthly life started in the sea. We’re mostly water, after all.
Today’s guest is Heather Ewings, a fellow Australian speculative fiction author. Heather lives and writes on the land of the Pallittorre people of Northern Tasmania, and has an MA in Modern History. She also has a particular interest in Tasmanian colonial times, as well as a fascination with myth and folklore.
I’m fortunate to day to speak to Heather about her writing inspirations.
What inspires me?
I once won a book by answering this question! That was about fifteen years ago, but the answer I gave still applies today. I’m inspired by hearing how other people have achieved their dreams, whatever they may be. I love hearing of the so-called ‘over-night’ success after years of hard work – it encourages me to sit down and put the effort in to take that next step. Whether improving my writing or editing skills, or learning how to market and promote my books, there’s always more to learn. But it’s not always easy to find the motivation to sit down and do the work.
… And for those who want to know which book I won, I’m pretty sure it was Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult, which I won through a competition run by Allen & Unwin!
Heather has kindly provided an extract from her novel, What the Tide Brings. Here’s the blurb, just before you start reading the story:
In most tales of selkies it is a woman whose magical skin is stolen, who is forced to marry the lucky thief and live a life of misery, pining away for her home in the sea.
But what if the stolen skin belongs to an infant, taken before they have memory of life under the waves?
Extract from What the Tide Brings:
Myna tossed and turned on the rickety bed as recent conversations circled her mind.
There was Wayanna’s hopeful plea: ‘That’s my seal skin. You have one too,’ quickly followed by Father’s defensive tone: ‘You’ll never find it. Your ma hid it too well, even from me!’
Could it be true?
Myna wanted her walk to the beach to be a dream, but it hadn’t ended suddenly, as dreams always did. Instead she’d had to walk the long cold path back home, and undress again, and climb back into bed beside her still sleeping husband. And then she’d lain there, for an awfully long time, as thoughts whirled around inside her head.
When the faint light of dawn crept in between the shutters, Myna sighed and slipped out of bed.
In the main room she stoked the fire, setting the kettle to boil before starting on the morning’s oats.
Father slept on a cot by the wall. Ronan intended to build an extra room for him, one that would be Ebba’s once he’d passed, but though the foundation stones had been laid the walls hadn’t been started, and Myna felt a stab of irritation. How long can it take?
As though he’d heard her thoughts, Ronan exited the bedroom, crossing the room to give Myna a kiss before leaving the house to start the morning’s chores.
Myna carried the heavy pot, hanging it on the hook over the fire when she heard the cot creak.
‘What am I doing here?’ Father propped himself up on one elbow, blinking at her.
‘You live with us now, Father.’ Myna turned to remove the tea cups from the shelf and place them on the table.
‘Nonsense. Take me home. Your mother will be wondering where I am.’
‘Mother died years ago.’
Father sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed in a rare moment of agility. ‘You’re trying to find it, aren’t you? She’ll spank you when she finds out.’
Myna lost her patience. ‘My mother. Really? You’ve been full of tales these past months. Accusing me of searching for something I never knew existed. I thought you’d gone mad—that you suffered the derangement of old age. But you haven’t, have you? You’ve just lost the ability to hide the truth. So, tell me this thing I’m supposed to be looking for, that my so-called mother doesn’t want me to find.’
He frowned, and blinked, his eyes gaining a clarity Myna hadn’t seen in such a long time.
‘Oh Myna.’ His shoulders sagged. ‘I told your mother to leave you there.’
No question how Myna found out, not even a hesitation.
‘I told her it were no good, taking you from the sea. And look where it got us, a fishing village with no fish, and your mother and me ostracised, and all because of you.’ His finger pointed at her, and his voice filled the room. ‘But she wouldn’t ever give you back, no matter how we begged and cajoled, she just wouldn’t let you go.’
He sighed, his arm dropping to his lap. When he spoke again his voice was softer.
‘I’m sorry, Myna, love. We were going to tell you. We just…it’s hard to know when the right time falls for such talk. At every point we feared destroying your present happiness or upsetting you more than you were. Your mother struggled to conceive a child; you know that. And when she saw you…’ He sighed again.
‘She thought I was a gift from the sea.’
‘So you just found me, abandoned on the beach?’ Myna wanted it to be true, that the people who’d raised her had saved her, but when Duncan’s gaze dropped to the table between them her hopes sank.
‘You were there with a selkie woman.’ His gaze flicked to Myna’s face and back to the table. ‘Your mother, Dyllis, she asked to hold you. The selkie seemed unsure, but agreed. Then Dyllis ran.” Duncan’s eyes flicked again. ‘Selkies aren’t used to running, are they? She couldn’t catch up. And then once Dyllis made it to the trees there were too many sharp sticks underfoot. Selkies’ feet aren’t used to sharp sticks.’
Myna’s knees gave way beneath her, and she sank into the nearest chair.
‘You and Dyllis took me from the shore. Even though I was there with my mother?’
Father cringed. ‘She loved you, from that first moment. We both did.’ He stopped, met her eye. ‘We both do,’ he amended. ‘You know that, don’t you?’
Myna’s eyes stung as she shook her head.
‘You may have thought you loved me, but you hated not being part of the town, living on the outskirts. And what about me? I grew up with no friends—always the outcast, always the focus of stares and whispers.’ She wiped the tears building in the corners of her eyes. ‘My own mother would have loved me. And I would have grown up as one of a group, not always the odd one out.’
‘If you and Mother had loved me, you would have sought out what was best for me. You would never have forced me into a life of your choosing. You would never have taken me from my family to begin with.’
She stood, and strode the few steps across the room to the door, slamming it on her way through.
She was a selkie, was she? Selkies hadn’t been seen since before she was born. Long extinct, her parents had told her when she’d asked about the tales. Ronan was from a larger town, further down the coast. He considered them folklore. How could she tell him they were real?
How could she tell him she was one?
Keen to read on? Check out Heather’s website – sign up for her newsletter and receive a free copy of the prequel yo What the Tide Brings – Maggie and the Selkie