Lu Hersey's Deep Water - recommended by the wonderful Malorie Blackman! - is high on my TBR pile, so I'm delighted to take part in her blog tour today!
Over to you, Lu.
Some years ago, nosing around a second-hand bookshop, I came across an old paperback called The People of the Sea by David Thomson. It was in the travel section, but a quick look at the cover and the blurb told me that it was more of a book on folklore – covering stories of the seal people, the selkies (or selchies) of Celtic legend. Skimming through a few pages, I knew I had to buy it.
The People of the Sea turned out to be one of my best ever purchases (especially at 50p!), and the most haunting and unusual book I’d read for a long time. I loved it.
First published in 1954, it’s an account of Thomson’s travels through the islands of Scotland and Ireland, encompassing his encounters with the island people and descriptions of the dwellings they lived in. He conjures a sense of place perfectly. You can almost smell the peat fires and the cow dung as you read. But the main purpose of these travels was to collect stories about selkies – creatures who are seals in the water and become people on the land – from islanders who still believed them to be true.
The People of the Sea is a kind of travelogue meets mythic journey – and then some. Irish poet Seamus Heaney described it as a work of “intuitive understanding, perfect grace, and perfect pitch.”
I’ve been recommending the book ever since I read it, but it was only when looking through it again recently that I realized how much of it had embedded itself into my subconscious – and just how far it went towards inspiring my novel, Deep Water. The sense of those special places where the worlds of earth and water meet – the coastal shorelines where even now, you can still sometimes feel the magic – really stayed with me.
Of course I’m not alone in loving The People of the Sea – the book has remained in print ever since it came out in the 1950s. And it’s not just writers who love it either.
In the appendices (got to love a book with appendices!) Thomson has included sheet music to a few folk songs about selkies – including a very ancient chant from the Hebrides said to have been sung by the selkies themselves.
I always wanted to hear what this sounded like – so it was a total joy to discover folk singer Emily Portman (who is also obsessed with selkies) had included the chant in her song Grey Stone. When I found out she’d got the music from the back of The People of the Sea, I squawked so loudly in the library that heads turned…
Anyway, the upshot is I used a part of Emily’s song (including some of the ancient chant) as the backing track to my book trailer – so have a listen. It’s all about the magic – and the people – of the sea. And I hope I managed to convey at least some small part of that magic in Deep Water too.
Deep Water by Lu Hersey, published by Usborne, is out now. Read the first chapter online at www.usborne.com/readdeepwater or watch the trailer.