‘Meriel’s Guide to Unpredictable Seals’ – a story about how you can change the world at the same time as you change yourself. It’s a book for now, about the environment and about how one woman in search of herself finds a new cause as well as a new life.
This story begins when out-of-work Meriel, still reeling from an unexpected divorce, sees a seal in the Thames and a long-forgotten, childhood memory begins to surface. Curious, she researches grey seals and discovers they are being shot by salmon farmers in Scotland to protect their stock. As she takes up their cause, embarking on an impulsive affair with a Scottish fisherman along the way, she gets drawn into a group of animal rights activists who are not what they seem. Her challenge to save the local seals begins and as she risks everything to stop the shootings she discovers not just the watery secret of her past but that the world holds more magic than she could ever believe.
Hello, welcome back to my world, which is still full of sea-things, especially seals, as I’ve just finished editing my novel, which now has a new title, which I love, and I’m very excited about getting the book out there.
‘Meriel’s Guide to Unpredictable Seals’ is a story about how you can change the world at the same time as you change yourself. It’s a book for now, about the environment and about how one woman in search of herself finds a new cause as well as a new life.
More soon …
Just a quick post to let you know that the new fiction editing and proofreading website is now up and running at Exactus-sol.co.uk See you there!
The wonderful thing about writing this blog is that it is connecting me to the most marvellous people. This month, via the writer and local historian Miranda Morris, who lives in Tasmania, I’ve been talking to Sue Anderson, who coordinates the Lynchpin Arts-Ocean Science Scholarship program at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies in Tasmania. Lynchpin seeks to convey important Ocean science to the community in new ways, by harnessing the communicating power of the arts. (www.lynchpin.org.au) Sue may be on the opposite side of the planet, but we are connected by the Oceans that flow between us. The Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of Scotland, which I write about in my forthcoming novel The Precious Sea, may literally be a world away from the Southern Ocean but the world’s Oceans are essential to supporting life and are affected by climate change.
Of the carbon emitted by the burning of fossil fuels, about 30% has been absorbed by the Ocean making it more acidic.
Of the extra heat that’s been generated and stored by the Earth’s systems in the last 50 years, about 90% is in the Ocean.
When we talk about global warming we’re really talking about Ocean warming.
Dr Steve Rintoul, Research Team Leader, Oceans and Atmospheric Flagship, CSIRO, Hobart (Online material: http://csironewsblog.com/2013/01/31/ice-ice-baby-ships-and-antarctic-voyages/)
Not only is sea ice melting faster than at any time in human history – impacting circulation flows, increasing sea levels and producing a thicker layer of warm surface water which is unable to hold the same amount of dissolved oxygen as colder water – but the corrosive nature of this more acidic water is triggering metabolic changes in sea creatures and leaching calcium carbonate from shells and skeletons, favouring the spread of jellyfish and jelly-like creatures.
Detail 1: CD brochure image ©www.lynchpin.org.au Michaye Boulter, oil on canvas, 2013; Sue Anderson, works on paper, 2008. Digital design: Jenny Manners, Sarah Owen Designs.
Sue says: it is wonderful to meet others through the power of the internet and to exchange ideas and arts responses of different kinds. Thanks to Rosemary for the opportunity to explain something of this adventure in sound.
the Ocean sustains life
it connects all things
it is the thread that binds the web of life together
Robert Johnston, PhD Candidate 2013 IMAS
This simple, almost poetic set of phrases from one of the scientists who worked on the science score to which composer Matthew Dewey responded, to me encapsulates the story of the Ocean – something of which most of us are mostly unaware. In terms of rationale for the symphonic venture, we know that music has the power not only to move us but also has the capacity to create a hinge or pivot between the world of the senses and the intellect. We offer this music in the hope that it may speak to the deeper feelings and emotions that arise as we respond to both the wonder of the ocean, as support for all life, and the growing understanding of the impacts of climate change on Ocean physics and chemistry. The work brings together different disciplines and understandings in support of the reputable science of climate change as it applies to the Ocean; the arts and science working in collaboration to present a story of significance to us all – but in a new way; in sonic form.
The symphony is dedicated to those whose lives are given to Ocean science. We invite you to find the On-line CD booklet available at the ex Oceano website http://www.lynchpin.org.au/our-projects/current-scholars/ where you can also find the full science score to which the composer responded; a couple of short film promotions at the site describe the work further; and you can find links to the profiles of the scientists involved in this collaboration.
We offer ex Oceano as a contribution towards a greater understanding of the Ocean as the life-blood of the planet. On a personal level, we hope people may find inspiration from the symphony to support their continued engagement with the complex issues of climate change. Lynchpin has links to the Living Data Program at the University of Technology, Sydney, led by Dr Lisa Roberts, (http://www.livingdata.net.au/content/presentations/2014-UTS-USF/2014-UTS-USF.php) Check out the Evolving Conversations exhibition which brought together artists from a range of countries, working in a range of media, collaborating with science to make climate change visible and climate science accessible.
Detail 2: CD brochure image ©www.lynchpin.org.au Commitment – the term means the commitment of the Earth now to paths of change that will be unavoidable and unstoppable in the future. JEN Veron, (2008), former Chief Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, ESF LESC/EuroClimate Strategic Workshop: Impacts of Ocean Acidification. Michaye Boulter, oil on canvas, 2013; Sue Anderson, works on paper, 2008. Digital design: Jenny Manners, Sarah Owen Designs.
we are from the Ocean ~ the Ocean sustains us
Matthew Dewey Symphony No. 2, 2013
Czech National Symphony Orchestra
This is a fantastic piece of work that was born out of the collaboration of different disciplines moving toward one another to express the vital role of the ocean in supporting all life. I was bowled over when I listened to it. The first two movements express the wonder and the voice of the Ocean — first its power and mighty currents; the second brings to life the vast biomass of phytoplankton which form the base of the food chain, act as carbon sinks and produce every second breath we take. The symphony changes perspective in the third and fourth movements to take the human view, charged with emotion, as it explores the concepts of love and loss, how – as the composer says – we might ‘lose what we cannot imagine being without’.
Ultimately, the symphony leaves us with the question: what will our response be to the questions of human induced climate change?
You can see the ‘Making of a Symphony’ video at: <http://www.lynchpin.org.au/our-projects/current-scholars/>
ex Oceano is available at iTunes, cdbaby and other digital distributors
You can see Miranda Morris at http://murmursofmole.net
In my writing group we say February is the new January, by which we mean that the new year takes time to bed in. I spent January thinking about where I wanted to go in 2015, not just in terms of travelling, but with my writing too. This will be the year I finish my novel ‘The Precious Sea’ and revisit the draft version of my next novel ‘Perspective’. This will also mean revisiting Italy to immerse myself in the renaissance again. But my first visit of the year will be to the sea. It is such a great source of inspiration and, as I’m finding out through this blog, it touches the hearts of so many people.
I asked one of my most-travelled friends, the historical tourism specialist, Michael Baert, about a piece of sea that has left a lasting impression on him. This is what he said:
‘Standing on top of Cape Point I’m looking south and can almost feel the cold of Antarctica reaching out to me. I can feel the ice in the light breeze .
Although Cape Point is often considered as the southernmost tip of the African continent, the real tip is Cape Agulhas some 93 miles to the east-south east. It’s at Cape Agulhas that the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet and when the warm Indian Ocean encounters the cold Atlantic it turns back on itself creating very choppy seas. I cannot help thinking of those ships that in the 17th century landed here and started a small town that is now the beautiful and modern Cape Town. This brings my memories back to Wilbur Smith who wrote so well about the development of South Africa, starting here in Cape Town and moving up north as the years went by. From here one can see ships turning west and north to move up the Atlantic towards Great Britain and Europe, but also the scientific and supply ships moving strait south into the Antarctic Ocean.
Looking way down to the foot of the peninsula – I later found out that I was standing 87 meters (285 ft) above the sea – I saw a small pod of whales going east to west around the peninsula. I was too far up to see them well but I could see them blowing and counted 4 or 5 of them as they moved to the western side of the continent.
I knew that whale watching tours were organized out of Cape Town but had not at all expected to see some so close to the edge; notwithstanding the distance it was a great sight. It reminded me of whales and dolphins I had seen near the Canary Islands and seals off the coast of Norfolk. I never went scuba diving but can imagine what it would be like to be under water watching these huge whales, swift dolphins and seals in their natural habitat. Whale watching is fine but I think it should be done under water to give us the full feeling and excitement. However if you cannot do that, the Cape of Good Hope is the second best thing!’
Do you have memories or photos of whale-watching to share? Or let me know about your favourite piece of sea for a future post.
Have a great February.
You can see Michael at:
We set sail from Ramsgate harbour in the south-east of England early one rainy December morning. Once at sea, the yacht bounced, full sail, across the waves. The wind whisked my hair off my face, while the spray dusted my stinging cheeks. Tethered to the boat and wearing a vivid orange life jacket, I prayed for safe passage.
We worked as a team; my crewmate scrambled over the deck, securing ropes while I sat at the helm, turning the wheel, trimming the sails. My fingers were made thin by the cold – I feared my father’s ring, his last gift to me, would slip off so I put it into my pocket for safekeeping. The yacht listed to its side as it sped through the water. Gulls skimmed so low I could have reached out and touched one. As we headed south towards the Bay of Biscay, two porpoises broke cover, their arched backs visible briefly before they disappeared under the surface again. The colour of gunmetal, they shone darkly in the grey waters and, like outriders, they kept guard for a time. A white cruise liner, like a multi-tiered wedding cake, sounded its horn as it crossed our path and we turned to sail into its waves.
Moon rose and sun set. The storm past and the stars never looked so bright.
Distance and time became entwined; I lost count how many days passed until we sailed into gentler Spanish waters, and there, in the golden light of dawn, we came across a wooden galleon moored idly off the rocky coast. On the prow stood a life-size, painted statue of the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus. I guessed it was ready to play its part in a watery Christmas pageant. We waved as we sailed by and the crew, dressed in raggedy costume, waved back. Then the galleon set sail and followed in our wake towards Oporto and Lisbon.
Moon rose and sun set. One star, a new planet, shone brighter than the rest.
We rounded the southernmost tip of the Iberian peninsula and headed north again into the Mediterranean. Fleets of small fishing boats floated on a sea of winter lapis lazuli. As we sailed by the Balearics, we saw fishermen cast their nets into the water; an underwater chain that stretched around the French Riviera and down the booted leg of Italy. One almond-shaped boat from Portofino abandoned its nets and fell into line after the galleon. We were three now as we sailed passed a mountain near Pompeii that smoked like a giant chimney.
Moon rose and sun set. The waters of the Aegean sparkled like fairy lights under a starry sky. A meteor shower celebrated the birth of the new planet and glitter fell down to the earth like fireworks in reverse. Shoals of silver-backed fish surged through the illuminated water beside us. We sailed on, passed Cyprus, evergreen with fir trees, then began the last leg of our journey towards Syria and finally Israel.
As we neared the coast we saw a group of people dressed in long robes tied at the waist with rope waving us in. We dropped anchor – as did the Spanish galleon and the Italian fishing boat behind us – and first swam, then waded to the beach. Our hosts said they’d been expecting us and had brought spare robes made of fine silks and brocades for one of us from each boat to change into. They said we were going to see a baby who had been born in a village twenty miles inland and they’d brought us fresh camels for the trek.
My crewmate didn’t like camels and made a hasty retreat. I put on my robes and off we went.
Moon rose and sun set. The new planet in the sky hung over a cave outside the village of Bethlehem like a Christmas bauble, and I knew we must have found the place. Our camels knelt, and we dismounted. I followed the others towards the entrance to the cave; they had brought gifts and I had nothing to give. Then I remembered the ring in my pocket and knew that gold was a perfect gift for a new-born king.
The idea for a story about sailing back in time began on holiday a few years ago when we moored somewhere in the Mediterranean by a set of stone steps that led us up to a monastery where nothing had changed for centuries. But I put the idea on the back burner and there it remained until I heard the carol ‘I saw three ships come sailing in’ on the radio. I went away and did some research and found that the ships are sometimes thought to be a metaphor for the three wise men. Finally, I had my story.
In my search for new pieces of sea, I heard from the Australian writer Lisa Southgate who recently visited Seventeen Seventy, a beachfront village on the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland about a five hour drive north of Brisbane, so named because the then Lieutenant James Cook, later to become Captain Cook, made a stop there in the year in question.
‘It really is beautiful,’ Lisa says. ‘The colours are rich — the sand is not the white you expect from Queensland beaches, but a thick, suede-like red-gold; with strings of bleached white pumice along the shores, and then the land behind is still green because it’s protected, and it’s scrubby, crouching stuff — lots of pandanus (a palm-like shrub). The sky is a much cleaner, deeper, vibrant blue than in Brisbane, and the water is so clear the blue of it just bowls me over.’
This is so different from the grey-toned evergreens of the North Atlantic I’m writing about in ‘The Precious Sea’. There, my character has to find her own brightness in a monochrome world. But apart from the amazing colours Lisa describes, I love that due to heavy restrictions on developments, the beach looks very much as it would have done when Cook first saw it.
How amazing is that? It really is like stepping back in time, after all.
Do you remember your first visit to the sea? I remember spending childhood summer holidays on the beach at Hunstanton on the wild east coast of England. Working hard these past few months on my novel ‘The Precious Sea’ has brought back memories of family days spent on the sand with a bucket and spade. It didn’t matter to me how hard the wind blew, I loved being by the huge expanse of flat water that inched its way closer to me only to change its mind and inexplicably pull away.
I still do love the sea, and I’ve learned such a lot about it and how it’s being affected by climate change during my time researching this novel about seals. I already knew that sea temperatures and sea levels were rising, but I hadn’t thought about the impact sea water has if it infiltrates inland waterways. And there are so many more repercussions. I’m only an amateur, but I now know the very chemistry of the sea itself is changing and this is affecting all species, not just the seals.
Yet, the sea is such an amazing source of energy. I wonder if that’s what draws me to it. I used to suffer with M.E. so energy is very important to me. When I visit the coast I feel reinvigorated. Is it the ozone? Or the sense of freedom the sea seems to bring with it? Last week I went to Mudeford, close to Bournemouth on the south coast of England. It’s one of my favourite pieces of sea. Even though it’s almost autumn here, the sun stayed with us, even if its light was beginning to take on a more golden, muted hue. Not that the winter diminishes this place for me. I like the greys as well as the greens and blues; the flats as well as the waves.
I wonder if there’s such a thing as a perfect sea? The Mediterranean has its blue, the Aegean its aquamarine.
Where is your favourite piece of sea?