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.