The Sea-Tossed Tale
Posted by Literary Titan
The Helix Pearl is an enchanting book that retells the story from Black Inked Pearl but this time from the perspective of the sea. How did the idea for this novel come to you?
I really don’t know because like my other novels it just arrived with me in my sleep. So maybe it already existed in the liminal space that anthropologists talk about and the students of the Enchanted know so well, the in-between space when you’re not awake, you’re not asleep and dreaming, and yet you’re both. A very receptive place.
So I didn’t really plan it, but I suppose in a way. yes, it is just that the plan was already there in my unconscious or in, should we call it , in the tapestry of the Universe that’s been there since the beginning of time and always will be, something that I, somehow, somewhat tap into when I’m in that mysterious ‘away’ place.
But then I suppose in another way it comes from my literary background. Not everyone likes this because it’s not written in, for example, the kind of grammar and so on that you were taught as ‘correct’ prose at age 12 or so. The wording seeps up, somehow, from the depths, from my knowledge of poetry, from my learning of the rhythms of African storytelling which I think now infuse all my creative writing, and above all from Greek myth, and maybe too from the shared collective unconscious that Jung talked about (when I was younger I used to think thtvnonsense – no longer).
The novel also comes, more directly, from my reading ( aloud) of Homer’s wonderful epics – songs, really – specially the sea-tossed tale of the Odyssey. Homer knew what he was talking about! He knew well those violent storms of the Mediterranean, He knew firsthand the ways of the sea, p the tossing of the waves and the fury of Poseidon, the raging god of the sea.
In fact the subtitle is a direct translation of Homer’s epithets or the sea – wine-dark and garrulous, chattering, always always talking, never still – have you really known a really quiet sea? Peaceful at times, certainly, magical, but always murmurs from the tiny little wavelets. And wine-dark – I don’t think that means dark in the sense of gloomy, more glowing like deep red wine. Homer also calls the sea ‘ever laughing’, isn’t that just right? never ever totally still but always moving, roaming , rambling ( the Literary Titan review puts it well), sometimes sparkling and laughing in the sun, sometimes laughing violently in storm as it engulfs ships and holds monsters in its depth.
The other bit of background, very deep in me, is from growing up by water: in part by the Donegal sea and in part by a great river, the Foyle, that opens out to the sea by my beloved native city of Derry, Columba’s oak grove. These memories, these experiences, run all the way through the book and give it meaning for me.
When writing from the Sea’s perspective what were some themes or feelings you felt were important to capture in the character?
I think the themes and feelings I wanted to capture were exactly those I’ve talked about in answer to the first question – the laughing of the sea, its storms, the way it’s always there, eternally laughing, so that its view somehow puts the familiar, story and characters into – yes this above all – a kind of universal perspective.
Isn’t that the way, the role, of literature? to bring out the universal? I think I wanted to make that happen.
And remember – the double helix, the mystic spiral, the curl of the wave, is the sign of life, of eternity, infinity: ‘heaven in a wild flower’. That too.
Also, thoiugh in essence it just arrived irrespective of my conscious planning, I did also work at the research on water. I searched out the songs and poems associated with the great rivers (they all had at least one, amazing) the huge number of rivers tun under London, maybe also under or anyway through many of the great cities of the world. I marvelled at what I found.
I was also amazed to discover how much of the earth’s surface is water. I know in another book I (well, I in my maternal grandfathers name, David Campbell Callender) talked about the importance of grass, the weed that so miraculously clothes the earth. But that’s just the dry land. What, to my astonishment, I discovered Pin The Helix Pearl is that most of our planet’s surface is water. In the novel I wanted to convey not just that fact but the wonder of it.
So I wanted that to come out but also, and maybe above all, the fairytale quality of the story.
Another surprise, which then for me became a central theme, was that I learnt more about Kate – about the many sides of her nature – from the book. Even more important possibly, I discovered more about the male character.He has become more central, someone whose nature we struggle to. unlock (more so in later books). In Black Inked Pearl he is shown in quite a bad light, inexplicably abandoning Kate, and though he heroically goes back to find her he’s pretty curt with her when he does and is only redeemed (if anything could really redeem his earlier betrayal) by his offered sacrifice at the very end
In The Helix Pearl, I began to understand that there was far more to him than I had realised, and that he hadn’t abandoned Kate, rather she just hadn’t followed him, in this book because of her fear of the water, a central motivation for the tale. Quite a discovery on my part.
You’ll notice my vocabulary – I think of the book as something I ‘discovered’, magically already there, not planned or invented.And yes, that is the feeling I would like readers get from the book.
What were some goals you set for yourself as a writer with this book?
Well, the things I’ve just been saying.
To be quite honest. I’ll have read it again, because I’ve forgotten almost all of it. It came so quickly in dreams or whatever. I don’t even remember the process of writing it.
I do know however this as with all my fiction and poetry and even a little bit with my screenplays and non-fiction. I wanted it to sound good. Here it is specifically the sounds of the sea and of water but always I want there to be rhythm and sonic echoes and cadences and resonancing. As with Homer and all ancient and mediaeval literary works it needs to be read aloud.
Do you have plans to continue to expand this story?
Well, as with all my writing I’ll just have to see what emerges.
But also yes, in the way, definitely.
In fact I have already expanded, or, rather, recycled, the story,
exploring its many dimensions in my own literary way. I know not all readers like my style, and that’s all right though I love it when people do warm to it and I get lovely understanding reviews (
Literary Titan’s for example!), but , really, I have no choice. That’s just the way of writing that’s been given to me.
So yes I’ll be re-doing the story. It will be a series that, once it reaches the full novel form, will go on being expressed in a poetic way steeped in implicit literary metaphors and associations, specially inspired by Shakespeare. Homer, Rumi and the Bible – and so much else from my life of reading and listening.
When you write out of sudden unsought inspiration, you don’t exactly have plans – all the same this is how I now see my ‘Kate-Pearl’ series eventually emerging.
Some are published, some already written and, in several cases, waiting for the illustrator, the fantastic Rachel Backshall. The final one is just a (very insistent) gleam in the eye – it will arrive when it’s ready.
So here’s the full.lst (double asterisk if published, single if written but not yet published, obelisk (!) if, for children, illustrated
Oh Kate! A block book * !
The magic adventure: Kris and Kate build a boat A picture book ** !
Kris and Kate’s second adventure: the Pearl-Maran A picture story book * !
The enchanted Pearl-Away A chapter book !
Voyage of Pearl of the Seas **! for young adults/adults
Black Inked Pearl **
The Helix Pearl **
Pearl of the Wind *
Thy Tears are Pearl
Let me explain. It is a projected series that, unlike most series, is not directed to a particular age group, set of interests or specific genre. Rather, as you can see, it runs through all ages (something like the British National Health Service is supposed do, ‘from cradle to grave’). It is all essentially the same story but told in a way suitable to its target audience, about, in the opening volumes Kate and a companion and her dog, Holly as their younger selves. After the first novel, Black Inked Pearl which for some reason was different, they’re all about setting out on the water in a boat that is in some way felt to be magical, and facing disaster – and coming through, strengthened and more mature.
The next novel will be Pearl of the Wind. It is complement not sequel to the earlier ones in that it is the same story but now told not in the third or first person, as with the previous two , but in the second, the vocative. Homer opened with ‘Sing oh goddess .., ‘, here it is ‘Sing oh Wind … ‘; and unlike the earlier focus on earth, then on water, it is the third element, air, that is invoked and that gives the setting.
The text of Pearl of the Wind is probably incomplete but I am not sure. It has an unusual origin. I was on a cruise, a ship in mid-ocean ( what more liminal … ) when I happened on an email about a competition to write a novel in 3 days – 3 days flat! You could have thought about it before (as I had, I’d just never had time to get it down) but the actual writing had to be done in just three days. A challenge! Well I did it, loved the process,and sent it off. Naturally I’ve heard nothing since but at least it’s there.
I can by now recall nothing – nothing – of its content ( some interspersed poetry about winds possibly?) just its POV – point of view. I guess it needs to be extended before going out – or maybe not. Anyhow time I looked at it again.
As for the final one – that will probably be the most complex and searching of the lot, so maybe not till my deathbed. It will of course be the same story – myth – again but this time bringing together the dimensions of the rest in terms of tense and person and material elements and love; and above all of the elusiveness of personal identity.
It’ll probably be called (I leave you to winkle out the Shakesoearean, as ever, allusion) ‘Thy tears are pearl’ , and though I already have quite a feel for the setting and perspective and central character I decline to say any more at this point. We’ll just have to wait and see (me too).
Till then my best writing wishes and thank you for reading this.
Inspired variously by the Odyssey,William Blake’s cosmologies, Rumi’s poems, and Charles Kingsley’s stories foryoungsters, this novel embraces the magic of childhood imagining. Kate andChris, along with Kate’s loyal dog, Holly, swim and frolic on a summer shore. Aship built from driftwood becomes their vessel: Kate’s the queen and Chris isthe Man of Action, the one who saves them both from wind and water. At first,Kate’s fear of sailing the high seas causes her to abandon ship, but a terribleloneliness sets in, and she regrets leaving. The sudden appearance of amagician saves the day; she answers his riddles to regain her berth. In theirboat, the Pearl of the Seas, Kate and Chris pilot through treacherousrocks and come ashore in a welcoming kingdom, where they learn a version of theTower of Babel story, “the very disaster of our world.” In this hybrid book ofnarrative blended with verse and song, different ways of telling a story mayappear on a single page. The King of Names instructs Kate that “for the deepthings it is poetry.” Such wise lessons fortify the children, but even happydreams must end. Their parting gifts include a magic pebble-pearl that rightsthe broken mast so they may return to the shore of reality and family. Though thePearl of the Seas may not buoy them to distant lands again, theydetermine that Black Inked Pearl–the written record of theirtravels–shall be their legacy. As in the novel for adults, Finnegan’s (BlackInked Pearl, 2015) “fairytale prequel” for younger readers delights in theassociative wordplay of sound and sense. A moment of canine joy provides avivid illustration: “Still in gleeful flightful lightsome delighting delight.Barking, sparking, larking.” A handful of superb black-and-white drawings by Backshallcomplements the work’s whimsical vision.
About Literary TitanThe Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.