The wonderful Tim Bowler writes on our relationship with the sea, as explored in his latest novel, Sea of Whispers: a haunting tale of love, loss, courage, and mystery in a beautifully-evoked remote island setting.
I am writing this blog piece from a favourite spot: a high nest in a little town perched above the sea on the south coast of England. I come here regularly by myself to write, and I do write, pages and pages that give themselves readily in this marine solitude; yet whenever I come, the same thing always happens: for every word I write, I find an equivalent portion of my attention is being drawn from the story in progress to a contemplation of the sea.
I have long since given up trying to resist it. There’s something that the sea has, or does, or is, and I am not the only person who finds in it an echo of our human mystery. Hetty in Sea of Whispers is drawn to it too, though her obsession comes at a price and the messages it gives her are mixed. She feels the loss of her parents and in her island life sees the pain of this daily embodied in what she has come to call the ghost water, yet the sea gives her courage too, not just through the dangers it forces upon her, but in the challenge it offers to the deepest part of her to search for meaning and hope.
I love the many faces of the sea. As I look upon it now from my writing nest, the surface is grey and calm, yet the last time I sat here the water shone like a diamond, and the time before that it was skittish and playful. A few hours later it was crashing so heavily on the shore I could have sworn it was trying to destroy me. I know this is false. The sea has no design upon us and certainly no need of us. Yet we need the sea, I would argue, not just for its practical uses, but for the emotional resonance it gives us. What we perceive in the sea, whether real or imagined, can transform us. Hetty has known this all her life.
As I finish this blog piece, the sea is changing again. It is the ultimate shapeshifter, the ultimate illusionist: always different, always the same. The calmness has gone now and I can see waves forming in clusters. I remember a man who said he always meditated when he saw the sea. He imagined it was infinity and pictured himself as a bubble floating within it. I can see more waves now, bigger and more restless, and a line of foam stretching along the shore. It is time to go.
Tim Bowler is one of the UK’s most compelling and original writers for teenagers. He was born in Leigh-on-Sea and after studying Swedish at University he worked in forestry, the timber trade, teaching and translating before becoming a full-time writer. He lives with his wife in a small village in Devon and his workroom is an old stone outhouse known to friends as ‘Tim’s Bolthole’.
Tim has won fifteen awards for his many novels, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal for River Boy. His provocative Blade series has been hailed as a groundbreaking work of fiction. He has been described by the Sunday Telegraph as ‘the master of the psychological thriller’ and by the Independent as ‘one of the truly individual voices in British teenage fiction’.
Find out more about Sea of Whispers, out now.