The Inspiration for my First Children’s Book
I spent a year living in Venice in my twenties and had an awesome time living right in the city centre. I had an apartment looking out over a canal. The ever lovely Campo Santa Margherita was just round the corner from our house and there were so many canals to sit on and watch the world go by.
My best friend and her husband came to visit me with their small baby – Joseph. After they left I sat by the water’s edge near a statue of a mermaid, on a sunny evening and wrote a very short story about a boy name Joe. Writing something for him was the inspiration for my first book. I didn’t know it at the time but this story has so many things that can be developed into a story – great ideas for characters, great location. We’ll have to see how that goes…
The canal was flashing with a thousand sparkles underneath the water. I called them “angel lights”. In the spirit of having balance in a story it seemed fitting that a beautiful thing should also have a dark side. Surrounded by all the mythology of a sea-faring city I added the “sea monsters”.
I want this short story to become the inspiration to my first novel which is going to be about a little girl who witnesses a horrible crime, gets washed up on a beach and befriended by a little boy called Joe and a salty old sea captain. In this case the “sea monsters” are very much human though! Stay tuned for excerpts coming up.
Sea Monsters & Angel Lights
What do we know about the ocean? What happens under the sea, and in the rivers and lakes of the world? Many years ago, it was a common belief that sea monsters ruled the waves, and slimy, green tentacles would leap out of the blue to drag whole ships into their kingdom never to be seen again…beautiful mermaids lured witless sailors onto the rocks and destroyed their ships…pirates roamed the ocean pillaging and plundering…smugglers crept about in the murky darkness and kept their secrets hidden in caves alongside their treasure.
These were just some of the tales that the saltiest of old sea-dogs told down on the dock to anyone who would listen. Sometimes their audience would just be the seagulls circling overhead as they gutted their morning catch. The seagulls appeared to be more interested in the fish guts than the stories, but for a small boy living in a waterfront town the stories were all he thought of, and he liked nothing more than perching on an upturned bucket listening to the tales while the seagulls screamed overhead. He could only imagine what adventures the sea could take him on.
As he sat on the dock, fishing by day, and staring by night, the mysterious and hypnotic water encircling the small town worked its magic on him. The tide rose and fell, washed in and out and swirled, and crashed around as if it was trying to get out of someone’s
grasp, and then calmed down until it became flat like a mirror. It was easy to imagine the monsters that lived beneath the waves.
Every day was the same, but the water (and the monsters in it) never tried to come into the town so Joe wasn’t afraid. It was a part of life for the small town. Strangers came and friends left on the water in boats and ships of all sizes. People ate what the water gave them, and mothers washed their laundry and their pots and pans in the calm inlet just around the headland.
Joe’s favourite spot was in the shelter of the stone mermaid on the dock, dangling his feet as close to the water as he could without falling in. He knew he’d be in trouble if he had to walk home in wet clothes again! Captain Pete’s shack was just nearby and out of all the old sailors Joe thought that his stories were the best. It sounded like he’d sailed around the world and back again and encountered goodness knows what on the way!
One evening the fishermen had already gone home with their catches of gruesome, wriggling creatures which would appear beautifully prepared (and no longer wriggling!) on the dinner table that evening. As our friend Joe sat with Captain Pete and they watched the water together, occasionally Joe saw a beautiful flash of silver or a worrying shadow of green pass by him. They never came to the surface though so Joe could never quite make out what they were.
The sea was so full of darkness and shadows that it scared him (he was still quite young after all!). Captain Pete often caught him staring with a worried expression and laughed at him. “There’s too much down there boy, that we don’t know about. You be careful not to fall in!” (Not very reassuring Joe thought, but Captain Pete had survived all of his adventures to tell the tales, and he’d lived at sea for nearly a hundred years. He looked very old to Joe, with his weather-beaten face, white beard, cloth cap and a pipe constantly smoking out of the corner of his mouth.)
That afternoon the sky grew blacker and blacker and the sea grew darker and darker. Rain started spattering on the quayside and the wind started picking up. “I should head home boy,” said Captain Pete, as he wandered off in the direction of the ale-house. “It’s a black night for being out and about.”
Joe sat with his mermaid on the dock for a little while longer, and the shadows in the water grew and grew, and the sea tossed and turned and went the colour of the ink that he’d seen beaten out of the squid on the quay side, he couldn’t stand the terrifying sight anymore. The sea was darker than the night sky! As he quickly ran home, the sea was reaching its dark, wet hands onto the quay side as if it was trying to pull the town into the water. This was too much for Joe – his imagination ran riot as to what might happen to his beloved home!
The storm raged that night, but as the inky black sky melted into the even blacker sea and the sun struggled up in the morning, Joe rushed down to his mermaid to look into the water, and can you imagine what he saw? The sea was gently lapping on the quay again and it seemed as if there were a thousand candles lit under the water which shimmered and sparkled as the water gently danced above them. Now, Joe knew that candles wouldn’t stay lit under water, so he lay flat on the quay side and reached his hand down to pull one of the candles out, but every time he reached into the water the lights moved away from him. So he made do with just lying and watching the beautiful
angel lights which had scared away the sea monsters.
There will be more coming soon! What is your inspiration for stories? Has anywhere in the world particularly inspired you? Let me know!