Sirens lure au­thor


If the sirens of Celtic mythol­ogy might be found in the stormy north At­lantic wa­ters why not on Welling­ton’s wild south coast?

The idea that Selkies, the beau­ti­ful seal crea­tures that could as­sume hu­man form, could ex­ist among the south coast seals was the ker­nel of Rachael King’s Red Rocks.

In the years the nov­el­ist lived in Welling­ton it was her place, she said, where she al­ways went when she had se­ri­ous think­ing to do.

The Selkies tales have al­ways fas­ci­nated King.

Ac­cord­ing to the sto­ries, the sea crea­tures of Scot­tish, Ir­ish and Dan­ish leg­end could pe­ri­od­i­cally shed their skin for a time and be­come beau­ti­ful men or women.

They were ir­re­sistible to or­di­nary peo­ple but if their hu­man lovers were to steal their tem­po­rar­ily dis­carded skins they were trapped on land in their mor­tal form.

‘‘It was just one of those ‘whatif’ mo­ments,’’ King said.

‘‘If there are seals here, there is no rea­son why the selkies shouldn’t be here.’’

King is known for her two pre­vi­ous adult nov­els, Mag­pie Hall and The Sound of But­ter­flies but said she knew im­me­di­ately this would be a book for chil­dren.

‘‘You just know these things when they come to you.’’

She wanted to write ‘‘a con­tem­po­rary story for chil­dren – a slightly scary, darker story for chil­dren’’.

The idea came to King as she vis­ited the area with her young son. It worked out well for her be­cause a chil­dren’s book didn’t de­mand the same two-year, full­time com­mit­ment that an adult novel would have, and lent it­self to be­ing writ­ten in frag­ments, as she had time.

King has done very well to get un­der the skin of her pread­o­les­cent pro­tag­o­nist Jake.

She said it all just came from her own imag­i­na­tion.

‘‘It’s funny, even though it has been 30-odd years since I was that age my­self . . . I can still re­mem­ber how chil­dren think, and what their pre­oc­cu­pa­tions are.’’

Like Jake, King left Welling­ton and her fa­ther as a child, and also like Jake she re­turned to visit her writer fa­ther, Michael King.

‘‘My dad still lived in Welling­ton. I used to go and stay with him.

‘‘He lived in a cottage by the sea at Pare­mata. He took me out in a boat, taught me to row. It was such a huge part of my own child­hood.’’


Ex­otic leg­end: Au­thor Rachael King has trans­planted an an­cient Celtic myth to Aotearoa.

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