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.