Otter-Barry Books, the new publishing company founded by Janetta Otter-Barry, launches this month with six books, including a new edition of The Seal Children by Jackie Morris. The beautiful story of a fisherman who falls in love with a selkie, it is set on the edge of the land. To celebrate the new edition, Jackie Morris organised a very special launch event, for book and new boat company. She describes it here.
The evening before the book launch Ffion Rees of Falcon Boats checked the weather. Northerly winds rising to 6, with a 2 metre swell. It wasn’t looking good. But conditions change fast here on our peninsula, surrounded by the sea. I wondered how many other book launches depend so fiercely for success on weather conditions. So much careful planning had gone into this. It had grown from being a simple book launch to the launch of a publisher’s first book, the relaunch of The Seal Children and the launch of a boat company, Falcon Boats.
All night wind and rain hammered at the roof and I woke up often, worrying about people who had travelled far and would be disappointed.
I woke to sunshine. Ffion had checked conditions again, first by walking up the hill behind my house, then driving to St Justinians to check the swell, for boarding conditions. ‘We’re good to go,’ she said.
The Seal Children is a story set on the edge of the land. Maes y Mynydd, the village where Ewan lives is a real place, about two miles from my home and studio. Now only stone ruins remain. Once it was a small cluster of houses, more hamlet than village. The people here worked the land and fished the sea, and in The Seal Children one of the people meets and falls in love with a selkie. For where ever there are seals there will also be selkies and stories of selkies. The story is one wrapped in myth, in love and loss. It comes from an age where the people of Britain were migrants, travelling over the seas to America, to Australia, to Patagonia and Argentina, to find new lives, because their live here were so hard. Some of these people were persecuted for their religious beliefs. Some were economic migrants. The book seems more relevant today than ever.
Set between the land and the sea it seemed so perfect an idea to celebrate the relaunch of this new hardback edition from Otter-Barry Books, the first of their list to be released into the wild, to launch book and boat company in the same celebration. And what a wonderful day we had.
Demand for places was high so we ran two trips, out across Ramsey Sound to Ramsey Island, along the coast. The crossing was wet so we sheltered a while in a cave and talked about The Queen of the Sky, a book I had written about an experience Ffion had, rescuing a sick peregrine, rehabilitating her and releasing her back to the sky. All the while a seal watched us, a few feet from the boat. A curtain of rain fell at the cave’s mouth and as we left the cave a peregrine flew across the inlet.
With a boat load of happy passengers we headed back out into the Sound in sunshine to look for porpoise, feeding on the ebb tide, and soon were surrounded as we drifted with the current, by the dark backs of harbour porpoise rising through the ceiling of the sea.
We had hoped to take the boat around St Davids Head to the seaward side of Maes y Mynydd, the selkie’s element, but wind and tide were against, us so instead we went around the island and again stopped the engines. Here high cliffs, golden with lichens reached down into the sea, turquoise bright. On a storm beach of sea smoothed pebbles, seals basked in the early spring sunshine, their coats changing colour as the seawater dried. I spoke about The Seal Children and read the book, while seals swam all around us, as curious about us as we were of them.
The light on the water, the wonderful wildlife, the skipper and crew from Falcon Boats and their talk of the fetch of the waves, the rare juniper tree, perhaps 1000 years old, the seals, all conspired to make this the most magical experience.
My daughter was a baby when I first wrote The Seal Children. Now she is 21 and crews for Falcon Boats. The book is dedicated to Hannah, Tom, my son and Robin, my partner.
Ffion brought us back to land at St Justinians. The sun still shone as we walked up the steps from the lifeboat station. I could taste the sea salt on my lips. My face felt wonderful from the wind, sun and rain.
At 4.30 we all met up again at Solva Woollen Mill, where Anna Grime had laid up tables with flowers and finery from the mill. I talked again about The Seal Children, the walk up to and around the ruins, the plants that line the pathways. We shared a supper of cawl (Welsh lamb stew), bread and cheese and talked of the trip and the wonder of the boats and the wealth of wildlife we have so close to our shores.
The whole event worked so well that we hope to be able to offer the experience of books and boats again. As the days lengthen the shearwaters will soon be here. What better way to spend an evening than listening to stories out at sea, while shearwaters skim the waves heading for their evening roosts? Books, on boats, at bedtime. Wonderful.
Signed copies of the book are available from Solva Woollen Mill and Anna is happy to ship anywhere in the world.
You can book your own boat trip with Falcon Boats.