This is a mudlarker’s trail through Between Sea and Sky, with background notes about some of the real things and places that inspired the book. Scroll down to the bottom for downloadable teaching resources from Scott Evans.
Between Sea and Sky is set on the flat south east coast of England. It’s a landscape of mudflats and big open skies. I was inspired by the Essex coast, especially Shoeburyness, which sometimes I take a train to with my children for a day trip. Sometimes you go and there is just a thin strip of beach. Sometimes you go and you can hardly see the sea at all, it’s miles away. I love walking on the mudflats, this liminal or in between zone that’s sometimes land and sometimes sea. It’s a palette of brown, bronze, green and grey.
Another place that inspired me was Norfolk. Again, because the land here is so flat, you really notice the sky, and the weather! When I was writing Between Sea and Sky, I spent a week on a boat exploring the Norfolk Broads (a system of manmade waterways, now a national park and important wetlands area). Our boat was called the Diamond Gem. It was great to experience living on water with my family. You pass lots of old windmills, leftover from another age, and we loved feeding the swans. One night there was a terrible storm and we lost our broom out to sea at Great Yarmouth Yacht Station!
One of my favourite things to do is to beachcomb, looking for ‘treasure’ washed up on the sand. Old bits of pottery, fossils, shells, bits of old claypipe like you can see here bottom right (these were like cigarettes in Victorian times). I am really intrigued by these fragments from the past. In the book, Pearl and Clover love to go mudlarking, or larking as they call it. Pearl keeps jars of seaglass – old bits of glass, washed smooth by the tides. If you’re interested in washed up things, check out the instagram feed for Lego Lost At Sea. It’s fascinating! Sadly lots of plastic washes up too and is obviously very damaging for wildlife.
Pearl and Clover conduct ‘wishings’. These are ceremonies, spells or prayers. The sisters arrange their found treasures on the sand and leave them for the tide to take:
We wish to get better when one of us is sick. For a winter without the sea freezing over. For the geese to come back in October.
This was one of my favourite aspects of the book to write. Check out this article by the lovely book blogger Lilyfae. I wrote about two of the books that inspired the wishings at the end of this article.
Between Sea and Sky is speculative fiction. It poses the question ‘what if?’ What if sea levels had risen? What would the world look like?
Here are some of the children’s and young adult books which inspired me.
You might also enjoy this article I wrote about Drowned Worlds in Children’s Fiction.
Another striking feature of the world in Between Sea and Sky is the absence of pollinators. Pollinators are essential for the large majority of plants, to allow them to fruit, seed and reproduce. The eminent American biologist E.O.Wilson said this about an insect-free world:
Clinging to survival in a devastated world, and trapped in an ecological dark age, the survivors would offer prayers for the return of weeds and bugs.
Two books that were hugely inspirational for me as I imagined my pollinator-free world were How to Bee by Bren MacDibble and Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari. I highly recommend them both!
Besides being speculative fiction, you could call all the books above, and mine, Climate-fiction, because a changed or changing climate is used as a plot device for the story. For more examples of climate-fiction (sometimes abbreviated to cli-fi) check out the Climate-Fiction Writers League set up by the YA author Lauren James. I think we’re going to see a lot more Climate-fiction over the coming years.
Pearl and Clover live on a ramshackle old oyster farm. As well as farming shellfish, the family grow seaweed. Seaweed is *amazing*! It absorbs and stores CO2, and therefore is a powerful weapon against climate change, and also helps de-acidify the sea (great for shellfish, since their shells can’t grow strong in an acidic environment). Seaweed oxygenates the water and provides a nursery ground for young fish. It acts as a storm surge barrier, playing a role in reducing flooding. It’s edible and nutritious, we can use it as a fertiliser, as cattle feed, and many more things!
Photo credit: Donna Adenine freeimages.com
I love writing about wildlife. Between Sea and Sky is set after a time of great environmental upheaval – changes in weather, storms, flooding, extinctions. But life is gradually coming back to Blackwater Bay, especially at sea. I managed to include some of my favourite birds, cormorants. Although cormorants are often found in coastal areas, they also live and breed inland, catching fish from rivers and lakes. When writing the book in the first COVID lockdown, I couldn’t get to the sea, but it was lovely to see cormorants on our local waterway in North London. They’re very majestic birds, and quite reptilian too. When they hold their wings out to dry they look a bit like a vampire!
In the book, there is a prison ship moored in Blackwater Bay. This idea came from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I used to love watching an old black and white film adaptation. The main character, Pip, meets a shackled convict, Magwitch, in a churchyard. Magwitch has escaped from a prison ship called a Hulk, moored out in the murky marshland. This always really haunted me.
Finally, check out these excellent teaching resources compiled by Scott Evans. You can access them on the Little Tiger website. They provide chapter-by-chapter comprehension questions, writing opportunities and cross-curricular activities. Free to download!
You can also visit my author page at Reading Zone, which includes a seven minute video introduction to the book.