A date with destiny in Walberswick
PUBLISHED: 12:52 16 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:42 20 February 2013
A walk in Walberswick was one of the inspirations for a Suffolk author's debut novel. Georgina Wroe meets Southwold's Melanie Welsh, who reveals why January 1, 2007 was a very important date
A walk in Walberswick was one of the inspirations for a Suffolk authors debut novel. Georgina Wroe meets Southwolds Melanie Welsh, who reveals why January 1, 2007 was a very important date
Melanie Welsh can write anywhere. On ferries, on trains even, on occasions, the back of taxis. Theres a reason for this. As well as having two sons Joe, four and 18-month Ben shes the full-time director of planning at an advertising agency in London where she commutes four days a week from her home in Southwold.
I am quite good at packing a lot into a relatively short space of time, she said, looking up from a sea of lists and an iPhone.
Oh, and her debut novel Mistress of the Storm, has just been published by David Fickling Books, the respected Oxford-based childrens publisher whose authors include Philip Pullman. Early reviews have been excellent, one even calling the book a classic.
One factor, not contemplated by author or publisher, is what happens when you put any phrase including the word mistress in an internet search engine.
Mel said: The books website is up and running but there are some websites available which dont have much to do with childrens fiction.
The book, described as a Swallows and Amazons meets Philip Pullmans His Dark Materials, is actually an adventure-mystery featuring 12-year-old Verity Gallant.
Melanie said: Veritys life is perfectly normal, if a bit lonely, until the day a strange man hands her a red leather-bound book. Then everything changes; she meets new friends, learns how to sail and discovers that her parents have been hiding a dark family secret which now threatens them all.
Like her heroine, Mel spent her childhood with her nose in a book.
I scoured jumble sales and fetes for second-hand novels that I could afford to buy. Particularly prized was anything in the Abbey Girls series. But I wasnt fussy, I would read anything; old annuals, boys comics, grown-up novels, non-fiction I like to think its all been good reading around the subject or writing (rather than being a massive waste of time).
The Isle of Wight, where Melanie grew up, and the Suffolk coast close to her Southwold home are both big influences.
One day my husband and I were going for a walk on the marshes at Walberswick and I was struck by the idea of a novel about a little girl whose grandmother comes to stay. I began scribbling down notes and then writing up a chapter plan.
Melanie said: Wellow is a combination of a town called Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, and Southwold. Tempest Bay and Soul Bay are approximations of the coast that runs from St Catherines Point on the Island, to the Needles.
The old-fashioned charm of the Suffolk coast also appeals to her.
Its very different from the south coast where everything feels more commercial, the Suffolk seaside still retains a traditional feel, which I really love.
Like a lot of authors, Melanie had always wanted to write but, after studying art and later getting a degree in publishing and working in the marketing departments of The Guardian and Time Out, the dream was becoming more and more eroded.
She said: I remember my primary school teacher, Mr Scott, laughing when he asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told him I wanted to write books. In my twenties I had a few abortive starts that didnt come to anything. Ultimately it came down to confidence: I never really believed that I had what it took to be a professional writer.
But a decision on New Year's Day 2007 changed Melanies life.
She said: When we moved to Suffolk I was pregnant with our first son and I stopped completely: I was so tired I found it difficult just to keep up with work. Eventually January 2007 arrived and I still hadnt written a word. So I made a New Years resolution: that I would write the first three chapters and a synopsis and send them to an agent. I agreed with my husband that if I got an agent he would help me find the time to write the first book and that if I didnt I would call it a day, and not mention it any more.
It took Melanie until September to find an agent, Catherine Pellegrino, and another nine months to finish the first manuscript, and then the trawl to find a publisher.
By this time I was pregnant with our second son, Ben, and as my due date grew closer their emails grew more frequent. I was determined not to let on (that I was pregnant) in case they said they could wait until after the birth.
Finally, about two days after Ben was born sure enough Catherine got in touch to tell me that David Fickling wanted to meet me. Mercifully they couldnt fit me in for another three weeks, so I planned a furious schedule of expressing milk and plotted out the quickest route there and back: wild horses couldnt have stopped me going!
Mel hopes the book will be a crossover one that appeals to both youngsters and grown ups.
She said: Im not entirely sure that its purely a childrens novel. The themes are things that most people continue having to negotiate in their adult lives, at work and at home so I would argue that grown women will enjoy it as an escapist read. Particularly because they will be able to remember the world Verity lives in.
Having secured a two-book deal in January 2009, Melanie is currently working on her second volume.
When I started the series, there was always four books in the series. Now its just a case of writing them.
If she can find the time, that is.
A READER'S VIEW
Melissa Sadler, 16, from Knodishall, reviews Mistress of the Storm
I would highly recommend anyone to read this book, as it was very enjoyable. The reader is left on various different cliff hangers, which are answered later in the book. There are always a variety of different things that could happen, and the mind considers all of these but what we receive is something different and unexpected.
Verity Gallant, the main character, is an adventurous girl who, along with her friends Martha and Henry, explores the secrets and mysteries of the harbour town in which they live.
A boat, The Storm, arrives late one autumn morning and a new face appears at the Gallant house, the girls grandmother. After a boy runs from the library and flees to the beach he chucks a battered red book, which Verity finds and is intrigued to find out why it was left.
By the end of the book, Verity has found out that there is a Mistress of the Storm and works out who it is, and is told stories about the past of her town.