Sealskin by Su Bristow
Today is my stop on the Sealskin Blog Tour and it is my absolute pleasure to welcome its author, Su Bristow to the blog today. The novel is set in the west coast of Scotland and Su has kindly agreed to write a guest post for us about how the landscape is important in this wonderful book. First though, a little about the book itself:
What happens when magic collides with reality?
Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on
the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous … and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which theylive. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?
Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Exeter Novel Prize-winner Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance. Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set. And it is, quite simply, unforgettable.
Welcome to Blogs, Life and Everything, Su! Over to you!
The legend came first, of course, and the landscape is integral to the story; it all turns on the border between land and sea, and how you really can’t belong to both. In that harsh climate, life for humans is very hard, and although they depend on the sea for their livelihood, they risk their lives every time they go fishing. Seals, on the other hand, seem to live in a state of joyful abundance, only becoming slow and vulnerable when they are on land. People must have watched them, and envied them.
The landscape - and the weather, of course! - is definitely a character in the story. For Donald, it was his only solace until the coming of Mairhi, and I wanted to explore his intimacy with the land and his yearning to share it with her. It’s not just a backdrop with pretty scenery. He knows every rock and stream, where the early thyme grows and where the birds nest, and I wanted to bring the sensuality of it to the reader. At the same time, the rhythms of the sea are ever-present, building to moments of great drama, and dying away like the receding tide. You can’t belong to both, but you can’t have one without the other, and that’s where this story was born.
Marianne: Thanks so much, Sue. When I read Sealskin, I was always aware of the landscape and how it was bound up in the lives of the community.
This is a book where the plot, the setting and the characters are meshed perfectly together, informing each other. The legend of the selkies, where seals come ashore and transform into human form, really captures the imagination and in giving Mairhi some unexplained magic, you can understand how Donald was impelled to act when he saw her on the beach. It is very clever how the 'selkie' myth is used to show us the power of the community and family ties. You are able to sympathise with Donald despite his initial actions as he is shown to have insecurities and a keen sense of being different to the others. He is a loner at the start. In a way, he is able to gain a sense of belonging through watching Mairhi.
I loved the style of this book. I have seen words like 'exquisite' and 'beautiful' in reviews and I would not disagree with them. It is a beautiful story, full of light and shade. I was totally involved in the story and I can understand how it came to win the Exeter Novel Prize. It makes you think about the damage that man's actions can potentially have but also has something to say about forgiveness and being needed.
These are characters who stay with you after you have finished the book. Flawed they may be, but as the story develops, so do they. Transformation can take different forms and what you see is never the whole truth. Nothing speaks louder than Mairhi's silence as she learns to communicate through gestures, actions and just by showing her unspoken feelings.
In short: Whatever I write cannot do this book justice, So all I can say is - just read it!
About the Author
Su Bristow is a consultant medical herbalist by day. She’s the author of two books on herbal medicine: The Herbal Medicine Chest and The Herb Handbook; and two on relationship skills: The Courage to Love and Falling in Love, Staying in Love, co-written with psychotherapist, Malcolm Stern. Her published fiction includes Troll Steps (in the anthology, Barcelona to Bihar), and Changes which came second in the 2010 Creative Writing Matters flash
fiction competition. Her debut novel, Sealskin, is set in the Hebrides, and it’s a
reworking of the Scottish legend of the selkies, or seals who can turn into people. It won the Exeter Novel Prize 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magical realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.
You can connect with connect with Su on Twitter and on her Website
Thanks to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for a copy of the book and a place on the Blog Tour
Catch up with the rest of the Blog Tour!