As those of you who follow me on social media will be all too aware, I spent much of October and November travelling the length and breadth of Aotearoa New Zealand. It was an incredible trip. But no experience was more extraordinary than the day I made my way to the beach on which I set The Stranding!
I wrote the first draft of The Stranding. At the time I was pregnant and, having never written anything long-form before, had little expectation of what I was writing being published immediately. I wrote my first draft thinking it would be something I would work on when I took up the place I'd been offered to complete the MA at UEA, which was something I'd deferred until after the birth of my daughter. So, the book was a long-term plan, and therefore choosing a beach on the west coast of the north island of Aotearoa New Zealand on which to beach my whale and strand my protagonist was something I thought I might revisit, or indeed, visit, before the book was published. But, life had different plans for me.
I actually completed the first draft of my manuscript in late 2019, approximately six weeks before my daughter was due. And encouraged by an early reader, I sent it out to agents. Long story short, by the time my daughter was three months old, I was agented and on submission to publishers. Then in early March 2020, just as I had signed my publishing deal - the world locked down.
And so, I didn't get to visit the beach I had chosen for Ruth and Nik to meet and build a life on. Yes, I 'walked' the route to the beach and spent time 'on' the beach thanks to Google Maps, but I also did a lot of imagining. So in November this year, three years after my debut novel was published, I took a copy of my novel and the daughter I was pregnant with to visit the beach which features so heavily in my novel.
It is strange to say it, but visiting Tangimoana was a bit of an out of body experience. I felt as though I had been there before. I knew where the dairy was. i knew where the boat club was. I recognised the farms and landmarks that we passed on the road there. And, of course, I had been there vitually but it felt as though I had spent time there - that my characters were somehow there...and I suppose in a way they were. Nik, Ruth, Frances and Maya are part of that beach's story now - something that I never imagined saying when I sat down to write about a British girl who finds a beached whale on a beach.