The Week of the Whales
If you follow me on any aspect of social Media, you will know that this week has been a pretty crazy one for me. After months of research, writing and editing, on Sunday I released my latest novel, Fiona and the Whale. The story centres around Fiona who finds herself on an unlikely path of discovery when she becomes obsessed with whale stuck in the river Thames. On Tuesday I got a series of frantic messages from my editor. An actual whale was stuck in the river Thames,
My first reaction was disbelief; it seem like the most auspicious thing possible. Here was a book that I had poured so much of myself into and that I had just released and now here it was happening in real life. What could be better for the book? I was so excited I simply had to ring my husband and tell me, despite the fact he was in a yoga class. (My husband and yoga - you probably have to see him to realise how bizarre that idea is, but anyway…)
So there I am overly excited, with him hissing quietly down the phone at me.
“There’s a whale in the Thames!” I kept repeating to him. ‘Right now! There’s an actual whale in the Thames.’ Yet for some reason, all that met my excitement was the static buzz of an extended pause.. Eventually he said it.
‘Han, there’s a whale stuck in the Thames.’ More silence followed. That was when it hit me, and it hit me pretty hard.
There is a reason I wrote about Fiona. A big reason. And it wasn’t a good one.From the moment my whale, my Martha, swam into the Thames I knew there was only one way it could end, and no matter what the news reports said, I knew in my heart of hearts it was going to be the same for Hessy.
What I need you to understand is that researching this book was horrible. For other books I got to research things like vintage cars, and companion gardening and being a farrier in the 18th century. Fun research. Researching into whales and the effects that plastic has had on them is not dinner conversations. (I know this due to the fact I have been told on dozens of occasions after bringing the subject up over dinner.) Countless times Jake came downstairs in the morning to find me sobbing. One article about a mother whale dying trying to rescue her calf from a finishing net remains vivid in my mind. Of course she died trying to save her child. The pygmy sperm whale that turned up dead on the Welsh coast sticks with me too. I didn’t even know pygmy sperm whales were a thing until I read about a dead one. So to see Hessy swimming in the Thames. It wasn’t Hessy to me, it was Martha.
The pictures afterward, of Hessy on the crane are the ones that really broke me. You don’t realise the size when you see this little fleck of grey passing a gigantic barge. But there, with people surrounding it, you could see just how magnificent she was.
It wasn’t plastic that killed her, but it was still us. Last month a young sperm whale was washed up on the shores of Maryland US, where it died a few hours later. Just because Hessy and Martha are gone, doesn’t mean we can just move on.
I wish I had some sort of resolution I could put here. Something that would turn this into a lovely fable from which people would hear the message and learn from it. The thing is, I think we already know it, we’re just choosing not to hear. I’ve upped the amount I am donating to charity from this book from 25% to 50%. It’s not about money. As an indie author I’m barely breaking even. It’s about keeping the conversation alive.
Sorry for the sad one. The whale got to me this time.