I thoroughly enjoyed Orphans of the Tide which is published today and now am delighted to have had the opportunity for a Q&A with author Struan Murray about his much lauded debut.
Orphans of the Tide is a deeply immersive tale of an expansive world where nothing is really as it seems, as the tide creeps up the side of the mountain, the last stronghold of humanity is a fascinating place with its controlling leaders, nepotism and social division of tasks and futures evoking a Renaissance Principate or artisanal guilds.
Haunted by tales of a wrathful God ready to possess anyone the narrow streets are populated with Dickensian pickpocket orphans, a brooding Whaler who has lost more than his leg, a boy cut from the belly of a whale who can raise the waters and a girl with a deeply dark secret in a tangle of grief.
1. Which came first, The Drowned World, The Enemy & Vessel or Ellie?
They were created separately from one another, for different story ideas, then all converged when I was struck by a single image — a whale on a chapel rooftop. I’d been watching YouTube videos showing what happens when a whale dies on land (as you do). It’s really not very pleasant — gas builds up inside them, and they explode! I had this idea that a whale could get stuck on a roof, but then had to figure out how it got there? I thought I could use the idea of a submerged city that I’d been tinkering with, but then I also needed a character with the knowledge of how to stop a dead whale exploding, and the tenacity to cut it open in front of a crowd. I’d been playing with the idea of a young inventor — a sort of da Vinci meets Sherlock Holmes character, and thought she’d be perfect for this story. As for the Enemy, well, we’ll come to it later…
2. The City in Orphans of the Tide is a fully realised, immersive world of guild-like societies and paranoia. Where did you get inspiration for the City and Drowned World and how long has it been percolating in your mind?
Visually, the City is very much inspired by Edinburgh, where I grew up. It has the same ancient, gothic architecture and winding narrow closes and streets that cross above other streets. Edinburgh is also a city full of myth — there is literally another city buried beneath it, and whenever I’m back there I find myself wondering what strange mysteries are hidden beneath my feet.
The idea for a submerged city came to me when I was in Stockholm, where there is a museum by the sea (The Vasa Museum) containing a huge, 17th century ship. The imagery of a ship being harboured inside a building by the sea really stuck with me – and so the idea for the City was born. The City also owes a lot of its appearance to Mont-Saint-Michel in France, which becomes an island when the tide comes in.
3. You have a strong mythology running through Orphans of the Tide with the Enemy, Vessel and Drowned Gods. Were you inspired by any existing myths or stories in constructing your own ‘foundation myth’?
The main idea behind the Enemy was to create a fantastical villain who was in part a metaphor for mental illnesses like depression. The Enemy can inhabit the mind of a single person in The City at any time, constantly seeking to weaken and hurt the Vessel in any way it can, so that it can eventually destroy them and take a physical form.
The actual mythology surrounding the Enemy was built around this, though I was definitely inspired by practices of exorcism and witch-hunting when thinking about how the people of The City would constantly be on the alert for any indication of who might be the Vessel.
4, What were your favourite books growing up?
I was a huge fan of comic books initially, mainly Tintin and Calvin and Hobbes. Of course I grew up reading Roald Dahl – I especially loved Dirty Beasts for the blend of cynicism and humour. When I was a little older I read Northern Lights and that was so different from anything else I’d read, it changed how I saw storytelling.
5. When you were growing up were you a storyteller and did you want to be an author?
I think I wanted to be a baker growing up, and then an artist, and then a lawyer possibly? I don’t think it ever even occurred to me to be an author until my twenties, when I’d started working as a scientist in a lab, and was in need of a new hobby to keep me sane when my experiments weren’t going to plan…
I did write lots of stories growing up though, including one about a grizzled detective (who was surprisingly violent for a character in a child’s story), and another about a woman who realises she’s a figure trapped inside someone else’s painting.
6. If any author (living or dead) could give a review or blurb for your book who would it be and why?
Ursula Le Guin. She was a genius and one of my favourite writers, and even the idea of her reading my book makes me feel a bit shaky.
7. Many authors juggle full time careers alongside their writing in different ways. As a lecturer in Biochemistry, how do you make time for the writing process?
It can be difficult — I am often writing in stolen moments, in café’s first thing in the morning, or on the train, or in the back row of other people’s lectures…
8. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a little voice in your head whenever you try to write, telling you you can’t do this. That voice doesn’t know what it’s talking about.
9. What can we expect next from your imagination?
Something good I hope! The sequel to Orphans of the Tide will be released early 2021, and I have a few other weird and unrefined ideas that I’m chiselling away at when I get the chance.
10. If readers could take one message, concept or inspiration from Orphans of the Tide what would you like that to be?
It would be about the power of opening up to the people you trust, and asking them for help when you need it.
Thank you so much to Struan for taking the time to answer these questions and to Puffin Books for inviting me to celebrate Struan’s publication of Orphans Of The Tide a darkly vivid fantasy for upper middle grade which I thoroughly recommend you all read!!