Lucy Owen is familiar face on BBC Wales and the author of Boo-a-Bog in the Park. Here, she talks about her moving new book The Sea House, dealing with grief and her love of damselfish…
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your new book The Sea House and what inspired you to write it?
One night, a grieving girl cries so much she fills her whole house up with tears. She wakes up in a magical sea world inside her own home, full of amazing sea creatures who want to be her friends and make her happy again. Fabulous becomes her best friend. She’s a tiny, sparkling courageous fish with a huge heart. But there is a darkness in the house too, in the form of an evil, bitter stingray, who has an army of sea urchins. Coral has to find her strength to overcome these dark forces and save her friends and herself.
Could you introduce us to Coral, the main character in The Sea House?
Our main character Coral loves to have fun with her friends, and enjoys skate-boarding, swimming and singing. But Coral is struggling to deal with the loss of her parents. She is trying to be strong and happy again and she looks to her incredible new friends to help her. I really admire how she finds her inner strength and courage. I think we all go through tough times in our lives, for whatever reason, and this book is about how love and friendship can help us when we feel sad.
There are some wonderful characters in the story, such as Fabulous, who is a damselfish, and Ramone the sea turtle. Do you have a favourite character in the story?
I think Fabulous might have to be my favourite character, she just is totally and utterly fabulous in every way! She’s excitable, confident, loves being the centre of attention. She’s also loyal and brave and a true friend who would do anything for anyone.
You vividly describe some stunning underwater scenes. I wondered if you have always been drawn to the seaside and water and if you had any special memories linked to the sea?
I have always loved the sea and am drawn to it, it’s so beautiful whether you’re looking at it or if you’re in it. I love swimming and used to be in the school team and in a swim club. I used to waterski and windsurf too. I love snorkelling when I’m on holiday. One trip I actually saw lots of the creatures that I have featured in the book! I saw Fabulous, a damselfish, and could hardly believe there were real fish in the ocean that were actually that sparkly. I swam with sea turtles, saw an eel the colour of Marvin ‘Hot Moves’ MacKenzie and saw a puffer fish like Bubba. I even saw a stingray like Stealth! It was magnificent to see the way its wings moved in the water, but I couldn’t help but be scared too!
The story gently deals with grief – how important is it, do you think, for children to read about these experiences?
I think it’s important we realise that life is likely to throw some challenges our way at times, but that there are always ways we can accept and deal with those difficulties positively. My dad died when I was in my teens and it was only when I was midway through writing ‘The Sea House’ that I understood where some of my thoughts were coming from. I decided to put a lot of what happened to Dad, and what I went through, into the story. The book is particularly special to me because of that and it was lovely to remember him as I wrote. My Dad was Jeffery Cohen, and you’ll see that Uncle Jeff pops up at the end!
It struck me that music, and its ability to heal and unite, is a key theme in the story. For example, there’s a beautiful scene where Coral sings the Welsh hymn Calon Lan, which is her father’s favourite hymn. How important is music in your life?
I think music can be incredibly moving and powerful. I love all kinds of music, from pop to country, classical to rock! My son Gabriel is really musical, he sings and plays guitar and piano. I can’t sing in tune at all or play any instruments, but I still have a passion for music. Did you see the words for ‘The Sea House Song’ that Otto and the Crevettes sing during the Sea Spectacular? Well, Gabriel’s wonderfully talented piano teacher Gwyn has written some music to go with it. You can hear the song and download the music on my website lucyowenbooks.com. I love it when there are ways of bringing books alive and I hope that the songs in the story will help do that.
The climax of the story is very moving. Was it emotional or difficult to write?
I feel that everything comes together in that scene. We find out exactly what happened to Coral’s parents and the showdown with Stealth is physical and emotional. I can remember feeling breathless writing it, with my fingers typing away furiously on the keyboard. I knew Coral would find courage through the love of her parents and friends and through her own strength inside her, but I knew it would be quite a battle!
What was it like seeing your words transformed into such lovely illustrations and artwork by Rebecca Harry? What do you think her illustrations bring to the story?
I am so incredibly lucky to have Rebecca bring The Sea House to life through her beautiful work, and I’m so grateful to the publishers Firefly for bringing us together. Every time Rebecca sent me the latest image she had drawn, I would have tears in my eyes. Every one was perfect. All the creatures are just how I dreamed they would be. I particularly love how she has drawn Coral’s floating hair and how she has captured Fabulous’s cheeky spirit!
How would you say your role as a broadcaster and journalist has influenced your writing and this story?
I love my day job and I do a lot of writing as part of it, headlines and links into news reports. When I write for BBC Wales everything has to be absolutely factually accurate, so it’s a lot of fun to be able to write and let my imagination run wild! I love being able to escape into a fantasy world where anything could happen.
What are the main messages you would like young readers to take from this story?
I hope that anyone who reads this book will firstly just enjoy it as a fun, exciting, underwater adventure, simple as that! But perhaps it may help readers to know that they too will be able to find their strength in the most difficult circumstances. The book is about always remembering the power of the love of family and friends. It would be exciting too if it helped awaken a respect, understanding and interest in the marine environment, and a love of song!
Finally, can you describe The Sea House in three words?
Magical, empowering, heart-warming.