Undertow by Kiri Newton
Age Group: Young Adult
Release Date: November 12, 2012
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For far too long these sailor-drowning, ship-sinking sea sirens have been portrayed as happy, peaceful creatures who want nothing more than to fall in love with a prince and live happily ever after. Undertow is an unconventional twist on one of the oldest mythological creatures known to man.
When I sat down on that Saturday morning and began penning the opening words of Undertow I was initially just writing the story of Zoe Lawinsky, a young girl whose life is taken from her but returned to her as a mermaid. But as the story began to develop and progress I found myself setting down some very strong guidelines for the story. For starters I never wanted Undertow’s mermaids to be these happy creatures who sit on rocks combing their hair and singing to one another.
Drawing the Line
That notion irritates me just slightly less than the one of angels sat on clouds playing their harps in heaven. And we have Disney to blame for this. No doubt when they decided in 1989 to make the movie The Little Mermaid they read the Hans Christian Anderson tale and immediately began panicking. ‘We can’t promote suicide!’ they yelled. ‘We can’t have an unhappy ending!
She must marry the prince no matter what!’ And so the tale that we are so familiar with was born where Ariel gets her legs, gets the man, the bad guy is defeated and everyone lives happily ever after. That’s another thing I can’t stand ‘happily ever after’ because how many times in real life does anyone get a happily ever after. It doesn’t happen. More often that not we find ourselves at the end of a conflict realizing that either its not over or there’s more going on than we bargained for.
With this in mind I created these dark, slightly sarcastic creatures that sunk submarines that got too close and who disliked people (can you blame them?). And from what I can tell it has worked. I’ve had a few people already comment me on the uniqueness of the storyline because I’ve ditched the Disney-fied nonsense that we have been lumped with for all these years and done my own thing. Doing your own thing to a legend that’s been around for as long as man has been going near the ocean is risky but well worth taking.
The second ideology that I took into the story was that mermaids are real. Now I know that seem like an obvious statement for the writer to say she believed in her creations but its more than that. I deliberately wrote mermaids as cryptids, creatures believed to exist but not formally studied by science as opposed to magical creatures.
At no point in the story do I say ‘there was a shower of sparks and ‘poof!’ her tail formed’ or ‘Dasan used his trident to fire jets of light to stun the attacking clones’.
That never happens.
I wrote mermaids as though they were real creatures which meant I spent a lot of time thinking about how they would exist and evolve as a specie. Mer-folk from cooler climates have fur whereas those from larger stretches of water have broader tails that can gather more speed.
Their lungs would be like that of lungfish, able to breathe both air and draw oxygen from the water. If they spend to long out of the water they risk dehydration and so forth. Which brings me to the age old question. How to mermaids have babies? Are you ready? Mermaids are monotreme’s like the platypus and echidna.
Mermaids come to the surface to breed, they have a cloaca, they lay an egg that must be kept underwater (much like a Shark’s egg), they are warm blooded with a high metabolic rate, produce milk for their young and have three middle ear bones. There. Now you know.
I am a child of ‘91 born in Jandowae, a tiny little town out past Dalby. When I was five my parents decided to pack everything up and move to Tonga in the South Pacific after Dad visited there and mum fell in love with the place after reading a book about it. So I grew up in a third world country, fluent in a second language by the time I was eight and lived amongst the locals who I was friends with.
When I was thirteen my father passed away and due to the fact that the government refused to pay my mum a pension over there like they did my father, we were forced to move back to Australia.
As for my writing career, I started writing progressively longer short stories in Grade 5 where one teacher noted on my report card that ‘I had unique ideas and an unusual talent’. By Grade 7 I had completed my first novel a post-apocalyptic fiction where cats are the highest life form and live basically as we do and follows the lives of a litter of cats, the characters based on a litter of cats belonging to my neighbour. I continued writing different things from horsey stories to Phantom of the Opera fan-fiction right through my teenage years, nothing serious, mostly just a lot of scribbling.
In Grade 12 I realized that if I was going to be serious about being a writer I needed to finish stories, not just have a lot of random scribbles to my name. So forgoing all my assignments I finished my second book called Dynamite which is an Australiana tale about a racehorse. Two years later I went on holidays to Fiji, came home and three months later Undertow was completed. In the middle there I wrote a Tolkien-esque fantasy epic called The Dark Assassin with my now ex-boyfriend. The year after that I completed Hazardous, which will be my next published title.