Alex Cotter on The Mermaid Call and the best mystery books for older children
What inspired you to write The Mermaid Call?
I adore mythical stories and mysterious legends and merfolk have always particularly fascinated me. But I never looked like a mermaid when I was growing up, and I wanted to explore how the pressures to be pretty and popular can cause you to lose sight of yourself. And what kind of fight it might take so that everyone can be true to themselves.
Are any of the characters or their experiences inspired by real people, places or events?
Yes! Similar to Vivien, my grandma was brought up by her grandparents and saw very little of her mum, who was an actor. I also drew from the experiences of a dear friend who, like Eleni, moved to England from Cyprus with her family and lived above their chip shop. And my lovely grandpa, whose family ran a bakery in the coastal town of Bantry in County Cork.
Loch Ness and ‘Nessie’ lent me a lot of inspiration for creating the local village legend. And for place: I spent much of my childhood in the Lake District and I also lived not far from Matlock Bath in Derbyshire, which is like an inland ‘seaside’ resort (oh, how I loved it as a child!) – so I combined the two settings for Lake Splendour.
Maybe most importantly, I took inspiration for the Mermaid Girls, Lydia and Violet, from stories about suffragettes – particularly the hardships of working class girls who joined the fight to improve the lives of girls and women everywhere.
What research did you do while you were writing the book and did you discover anything that surprised you?
I did oodles of research on mythical creatures and legends, suffragettes, tourism, lakes, and, of course, mermaids! My favourite mermaid stories include the mermaid ghost in the Peak District’s Blakemere Pond, who haunts the water and rises at midnight – beware! And the ningyo, a Japanese mermaid, that’s all sharp teeth and hideous looking, but if you eat one you’ll stay young and beautiful. However, catching a ningyo also brings bad storms and floods. Moral dilemma there!
I found out a lot of surprising facts about lakes too. Did you know a lake is dying from the moment it is created? Like people, lakes naturally age and die – though human pollution is causing them to age quicker.
Which character in the book do you most relate to and why?
Ah well, Vivien and I bond over the perils of having very, very curly hair and our mutual need for swim caps and coats with hoods! But my heart remains lost to Erik – he reminds me of my eldest who has always forged their own path and smashed stereotypes, oblivious to what others think.
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Vivien?
What a fantastic question. I think, like many young activists pushing for change today, she will keep striving to make a difference. More campaigning, then swimming at the Olympics, maybe? A chain of Enchanted Tails? Prime Minister?! Most of all, I hope she’ll no longer define herself by how others see her.
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
I was a child when I started writing for this age group, so partly it feels like I’m just continuing my childhood dream! But I do think stories for this age group are amongst the most magical, curious and exciting writing out there. So many of my all-time favourite books, both past and present, are children’s novels. They hold a wonder, a spirit of adventure and a sense of freedom that often feels unique to the genre. Plus, I’ve never forgotten what it feels like to be that age; in many ways I’m still there!
Do you have a favourite place to write?
Either on the sofa with my chatty cat next to me, or in a café surrounded by lots of human chit chat – and cake, like the kind they serve in Splash Tearooms!
What other mystery or adventure books for young people would you recommend our subscribers read next?
Both Fleur Hitchcock and Nizrana Farook write wonderful stories that are full of adventure and mystery! I also heartily recommend The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell and Alex Evelyn’s The Secret Wild. Happy reading!
Copies of our The Mermaid Call pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!
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