Sylvia Bishop on On Silver Tides and fantasy books for early teens

On Silver Tides by Sylvia Bishop. Book cover and author photo.

This month our Macaw subscribers are reading a lovely gem of a book. On Silver Tides by Sylvia Bishop is a highly original, hugely moving, magical and mysterious fantasy with a stunning watery setting, a gripping plot and an inspiring heroine. It has such a classic feel, but buckets of contemporary relevance and was an easy pick for our February boxes. Here Sylvia tells us what inspired the book and it's beautiful landscape.

What inspired you to write On Silver Tides?

I love the sensation of swimming, and I used to play detailed games about being a humanoid water creature. And water – rivers, lakes, the sea – have always seemed far more magical to me than anything on land, in ways I had never been able to put into words. When I hit on the idea for this book, I knew I wanted to try and capture those feelings.


To develop the plot, I took inspiration from all the wonderful, strange myths in British history about river creatures. It’s a rich store! They naturally started to mutate and change as they slotted in to this particular story, but the original stories were my starting point.

We love the setting! The landscape and the river in particular are described so vividly. What inspired it?

I’ve already mentioned that I love water. More specifically, I’ve always felt there’s something secret about water. Even where rivers run right through our towns, everything below the surface is hidden. It was this sense of mystery that really inspired me.

Getting the descriptions right was then the product of a lot of research! Most of this doesn’t really end up in the book, actually. The important thing was to understand what would shape the sensations and experience of travelling by river – not to provide a blow-by-blow. But to get there, I had to immerse myself in every detail I could find out about this hidden world.

Which character was the most interesting to write and why?

Firth, Kelda’s brother. I have never written anyone so closely based on me before, which was unintentional and unexpected. And I was writing him from the viewpoint of his sister, who finds him difficult to understand, so I had to look at him – at me – from the outside.

He’s given some important advice, in the middle of the book. I think I was mostly writing to myself, there – my younger self, perhaps. I’ve never been more invested in a character.

In what ways do you think Kelda’s story is relevant to young readers and what message would you like them to take away from the book?

I hope none of my readers will ever have to fight off river monsters! But Kelda is also dealing with uncertainty, in a world where hardship makes her long for certainty. And she is dealing with the complexity of other people – people she loves hurt her, and she has to decide who can be forgiven, and how.

I think overall she is transitioning from a world where we can be reassured that grown-ups know everything and that good people are easily distinguished from bad people, and entering the real world, where important things are unknown and all people are complicated. She’s learning not to be overwhelmed by that, and to find her way through it all. I wanted to tell a story about that transition, but also to have a setting that testifies to a world that is still very, very beautiful.

Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Kelda and her family?

Well, I’m in the process of writing another book – but it’s not finished, so even I still have some questions! Watch this space…

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

This age was when I read most voraciously. It was utterly immersive and real – my imagination was so powerful then that I really could live inside those books, so I could stay in bed all day and go on amazing adventures. I’m not as good at this now.

Those are the readers I want to write for! They’ll make something more magical from this book than I could ever create by myself.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

My own little desk in my own little room! I’m a creature of habit and routine. I have an up-cycled bureau desk in crimson and yellow, tucked into an alcove by my window, and I love it.

I also tend to write well on trains. I actually had the idea for this book on a train. There’s something about being underway on a journey that sets my mind rolling.

Which other fantasy books for tweens and teens would you recommend our subscribers read next?

For me, Dianna Wynne Jones is the undeniable goddess of tween and teen fantasy. If you haven’t read her yet, run to the nearest bookshop, immediately. Go, now. Why are you still reading this? You should already be there…

Copies of our On Silver Tides 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!

This post includes affiliate links to our page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!


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