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PART OF THE Young Voices ISSUE

‘The locations of the stories go unnamed but are a patchwork of formative places in my life’

Reflecting on her own childhood, author Kathrine Sowerby considers how her new novel The Spit, the Sound and the Nest was shaped by her own memories as well as the voices of her central protagonists, teen runaways Felix and Luc, as they navigate the complex world around them.

A Book of Beginnings
By Kathrine Sowerby

The Spit, the Sound and the Nest is a book of three stories connected by coastal locations, an overriding theme of birth; the fear, wonder and risk that surrounds new beginnings at any stage in life, whether through choice or circumstance. And the decisions that we make, collective or private, that affect the lives of others.

Anything is possible, as teen runaways, Felix and Luc, find out when they are invited to stay with a grieving couple, Rita and Joseph, on a remote stretch of land that they have all escaped to for different reasons.

“Stepping out from the curtains of trees, they stood centre stage with the sea and sand for an audience. They drank in the bays and capes before them: folds and folds of snow-covered sand, mountains of it, and not a single person in sight.”

I wrote the stories when my three children were very young in whatever hours I could claim and a few years on, now the book is published, I see myself looking through the eyes of my characters at possibilities and landscapes far from my domestic life. Like Rita, conjuring memories.

“The window was covered in condensation and she wrote a name with her fingertip, watching the drips from the letters run down the windowpane and collect on the sill.”

And Helle, who arrives soaking wet at the door of Echo’s caravan in the woods with her new born baby trying to piece together the events that have led her there. Echo finds herself turning to her estranged husband, Peter, for help as the interruption to her solitary life causes Echo to face both her past and her future.

“She looked at the black-and-white diagram of lichen tissue. Earlier it had reminded her of a congested coastline with roads, railway tracks and tunnels crossing over one another, jostling for space. Looking again she saw the cells born from the tangle, the inevitability of expansion.”

The locations of the stories go unnamed but are a patchwork of formative places in my life – Slovakia and Lithuania where I lived and worked in my early twenties, the dunes and forests of North East Scotland, and my grandparent’s house in South Africa that I visited as a child, at the same curious age as Edna with her kingfisher that she saves with the help of gardener, Isaac.

“He lifted the cloth from the box and the bird splayed its wings. It scrabbled around on the smooth base of the box; Isaac gently tipped the box and it slid on to the ground. It flapped its wings against the dust.”

And Alice, who takes the role as the protective older sister as she and Edna try to make sense of the adult world when their parents go on holiday leaving them in the care of the housekeeper, Magdalena.

“Everything they had tied and fastened together came undone and floated out to sea with Alice and Edna clinging on, waiting to be rescued.”

My own children are older now and, like my characters, they are finding that life is a series of beginnings, which can be both exciting and scary. I think of pine trees planted to give strength and stability to shifting sands and, even then, the vulnerability of roots. Life is unpredictable and beginnings often come when we least expect them. Doors open, inviting us to cross their threshold and see what’s on the other side.


The Spit, the Sound and the Nest by Kathrine Sowerby is out now published by Vagabond Voices priced £10.95.

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