My chosen location would be Doggerland – the drowned mesolithic landscape underneath the North Sea which once linked Britain with the Netherlands – although for the practical purposes of a map I’d say Old Hunstanton. Just a bit further along the coast is Holme-next-the-sea, where the climax of ‘Hekla’s Children’ takes place. This place fascinates me because of the relics of a drowned human civilisation lying just off-shore. Fishermen regularly dredge up pieces of worked flint and timber, antler tools, and lots of other evidence that around 5000 years ago there was a green land with fresh water and good hunting where people lived for generations, until rising sea levels gradually inundated their home. The human imagination is eternally fascinated by tales of drowned lands and cities such as Atlantis, Lyonesse, and Ys, or their modern fictional equivalents such as Lovecraft’s nightmare drowned corpse-city of R’lyeh, or Tolkien’s Numenor. But there are plenty of real-world examples, such as Sundaland, which lies under modern Malaysia, or any number of towns and regions of the Netherlands that were drowned in the Middle Ages. But as climate change causes more and more extreme weather events, storm surges and coastal erosion are uncovering many of these buried remains and forcing us to confront how perilously fragile is our grip on the world. In 1998 the sea revealed a prehistoric circle of upright timbers surrounding a central upturned tree trunk, all of which had been buried and preserved in the peat. It was called Sea Henge and relocated to Lynn Museum in Norfolk. Cliffs are being washed away, revealing (and destropying) the remains of settlements and ritual sites which were miles inland when first built. The past, once hidden, comes back to haunt us with the threat that our own homes might one day join them. The British coastline is dotted with ghost villages, and thousand of miles away, several of the Solomon Islands have disappeared completely.
They fascinate us because they are a physical link to the past and a reminder of what we lose to time: memory, family, and life. They call to the deep waters of our own unconscious, dreaming minds and the archetypal figures of ancient myth who walk there, stirring up currents in the benthic abysses of our souls and putting us in touch with forces and aspects of ourselves that do not enjoy exercise in the nice, sane light of the modern day.
When I was writing ‘Hekla’s Children’ I needed the final confrontation between good and evil to occur somewhere where the barrier between the real world and the spirit-world of Un was thin, where the ghosts of the ancient landscape would be strong enough to be accessible to my heroine Scattie as she plans to trap the Afaugh, a cannibalistic demon. I was also trying to make a point about the futile and delusory myth of Britain’s unique and special status as an island nation, and the poisonous anti-immigrant rhetoric which follows on from that. It’s a novel about missing kids and bronze age warriors and bog-mummies, but it’s also about how if you fall into the trap of believing in the myth of your own special significance you end up becoming the monster instead of the hero who defeats it.
Hekla’s Children on Amazon: