I know that I am biased about this, because they are based in my part of the world, but anything published by the fabulous Chicken House is going to get my attention. This title was even more noteworthy because it was the inaugural Chairman’s Choice prize winner at the 2019 Times/Chicken House competition. Added to this is the totally original concept that we find in this heartwarming story, it is a real must-read for this summer.
Marina lives in the fishing port of Merlington, where there are probably more fish shops that anything else; unfortunately Marina really dislikes fish, but particularly since her beloved father (a fisherman) went missing 6 years before. Life in the town appears boring, so Marina resorts to storytelling to liven things up; unfortunately she can’t seem to limit the scope of her tales and it ends up with her being called a ‘liar’ by one of her classmates. When she discovers a mysterious young boy, with claws for hands and hair made of tentacles, no one believes her; not until the boy is found asleep on the beach the following day. What follows is a quest to discover where the boy, called William, comes from and whether there is any link to her missing father. There are are mysteries and a very evil villain, who is hiding in plain sight.
The first thing that came to mind when I started reading this story was that Marina was a little bit like ‘the boy that cried wolf’. She was so in love with telling stories that she did not know when to stop and the consequences threatened to ruin her life in the town. We all love stories, after all that is why we read books, but it is about recognizing fact from fiction and also knowing how our stories will impact on our listeners. This is a lesson that Marina has to learn and we are lucky to be able to follow her on this journey of discovery. This is also a story about the importance of family and friends; as Marina needs the support of her mother and close friends to overcome the disbelievers and find the answers to her questions.
This is a fabulous book for middle grade children. It is full of adventure and some amazing characters, especially Marina and William. Not only will you want to visit Merlington for the various fish dishes, but you might even give Japanese ‘Sashima’ a try. You will have to read the book to discover these delicacies if you don’t already know what they are!
I am delighted to say that Richard Pickard has agreed to provide a guest blog about this book and I know you will enjoy it as much as I did.
MY WRITING SPACE
A short walk from Westbourne village, where you’ll find a gorgeous bookstore and the best fish and chips in the world, there is a small path that punches a shapely hole through a thick wall of hedging… This is the doorway to Alum Chine – a steep-sided valley that guides you down through the cliffs and toward a Bournemouth beach hut, where much of The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy was written.
Spending most of my time in London, where space is a premium and my own desk is the stuff of dreams, I find myself writing wherever I can – on trains, in cafés (pre-pandemic) and on my bed propped up by pillows. But my favourite place, where I’ve found much of my inspiration, has always been the beach hut.
The walk down Alum Chine is the perfect way to find the right headspace – the scent of damp pine needles filling your nose as a canopy of trees obscures the sunlight. Further along the pathway, a black iron fence shielding its steepest edge, a weathered bridge comes into view – the teal green paint flaking as it stretches across the deepest section of woodland. We call this ‘Summer’s Bridge’, a place to remember my dad’s beautiful border collie who was possibly the only being to love Alum Chine quite as much me.
The journey to the beach hut is punctured with memories such as these at every step. From the small hole at the base of a now-felled tree (my Granny Pat taught us this was the Dorset home of Winnie-the-Pooh), to the secret archways and snug stone staircases that twist through the undergrowth and lead up to unknowable places. An army of invisible birds call out through the trees which cover the steep banks at the mouth of the Chine, which we’d run down at full pelt and still would if it weren’t for the tightly packed vegetation that has claimed the slopes over the years.
Once the deep blue of the English Channel appears on the horizon, the most eager person calls out: “I saw the sea first!” and the sunlight breaks through at last. Sand mingles with a row of wild poppies as you pass the sprawling playground which felt so impressive at 3ft tall, and the newest beach huts rise from the promenade where an old stone amphitheatre once circled our childhood paddling pool.
Past the cloisters and three huts down you’ll find it. The place where my story took shape. A small, terraced cabin facing out onto the golden sand of Bournemouth’s prize-winning beach. Here I would sit, come rain or shine, in a squidgy deck chair with my leatherbound notebook from Portobello market and a thick mug of tea – which I’d brew on the small gas hob inside.
After the death of my beloved Granny Pat, this spring was sadly our last with the beach hut. But for more than thirty years it was the scene of so many happy moments. Eating bacon sandwiches on the morning of my dad’s wedding. The long evenings sat drinking a beer with my boyfriend Rob. The countless childhood summers spent visiting Granny Pat and Grandad, and of course, those happy days writing my novel. So, now that I’m drafting a second story for Chicken House, I’ll need to make do with a towel on the sand and a large thermos of tea. I’ll pack an umbrella, in case of weather-related disaster, plus extra jumpers in those colder months and a pack of biscuits to munch on after emerging from the sea to write…
Which actually, when I think about it, sounds like a pretty great alternative.
THE PECULIAR TALE OF THE TENTACLE BOY is out now, priced £6.99. Read chapter 1 on the Chicken House website!