Melissa has very kindly allowed us to post the prologue for the book today, I hope it gives you a real sense of the story.
The boat glided effortlessly across the water. Not bad for an old wooden tub, Jack thought. Whatever Freya said about it, he loved this boat. No doubt it needed a new motor, but it would last another summer. Angus at the boatyard had assured him of that. He listened carefully but all he could hear was a contented purring. Perhaps it would last the winter season as well.
The sea was peculiarly peaceful for this time of year, as if it were a lake rather than the open Atlantic. One of those perfect days, with a deep blue, cloudless sky reflected in the calm water. He grabbed his binoculars and looked towards the horizon. But even further out, where the rise and fall of the waves would be more pronounced, there was little movement.
He turned around to Sam, seated at the back of the boat, nose down in a book of seabirds. ‘Do you want to come into the cabin to steer the boat for a while?’ Jack called.
‘No,’ his son replied without looking up.
‘Well, are you warm enough out there?’ Even though the sun was shining, it was still spring and there was a cold breeze on the water.
‘I’m fine.’ Sam looked up this time and grinned.
‘So what have you seen so far?’
‘Well, I think they were fulmars. Although they look quite like gulls or kittiwakes so it’s not easy to tell. Dad, do you know what fulmars do to protect themselves from predators?’
‘No,’ said Jack, increasing the motor’s speed. The thrum of the engine became more pronounced.
‘They squirt the contents of their stomachs out through their noses at them. It’s a gross, smelly liquid.’
‘Sounds like a pretty good way of keeping things at a distance.’
‘They learn to do it as chicks. Pretty cool, huh?’
Jack smiled. ‘Certainly is.’ He increased speed again and could hear the slight strain of the motor. But it was nothing it couldn’t handle and now they were really covering ground. He grabbed the binoculars again and surveyed the horizon. Clear. Nothing out of the ordinary. It would all be plain sailing.
A few minutes later Sam shouted, ‘Hey Dad, look at this.’
Jack turned to see his son, his own set of binoculars in hand, pointing skywards. But he couldn’t make out anything from inside the cabin.
‘What is it?’ he said.
‘A big white bird. Very high up. On its own.’
Jack twisted around but again couldn’t see. ‘Any ideas?’ he said.
Sam was scrutinising his book of seabirds once again. ‘It’s got a big wingspan and black wing tips. I think it might be an albatross.’
‘An albatross? I don’t think so. They’re generally found in the south and the Pacific. In which case it’s a long way from home.’
‘But it says here that they range over huge stretches of ocean and regularly circle the globe. So it could be.’
‘Well maybe,’ Jack conceded. ‘But I think it’s more likely that it’s a gannet. They’re common around here.’
‘Yes, but they don’t really fly alone. Albatrosses do. It also says that gannets glide low over the ocean. And this one isn’t doing that.’
Jack smiled. This seabird book his father Alister had bought had fast become the ornithological bible. But he had to admit that it was very accurate. ‘Maybe it’s going to feed. Gannets fly high and circle before diving into the sea.’
Sam was silent for a while, and Jack hoped perhaps that was the end of it. But, knowing his son, he suspected not.
A few moments later, Sam spoke again. ‘Well, I don’t think this gannet is all that hungry. He’s still just hovering high up on the thermals. Come and have a look, Dad.’
Jack still couldn’t see the bird from inside the cabin and he knew that his son wouldn’t be satisfied or move on unless he had seen it properly.
He powered the engine down, but as he slipped it into neutral it stalled. ‘Shit,’ he said. It had a nasty habit of doing that. But it wasn’t usually a problem, so perhaps rather than fiddle with it now, he’d leave it until they were ready to go again.
‘Ooh. You’re going to be in trouble with Mum. She’d kill you if she knew the engine was off way out here.’ Sam was smiling and laughing as Jack stepped out of the cabin.
‘Well, no one has to tell Mum,’ said Jack, looking upwards. For a moment he couldn’t see anything, the glint of sunlight catching in his eyes. But finally he made it out. A solitary white bird, high up in the sky.
‘Let me take a look with your binoculars.’
Sam passed them to his father and then moved impatiently from foot to foot while he waited.
‘Hmm. I know what you mean. The colour of the wing tips means it could be either. It’s big for a gannet, but it’s pretty difficult to see the beak and tail feathers clearly.’ Jack lowered the binoculars, blinked hard and then tried again. But the bird was partly obscured by the glare of the sun. ‘I still think it’s unlikely to be an albatross, Sam.’
‘Aww.’ His tone was one of disappointed sulkiness. ‘It would have been really cool to have seen one. Mum would think so. She read me “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.’
‘Did she now?’ Jack frowned. For God’s sake, he was only ten. But Freya had always done that. Read him stuff that was way beyond him. ‘And can you remember any of it?’
‘Hmm. Not really.’ Sam laughed.
Jack pulled his son to him and ruffled his hair. ‘Well, while we’ve stopped shall we have our lunch? It’s about time.’
For half an hour Jack and Sam talked, ate and drank on the deck at the back of the boat. When they were finished and ready to carry on, Jack grabbed Sam’s binoculars again. The bird, whatever it was, was still hovering above them.
‘Strange,’ Jack muttered, and continued to scout the sky. It was only then that he noticed a black cloud growing on the horizon west of them. ‘Where did that come from?’ He watched it for a little while longer and then scanned around them three hundred and sixty degrees. Every horizon showed nothing but sky and sea. He handed the binoculars back to Sam and looked over the ocean. It was building swell, the once-still blue water now rippling and murky. Then he caught sight of shadowy trails of movement, swift blurs of grey here and there.
A moment later, Sam’s voice rang out excitedly. ‘Dolphins.’
Jack nodded as he looked. It was quite a big pod if he wasn’t mistaken. ‘Are they feeding? Looks like they might be.’
‘I think so,’ said Sam, hanging over the side and trying to touch them.
‘Be careful,’ shouted Jack.
‘I will, Dad,’ said Sam, rolling his eyes.
They watched the dolphins jumping and playing, criss-crossing beneath the boat from one side to the other. Sam shouted and pointed as he caught sight of them dancing beneath the surface, leaping momentarily into the air and then disappearing once more into the darkness. Eventually the pod overtook them and vanished.
‘That was sooo cool,’ said Sam, still dangling over the edge of the boat.
‘Yes it was,’ said Jack. But he had already turned his gaze back to the horizon. The cloud was growing and he didn’t like the look of it. He dropped his eyes back to the ocean. Could he still see traces of grey flashing beneath the surface? Perhaps, he wasn’t sure. But surely the pod had moved on by now? He scrutinised the surface of the ocean, tried to see beneath it, but he couldn’t tell. As he looked he felt a strange dizzying sensation, suddenly conscious of the miles of water beneath them. His skin prickled. Ridiculous, he said to himself.
Moving into the cabin, he turned on the radio and listened. Cloud was building, the weather turning and heading their way. ‘Sam,’ he shouted, ‘I’m afraid we’re going home. There’s a storm coming.’
‘Aww,’ he heard his son cry again from the back of the boat. The sound gave him comfort. It was fearless and indifferent.
He wrapped his fingers around the ignition key and faltered for a moment as he felt an odd sensation of giddiness and nerves. What had got into him? They had plenty of time. With a bit of luck they would be home in an hour. He breathed in deeply and exhaled slowly. But the vertiginous feeling was still there, lurking in his stomach.
From the back of the boat he could hear Sam chatting away to himself. ‘Well, I think it has webbed feet, which gannets don’t have. So I’m still not one hundred per cent convinced.’
Jack looked out of the cabin window and caught sight of the bird. It was still hovering above them but it was lower now. It seemed larger, darker. He frowned. And he was not one for omens. But as he turned the ignition key, the words of the poem he had been trying not to think about jumped into his head.
‘Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.’
Above is the list of the other stops on the blog tour, I would be thrilled if you checked in with the other bloggers.