Review of Sealskin by Su Bristow

Cover art for Sealskin by Su Bristow, featuring a fishing net merging and transforming into long flowing hair.
Sealskin by Su Bristow

‘Sealskin’ is a wonderful elaboration of one of the ancient legends of the selkies, seals which come onto land and shed their skins to become like humans. In the story, a fisherman hides one of the skins preventing the selkie from returning to the sea. It also starts with a terrible act, of which more later. (may contain spoilers)*

The story is set in a historical period which is not fully defined but is certainly before the steam age. The fishing village in the Hebrides, is close knit with everyone knowing everyone else’s business. Although they look after each other, and make sure those who suffer misfortune are not left by the wayside, there is still a certain rivalry and gossip is rife. The main occupation is fishing, and the sea claims the lives of men as readily as any other cause.

(While reading it, I visualised the characters in the Ealing Comedy “Whiskey Galore”)

I particularly enjoyed the way Su paints a picture of the village’s social interactions, and the dynamic of riding out a scandal by parading in full view; calmly deflecting accusations. Tight knit communities can be wonderful places to live when you feel included, but can be terrifying if you become ostracised.

The ending was particularly satisfying for me. As it approached, just like I always do, I attempted to second guess what would happen. I could only see two possible scenarios and neither of them was really going to please me. It was therefore a blessed relief when Su found a third way that made much more sense than either of my ideas.

The book has received many five star reviews already and I am not going to buck that trend, however, one reviewer was highly critical. I didn’t want to comment on her review and end up with a long running argument, but I am going to address it below. But warning, it may contain a few mild spoilers.

Potential spoilers.

I have tried to keep this from being a spoiler, but if you are the sort of person for whom any clue at all to the story is a spoiler, then by all means stop reading here.

* I said the story begins with a terrible act. An appalling act of violation of a female, which in the modern world is rightly considered unforgivable. The reviewer felt that the act was subsequently glossed over in the story, and that the perpetrator is subsequently portrayed as a hero. As a man, I hesitate to make any excuse, but I feel here that three points are worthy of keeping in mind.

  1. The author herself is a woman. OK, I know that proves nothing, but I feel the next points establish she does not make light of the subject.
  2. The selkies had been performing a mating dance, and there was a certain magic in the air which made the perpetrator not fully aware of, or in control of his actions. We are not talking about being drunk, or lustful, but being possessed by selkie magic.
  3. He feels enormous guilt for his actions throughout the book, despite the fact that it is strongly implied that he is not in control of his actions. The selkie has magical powers, and can affect a human’s behaviour, as shown later in the book.
  4. The setting is historical, and as such, it is not acceptable to make judgements about morality based on modern norms. Juliet was thirteen when Romeo made his advances to her, King David has many wives and concubines. This story is an elaboration of a folk myth and as such stays faithful to the basis of the original.

Ultimately, every reader must take what they wish from the story, but in my opinion, it would be a shame to dismiss it because of a lack of understanding of the magical elements.

New author announcement coming soon

Blue Poppy is already reeling from the news that Ben Blake, a well established self-publishing author with six titles already in print, wanted to publish his next two novels, “Black Lord of Eagles”, and “Fanged Fish” through us; but now we have been approached by an author from London who had got 750 pre-orders of his first novel before the company supposedly publishing him pulled the rug.

We don’t want to give too much away but it goes without saying we could not pass up the chance to publish someone who has already created so much interest in their first book.

It may mean we have to transform from an imprint, to an actual company with some sort of legal status. That’s going to mean proper accounts and such like. Much to do.

Maps in fantasy books

Interesting thread on Best Fantasy Books Forum recently

Several comments about how maps do not often work well on Kindle. This reminded me that I had intended to include a map for “Children of the Wise Oak” online for Kindle users to look at if they preferred.

I think this would be a good idea anyway for future reference in my series, and in that of other writers for whom maps are important. Even in print books, the map can come out a tad on the teeny side.


Map from “Children of the Wise Oak” click to enlarge.

Crowdfunder Launched for Women of the Wise Oak

Here we go; the project is now live.

Already a few pledges coming in, as we expected, from people who have been waiting for this for months.

It would be easy to get complacent at this point but it is a long slog to reach the target.

We had to set the target at £2,400 this time because we need to make sure the book gets separate copy and line edits. The first book was pretty clean, but one or two teeny things snuck through. That’s not the editor’s fault, but mine for not having the budget to do the job properly.

Blue Poppy; what’s it all about?

Introducing Blue Poppy Publishing.

So, last year, 2016, I finally finished my first full novel. I set up a crowdfunding campaign to pay for a professional edit, cover design, and printing. When the money hit my account I went a bit crazy and spent it all and then some trying to produce a really good product. I hope the seventy-plus backers were very pleased with it. I know I was.

Part of publishing that book ended up with me creating an imprint; Blue Poppy Publishing. I say imprint because it could certainly not lay any claim to being a company. It still isn’t; but more of that in future posts.

Why “Blue Poppy”?

I asked my online friends for name suggestions, but it was my son Morton, who suggested the name. It relates to my grandfather, Frank Kingdon-Ward, who was an explorer and botanist. “The Last of the Great Plant Hunters” was the first person to bring back viable seed of Meconopsis betonicifolia, the Himalayan Blue Poppy.

My first website was all about him, and my very first paid writing assignment was a 1,200 word article about him for “The Great Explorers” by Robin Hanbury-Tenison. (Thames & Hudson  ISBN 978-0500251690)

Hence the name.

So what is Blue Poppy Publishing then?

Can we call it BPP for brevity?

It is a very small publisher with absolutely no money, but a big heart and a growing wealth of understanding about the world of self publishing.

We (yes, I can call it “we” now because with the addition of Ben Blake it is no longer just me) are not pretending we know everything, but we are continually learning, and looking for ways to put that experience to good use for ourselves, and others.

We still don’t have any money, but 2017 is the year we will start to change that, in very small ways at first, but building on it.