INTERVIEW: Kathryn Williams | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Set amidst a series of darkly foreboding events, The Ormering Tide is the beautiful debut novel from Mercury Prize-nominated musician Kathryn Williams.

A coming-of age story, The Ormering Tide is told from the point of view of Rozel, the youngest girl in a family situated on a little island near the sea. Life seems gentle enough, until Rozel’s brother goes missing and she finds herself in the middle of a tangle of secrets, slowly winding around her as she is gradually pulled into the lives and lies of everyone she knows.

Although the story isn’t actually set there, Jersey was a powerful inspiration for the characters and setting of the novel, and Kathryn explains that she’s always been fascinated by the island of Jersey. “I’m really interested in Jersey because it was occupied in the war. It has the remains of things like German towers and walls and underground hospitals. Something that was occupied and then all of the people that made those things left…I find that really interesting, it’s like a fingerprint of time and history that is actually physically on the landscape.”

The characters and their mystery live with you long after you put the book down. I found myself returning to the story, wanting to revisit these people I’d come to know so quickly. The intrigue is very much buried in the individual history of the characters, seemingly imprinted in the soil and stone of the island. I particularly related to Rozel; she sees life in an unusual light, often standing on the peripheral, slightly removed, but bearing the weight of knowing too much. Yet like most children, no one quite notices her powers. She is in tune with the sea and nature, she sees things others can’t and secrets are revealed to her in dreams.

I wanted to make the way Rozel saw the world poetic and unique in her own way,” says Kathryn. “As it develops through the book, and she’s starting to get older, the really free, artistic way of seeing the world is sort of toned down a bit.”

At one point, Rozel is able to understand something that no one else can. She is as surprised as everyone around her and a duty suddenly falls to her. She is described as speaking “falling down a hole language”. Kathryn enhances the story with poetic moments like this: lines that sound like song, speaking very deep truths; words ebb and flow, sentences wash over pebbles on the shore. It’s truly satisfying. “How you read language is interesting to me,” Kathryn reflects. “I find it interesting with speech and text how we read between the lines to understand what people are saying.”

I find it interesting with speech and text how we read between the lines to understand what people are saying

One of my favourite lines in the book was used to describe Rozel’s mother, Maman: “She had an invisible string to her children, it could let out like a spider’s web, turn corners and knot back on itself but if she ever felt it slacken, she knew it would take over, it would cloud her. Maman’s thread had broken a few years before me, when the baby that had been inside her, came out dead…” The book features strong female figures; Rozel, Maman and the neighbour Mrs Bertram are all striking women in very different ways and themes of motherhood permeates throughout.

The Ormering Tide is full of secrets. Dark ones, happy ones, touching ones, with a single thread running the length of the plot, pulling you in. Funnily enough, Kathryn feels as though she has finally revealed a secret of her own that she has been keeping for a long time. The book itself! “This is new territory; I’ve done so many interviews over the years for my musical career. This is the first time I’m talking about something that has been quite a big secret and private for a long time.”

The title holds a secret too; a clue to the overarching theme. I hear a smile in Kathryn’s voice as she tells me, “The secret really came from ormers and the ormering tide…” The book’s title refers to a special time in Jersey that occurs during spring tides when ormers, a type of small marine snail, can be harvested. For centuries have been used for trading, eating and decoration. There are strict rules to follow and the window of collection is very small. This ancient tradition was part of the inspiration for Rozel’s story. “There’s only a couple of times in the year of the island where the sea recedes and things are revealed…and the things that are revealed are inside shells…”

During Jersey’s occupation of World War II, ormers provided much needed food to Jersey residents. The Ormer Mother of Pearl has been used in a variety of items, such as musical instruments, furniture and jewellery. For Kathryn, this was part of the inspiration for the book. “Something shining inside something that’s camouflaged to a rock is really beautiful. The idea that secret shining bit of the shell then becomes something that’s kept and made into furniture…it’s just intriguing.”

The Ormering Tide by Kathryn Williams is released on Monday 22nd March

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