It Came From The Deep
Maria Lewis, who I’ve interviewed before about her first novel, Who’s Afraid? (and reviewed the sequel, Who’s Afraid Too?), has a new novel set to drop into your kindle TOMORROW. Yes! A Halloween release! (You can pre-order here for a discounted price- hurry!)
The concept is so original that I had to know where this story came from. Maria sent me several news articles that inspired her to write It Came From The Deep, which is a young adult sci-fi mystery with MERMEN!
Can you tell I’m a wee bit excited? Not even sorry.
One of the inspirations for It Came From the Deep was the 1993 Honeymoon Shark Attack in Byron Bay. What about this real-life tragedy spoke to the novelist in you?
One of my first jobs as a journalist was interviewing Sally Gregory, who was the diving instructor who took the boatload of people out the day the attack happened. She won a bravery award for diving into the bloodied water to save the wife in the couple, then continued to look for the body of the husband while the shark was still circling the boats.
I was 17 at the time and competed on the surf life saving circuit, so had seen plenty of sharks due to simply being in their environment a lot (it wasn’t anything unusual). But speaking to Sally, who’s one of the most experienced divers I’ve ever met, I was fascinated by the sheer horror of this story. I mean, the accounts of the shark and the measurements they conducted put it roughly at the same size as the one from Jaws, which is monstrous to think about and even stranger in the context of where the attack happened.
Sally and I ended up becoming friends after I did this interview and morbid as this story is, it’s one that lives on in infamy when it comes to Australian ocean attacks purely due to its horrific nature. As I was writing It Came From The Deep, I thought about this story and this specific case a lot. It was always in the back of my mind, often subconsciously at times.
Back in 2007, you worked at the Gold Coast Bulletin. One of the stories that was covered during your time there was about deer swimming in the Southport Seaway. This is something I’ve heard of myself; with at least one deer in the Sutherland Shire known to swim themselves from surburbia back to the safety of the National Parks. Knowing that you were also inspired by the story of an enormous Great White… Should we be worried for Bambi?
Hahaha, that deer’s name was Trevor!
I remember in the newsroom we had been getting calls from people for the past few weeks saying they had seen a deer swimming in the Southport Seaway and everyone – every staffer – was like ‘this is horseshit, no way is this true’. But it got to the point that we were getting so many calls from so many different people, our Chief Of Staff ended up sending out a reporter and photographer to check it out on a quiet news day.
The photographer lived on a boat and took out a dinghy to drive around and see what they could find. When they came back with the shots of Trevor, the deer, swimming from multiple islands to the mainland. I couldn’t believe it. It was the wackiest story I’d ever heard and we covered a lot of wacky stories at the Gold Coast Bulletin. The next day it was on the front page of the paper and although it seems strange, that story was a big inspiration for me when it came to working on It Came From The Deep. The book is set on the Gold Coast and it was just a neat reminder that no matter how bonkers something may seem, how outlandish, you never really know what you can find out there in the Gold Coast waterways. Sometimes it’s a shark, sometimes it’s a deer named Trevor; one day it could be a merman.
The Active Pass Mermaid is a story from the 1960s involving multiple sightings of a mermaid at Mayne Island, in Canada. The detail in which the topless blonde mermaid is described, right down to the fish she was seen eating, have survived 50 years in the memories of those who believe she might have been the real deal rather than a hoax. What was it about her story that made it stand out to you?
I think the longevity of this particular account is really fascinating. There have been sightings of the Active Pass Mermaid for decades, with everything from firsthand stories to sketchy photographs. Nothing has ever been proven and probably never will be, as it’s a myth that has manifested in the minds of locals as much as it has the real world over the course of such a large chunk of time.
A lot of alleged merpeople sightings from around the world happen once or twice in the same place, then never happen again. What’s fascinating about the Active Pass Mermaid it has become local folklore to the point that people from different generations and completely unrelated to each other have seen something similar.
In 2009, a mermaid was apparently spotted off a beach in Israel. It was described as a dolphin-like girl who frolics and does acrobatic tricks. Is this another Active Pass hoax or do you think there’s more to it?
Truthfully, who knows? But it is worth noting that a one million dollar reward was offered to anyone who could come up with definitive proof that this ‘mermaid’ girl existed. That’s big money, so somebody took this really seriously.
It’s also worth pointing out that this took place in Israel. A lot of the mainstream versions of mermaid and mermen stories are told through a Western lens (Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Aquamarine, H20: Just Add Water). In reality, stories about merpeople are universal; they’ve been told in every culture since people were first able to tell stories. Creatures like Mama Wata from Africa and Suvannamaccha in Thai folklore are just the tip of the iceberg; merpeople appear in Haitian culture, Brazilian, Chinese (a lot), Japanese, Polynesian and Caribbean communities. Those are just a handful, but I wanted to dive into this misconception that mermaids are only thin, white women with flowing golden hair.
In 2012, a Zimbabwean reservoir project was delayed, apparently due to mermaids (never mermen, it seems) causing mischief and hounding the workers away. Widespread belief in creatures like mermaids meant that the solution involved brewing a special beer and performing certain rites. How does this tie in with the themes explored in It Came From the Deep?
More than anything, this story was really important to my research because it proved just how pervasive myths about mermen and mermaids still are. The local council even put out a press release about this case and it was only in 2012. That’s just over five years ago, really recent, and it’s not the kind of thing that happens with other ‘supernatural’ creatures based in mythology like werewolves, vampires or even fairies.
The stories about merpeople haven’t just died off, they’re still told and still present in all different parts of the world. Not many mythological figures have that kind of endurance, they’re often a product of the time or a direct result of specific societal elements. Merpeople seem to outlast that, with stories about them being simultaneously some of the oldest in human folklore and the most recent.