Blog Tour: The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

Desperate to become a shark‐caller to avenge the death of her parents, Blue Wing is instead charged with befriending infuriating newcomer Maple. At first they are angry and out of sync with the island and each other. But when the tide breathes the promise of treasure, can they overcome their differences and brave the deadliest shark in the ocean?
The Shark Caller publishes in paperback on 4 February from Usborne, written by Zillah Bethell with cover art work from Saara Katariina Söderlund.

Zillah Bethell has penned a spell-binding new middle grade novel set against the beautifully-woven backdrop of her childhood home of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea. The Shark Caller is an astonishing story of friendship, forgiveness and bravery which fellow children’s author Sophie Anderson describes as “magnificent and beautiful.”  

I am incredibly excited to have a wonderful piece written by Zillah exclusively for my Blog about her interwoven childhood memories of a sea moon.

Copyright Sian Trenberth Photography

SEA MOON

“Choose one,” my grandmother said, tearing a newspaper page with a list of horse names on it and handing it to me. I didn’t find this particularly strange, at least no stranger than anything else that had happened since recently moving to the UK where everyone seemed to eat a lot of cream and talk interminably about the weather. To be fair to my grandmother, I don’t think she was an inveterate gambler exactly, it’s just that when she managed to sell a Toby jug or horrible vase with grapes on from her little shop Aggie’s Antiques, she liked to place a small bet, thereby combining her love of money with her love of horses. Either that or she was trying to broaden my understanding of the culture I’d landed in.

I looked at the list of names. They were all beautiful: Romeo, Lady’s Slipper, Farewell Tardy, Dawn Piccolo, March Wind and then I spotted it – Sea Moon. “That one,” I said, pointing.

My grandmother peered. She always peered. “Forty to one!” she laughed. “No chance.”

***

The sea is a mysterious thing, fascinating and unpredictable. Sometimes you can float in it, the sun on your face, allowing the waves to roll you where they will; other times it takes all your strength to get through the breakers or survive an undertow. It feels like a metaphor for life, the sea. It gives, it takes away. It crashes in suddenly, turning you head over heels, over and over. Sometimes it plays and sparkles. Sometimes it’s edgy and dangerous. It can be so very cold and drear and bleak. It’s always changing yet always the same. It seems to go on forever.

I grew up with the sea literally on my doorstep. It woke us in the morning, sent us to bed and accompanied us through our dreams and our sleep. It felt like a second heartbeat. I grew up learning Ewa ge – the language of the sea people. The sea was everything to us – we swam in it, washed in it, fished in it, travelled in it. We couldn’t exist without it. We took a gamble on the sea every day of our lives. In Ewa ge there’s a saying which goes something like this: you have to dive beneath the surface to see the rocks, the coral, the barnacled shipwrecks. From above you can’t tell which is which…

***

My grandmother trotted out with Pepper the dog. She was always nipping out to buy a loaf of bread or go to the bank or some other errand. I think I was meant to mind the shop but hardly anyone ever came in and I didn’t understand money, so I took up my position in the dog’s chair in front of the television. It was a Queen Anne chair apparently, my grandmother had got it from some auction and was re-stuffing it and even though it wasn’t very comfortable, I loved to watch that black and white crackling TV, mesmerised by images I’d never seen before. Don’t ask me why Pepper’s chair was sat in front of the TV – perhaps he liked watching videos of The Bionic Woman, too, imagining he was back jumping off platforms into the sea in Papua New Guinea instead of the icy brick walls into gardens with people yelling.

***

I remember one night we were travelling back from a wedding in Basabua, I think. I was pretty young and I was feeling a bit drowsy and sick with the diesel of the boat and maybe because I’d eaten too many flummy dummies (fish in batter) at the wedding. It was dark and the rain was falling, gentle and cooling. Suddenly I noticed the moon, low in the sky. It had a bright arc above it like a silver rainbow.

“Look!” I said to my mother. “Look!”

“Ah,” she said. “That’s a moon you see at sea.”

I kept repeating moon-you-see-at-sea and staring at this beautiful thing until I must have fallen asleep.

***

I once asked a fisherman in Devon what a moon you see at sea was. He said it was probably a moonbow. I researched moonbows – rare atmospheric phenomena that occur when the moon’s light is reflected and refracted off water. First mentioned apparently by Aristotle. Of course, I don’t know if it really was a moonbow I saw or whether the experience belongs to that land of dream, myth and memory where much of our childhood lies.

***

Suddenly my grandmother was in the doorway. She was kind of hopping and grinning and waving all at the same time and Pepper seemed to be doing the same.

Sea Moon came in,” she said. “Fourth place. We’re rich!”

“Are we?”

“Yes.” She waved a ten-pound note. “Let’s get some chips.”

I left the Queen Anne chair to the dog and took my grandmother’s rough and reassuring hand. It was always rough and reassuring. We walked up the street to the chip shop and sat eating those deliciously newspapery vinegary greasy chips on a wall, me wiping my hands on my jeans and my grandmother still grinning. (Now, when I imagine her washing those jeans in a Belfast sink in a house with no central heating or washing machine, my heart kind of lurches.)

And at that moment I felt the deepest conviction as children often do about the most random of subjects, that the sea was the most magical thing I had ever known and would ever know; and that even though rare and beautiful things are lost, there will always be more to meet, when they’re ready.

Thank you so much Zillah for writing ‘Sea Moon’ especially for my Blog.

My Review of The Shark Caller

The Shark Caller is a stunning and powerful story which wove its magic straight into my heart; an unforgettable tale set on the beautiful island of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea; a tale of two young girls from different worlds who find a bond of sisterhood that saves them both.  This is an incredibly moving story that left me in floods of tears, but it also left me filled with hope and reassurance.  An absolute masterpiece that I’m already confident will be one of my top reads of 2021!

Blue Wing lives with her waspapi, Siringen, after the loss of her parents who were killed by a shark.  He is the village shark caller, a role that Blue Wing is desperate to step into.  Siringen refuses to train her in this magical calling as it is a traditional role passed on through the male lineage, and as he is worried that she is seeking the role for the wrong reason:  in a desperate need to assuage her anger and avenge the death of her parents by killing the shark who took them from her.  Siringen is wise, honest and clever and perhaps knows what is best for Blue Wing more than she does herself, even if she is not willing to accept this.

Both Blue Wing and Siringen have a wonderful affinity with the world they live in, respecting the natural environment and reluctant to let the modern world encroach on their idyll.  They want to keep the traditions of their people alive, despite the changing times.  However, change is forced upon them by the village chief who is intent on modernising the island and opening it up to the outside world.  He has demanded that Siringen look after visitors to the island:  an American professor who has come to study the coral and his daughter, Maple.

It is no surprise that Blue Wing’s first meeting with Maple is difficult and that friendship does not come easily to the girls who do not seem, at first, to have anything in common.  This story doesn’t shy away from the complexity of emotions that are experienced by both girls as they suffer the pain of grief at the loss of loved ones.  Theirs is not an easy path, but they learn to travel it together as their friendship and trust in each other grows, and as they learn valuable lessons relating to forgiveness and acceptance.

As the girls’ friendship develops, they find themselves caught up in a compelling mystery to uncover the secrets that Maple’s grieving father is hiding, secrets that uncover their family’s history and reveal a longing to change the past …

Some stories have the power to speak to the very core of our being and to transcend time and place; I have found a peace and solace in this story which has helped me deal with my own personal grief.  I am in awe of the emotional depth of this story, of the honest and heartfelt portrayal of the relationship between these two young girls which captured my heart and, yes, broke it a little in order to heal it again.  I mean, how does a writer do that to a reader?  There is magic and power in storytelling and this story has been imbued with its own unique magic that makes it a truly special book, an exceptional story that deserves to be read by both children and adults alike.  As an avid reader of children’s books, I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I’ve ever read:  I really cannot recommend it highly enough!

Thank you so much to Fritha Lindqvist, Usborne and Zillah Bethell for inviting me to be part of this Blog Tour.

9 thoughts on “Blog Tour: The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

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