A disturbing atmosphere sets in and disappears with the tides. Something terrible has happened on the island and the rugged beauty of the coast has a disturbing current.
Polly Crosby’s latest novel, The Unravelling, takes place on an island full of secrets. The solid physical geography of sand dunes and cobble spiers, concrete bunkers and blast shelters is inspired by the Orford Ness of Suffolk. But this semi-fictional island sits off Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
Polly calls her island Dohhalund from the Dutch name of Doggerland which once linked East Anglia to Holland. âI like to turn things around, start with something real and then twist it to make it my own,â she said.
Polly grew up in Walberswick on the Suffolk coast and now lives near Norwich. Part Norfolk, Part Suffolk, her lyrical writing is rooted in the landscapes and seascapes, history and stories that she has loved all of her life.
Polly has her own remarkable story. She was the first baby in the world to be diagnosed with cystic fibrosis through the heel prick test.
Born in Ipswich in 1980, she was three months old when her parents learned their third daughter would not live beyond childhood.
Polly’s mother, a nurse, already suspected something was wrong with her baby, when the results of a heel prick test at Ipswich hospital revealed she had cystic fibrosis.
Polly was not expected to celebrate her 10th birthday – but despite regular lung infections and hospital stays, she was kept alive on a regimen of physiotherapy, nebulizers and intravenous antibiotics. intravenous. Notable new drug treatments allowed her to survive to marry, have a child, and become an award-winning writer.
âThe advances in drugs have been nothing short of amazing,â Polly said. âThere have been some incredible tablets. The last ones I started a year ago and they have transformed my life. I still have cystic fibrosis but it allowed me to focus on the everyday things, the little things that I would normally plan and worry about. I can write for hours every day. I don’t need antibiotics iv. All of these things mean that my life is wonderful.
In The Unravelling, Tartlelin is hired to catch butterflies for an elderly woman, but soon searches for clues as to what happened to her employer, Marianne, and the island where she lives decades ago.
The island is inspired by the wild coastal spit near where Polly grew up. âOrford Ness was used in the 20th century by the military and I loved the idea that humanity is taking over the land there and the scars are still there after they leave. I liked the idea of ââsecrets buried beneath the surface. We still don’t know exactly what happened there in the 20th century, âPolly said.
Its island also includes herring fishing and herring girls, moved across the sea from Yarmouth. âI’ve been to the Time and Tide Museum a number of times in my research,â Polly said.
The story of a life devoted to collecting and studying butterflies rubs shoulders with suggestions of eerie mutations and mermaids, mysteries and submerged memories. There are also moths and silk and as Tartelin pulls on loose threads, in Marianne’s house, in the people she meets, under the quicksand and surrounding sea, she recreates a story of tragedy, romance, loss, betrayal and healing. .
Polly’s writing is fluid and poetic, the dual-chronological plot goes back and forth between Marianne’s childhood and old age, casting the waves of Tartelin’s past. The story is one of butterflies and silkworms, of free flight and being pinned down, of figures and landscapes concealing layer upon layer of tightly coiled secrets that end up unfolding in a series of dramatic metamorphoses, both real and metaphorical.
The repeating patterns of time and intrigue are as symmetrical as the wings of a butterfly, with an emotional and surprisingly written ending that reveals that life can be so fleeting.
Despite her illness, Polly had a normal, happy childhood. “My parents treated me just like any other child,” she said. “I wasn’t wrapped in cotton and was allowed to go out into the Suffolk countryside and get dirty and forget to wear my coat just like any other child.”
But knowing that her time might be limited helped her focus on what she really wanted to do.
âIt always made me want to push to get things done as quickly as possible and to plan ahead in the hope that I will get things done while I’m good enough. It made me want to publish a book because I knew the chances were going to be very slim, but if I was going to do anything with the years that I had it was my top priority, which is why I kept trying and kept trying.
When she was too ill to stay in college, she returned home and wrote her first (unpublished) novel at just 19. more life experience.
Almost two decades later, now married and a mother, she won a scholarship for the course. Her first published novel, The Illustrated Child, won awards last year and has been called a “classic in the making” and “extraordinary debut.”
The haunting coming of age story takes place in 1980s Suffolk, where Romilly lives with her eccentric artist father. As he succumbs to premature dementia, Romilly realizes that her picture books contain a hidden treasure hunt, just for her. But this is no fairy tale and it unveils the eerie secrets of their past in another water landscape of rivers, reeds, water meadows and marshes. âThere is something about this kind of scenery that is really close to my heart,â said Polly.
The Unraveling also features art and Polly said, âI’ve always wanted to be a writer or an artist. I tend to write about artists. I think it’s sewn into me. My first book was about an artist who created a wonderful picture book. In The Unraveling, it’s not such a big theme, but it’s still an important part of the novel.
She is also an artist and transforms her miniature paintings into jewelry. âI make little hand-painted necklaces of butterflies, bees and animals and put them in resin in a silver pendant. I sell them on Etsy, âshe said.
Polly met her husband as she moved to Norwich. âI locked myself in by mistake and the only person I knew around was this nice antique dealer I had met the day before because I wanted to buy furniture. I thought I would go say hi and tell him my situation, âshe said. âHe had just come out of his workshop but saw me and turned around in his van pretending he had forgotten something and I told him what had happened. He said, ‘I’m about to go to Southwold for crisps and a walk on the beach, wanna come?’ And I got in this stranger’s van and the rest is history!
“I remember at one point we were talking so much that he took the wrong direction and I suddenly thought, oh my God, where is he taking me?” ”
Polly and her husband, who is still an antique dealer and furniture restorer, now have a 14 year old son. Protecting much of the pandemic, as someone with severe lung disease, Polly continued to write. âThe pandemic has been a difficult time, but I have been so much luckier than many because I could continue to write. I haven’t been out of my front door for months.
She has completed her third novel, a dual-timeline historical mystery on the Suffolk coast featuring a young woman who breaks into an abandoned mansion and discovers a portrait inside that looks like her – but was painted 40 years before. His birth. His next book is set on the Norfolk Broads with a dual chronology of 1912 and 1950.
âI feel like I’m half Norfolk, half Suffolk,â she said.
Myth and reality, land and sea, past and present merge in her writing and her novels are also replete with East Anglian folk tales – of a woman mourning her dead baby in the ‘howling pits’ of Aylmerton and Northrepps, a pet peeve lurking through pages. âWhen I write I go back to my childhood in Suffolk because it was such a beautiful place to grow up,â said Polly, who loved her elementary school in Henham and then her middle school in Halesworth, where she particularly remembers inspiring English teacher Miss Pirrie. . Her parents have also always been a great support. Her mother was a nurse; his father a customs officer. âThey are my greatest champions. My mom constantly tells people about my books! Polly said.
When she received an advance on a publishing contract, she created scholarships to pay writers with disabilities or living with long-term illnesses to present their novels to the Bridport Prize – for which her first novel was a finalist.
His second, The Unravelling, is steeped in his long-standing fascination with the sea and its power to both connect and isolate. She learned to swim at Walberswick and said: âI really am a swimmer in the sea and I also love watching the sea. I love how it changes from minute to minute. The sea is in my blood and always will be and now that I’m in Norfolk I’m still on the beaches of Norfolk, âsaid Polly. âI love Sea Palling and Winterton, those immense expanses of sand and those vast skies. This summer I swam in Horsey and the young seals were really curious. I think they thought I was a seal!
âI feel very lucky in so many ways. Having cystic fibrosis made me seek the marvelous in the mundane and there are so many marvels in my life.
The Unravelling, by Polly Crosby, was published this week by Harper Collins.