Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Elisabeth Gifford's "The Sea House"

Elisabeth Gifford studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University. She has published poems in Cinnamon Press and The Oxford Magazine, and a story in Riptide. She has written articles for The Times and The Independent. She has a Diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford OUDCE and a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the course led by Sir Andrew Motion at Royal Holloway College.

Here Gifford dreamcasts an adaptation of The Sea House, her debut novel:
Like many novelists I did have a flurry of excitement when a couple of production companies were considering making The Sea House into a film. As yet no offers but it did make me daydream about who might play the lead roles. For Alexander, Ben Whishaw who played Q in Skyfall. He has just the right mix of vulnerability and intensity to play a newly ordained Victorian minister, struggling to live up to his ideals and fighting against the idea of grace- or undeserved love.

Katriona, daughter of the castle, I have always seen as Carrie Mulligan, with her impish youth and spark. Combine her in scenes with Ben Whishaw as the young Alexander, alone on the island, and I think something is going to melt.

That is until the maid to the church manse comes in, with her tatty dress, red hair and ardent love for Alexander. Always setting the cat among the pigeons, I think Moira would look like Rose Leslie, Ygritte in Game of Thrones. But really it would have to be a local actress from the Hebrides who is able to speak Gaelic fluently and who also who has a natural Gaelic accent when speaking English.

The horrible Lord Marston who turns the crofters out of their houses and douses the hearth fires that have never gone out with the milk put aside to feed the children – I’m seeing Charles Dance perhaps.

In the modern section I can see Ruth played by Jessica Brown Findlay who has the right Celtic eyes and dark hair for someone returning to the Hebrides to find her family roots. We see a slow burn, laconic streak in Ruth until she decides to get her act together. Jessica could also suggest someone who is capable of doing something really bad, which is a question that hangs over Ruth and how she behaves towards Michael her husband. Toby Maguire with a UK accent would be ideal for Michael who has a sweet constancy to his character and often believes in Ruth more than she does.

As for the location, it just has to be where the story is set – Harris in the Hebrides [photo left -- click to enlarge]. It seriously is the most beautiful place in the world. See my Pinterest page or website for pictures. The beaches are white and turquoise, only with the odd ragged sheep on them instead of people in bikinis. Portraying and evoking the islands was one of the great pleasures of writing The Sea House.

The book was based on real letter to the Times in 1809 reporting a mermaid sighting by a Scots schoolmaster. The Hebridean mermaid funeral in the book was also a real event in 1830. The book explores the sea people legends and is in the form of a mystery story, but all the places and historical details are as accurate as possible. I’d love to see a historical recreation of the island as it was 200 years ago, or 50 years ago. And the music would, of course, have to be Gaelic songs sung by Julie Fowlis whose island was the site of the mermaid funeral and on her new album Julie sings a song written by one of the seal people descendants, John MacOdrum.
Visit Elisabeth Gifford's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Sea House.

--Marshal Zeringue