Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Red rocks by Rachael King

Dreamy, imaginative Jake is the main character in Rachael King’s new children’s novel Red rocks. Set in and around Owhiro Bay on Wellington’s south coast, this book translates the selkie legend – of the seal that comes ashore in human form - into a local setting of wind and sea, cliffs, rocks and "talking stones".

It overlays the contemporary and specific (Forest and Bird, Greenpeace, the Empire cinema in Island Bay and phrases like "whatever") with a sense of what is timeless (the landscape, the sea, only one computer, no TV or cellphones.) The language is rich, warm and slightly mysterious, like the cover, and the seals themselves are beautifully described as they gambol in the waves and kelp, or dive into the water like a "silky missile".

I wasn’t sure at first how old Jake was supposed to be. When he first meets Jessie, he calls her a "little girl... no more than ten", but Jake himself is still young enough to be told to "go and play" by his dad. He says he can hardly remember what it was like when his parents were still together, but a photograph taken soon after they split up is only two summers old. Perhaps he is about 12, no older, and he often seems younger, but there is a close relationship between Jake and his dad, with whom he is spending the school holidays. I was also pleased to see that the Island Bay community looked out for a boy on his own in the dark after the movie finished!

Rachael King has said that the idea for the book came to her as she walked her first baby son around Wellington’s wild south coast and thought it a place where magic could happen. "We could all use a little bit of magic in our lives, don’t you think?" says Jake’s dad, and this is a story of enchantment, but also of a boy finding the inner strength to solve problems, fight bullies, protect his family and conquer his fear.

One small note: Ted shouldn’t really be fishing out in front of his shack in Owhiro Bay, or even around the other side of the island, as both places fall well within the Taputeranga marine reserve where no fishing is allowed.


  1. Thanks for the lovely review Phillipa. And thanks for pointing out the liberties I've taken with the 'truth' about fishing in the area! When I started the book, in 2007, the reserve hadn't been formed yet (that I knew of anyway). When I found out about it, I decided to use creative license to bring the archetypal story of female selkies and fishermen to the setting I loved so much (the seals at Red Rocks are, in real life, all male). I am currently updating my website, which will include information about the area and the reserve for young readers wanting to find out more.

  2. Hi Rachael
    Putting that info on your website is a great idea. There is even a snorkelling trail down there now, although I think you would need a fairly good wetsuit to try it out. Red Rocks is such a special area and I won't ever go past Owhiro Bay now without thinking about selkies, and wondering...
    Pippa Werry