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Selkies, Seals, & Sea life

Greetings, Champions! It’s been a crazy week, but I’m thrilled to announce that The Little Selkie is dominating the #1 slot in the YA fairy tale adaptions category of Amazon. Woohoo! I’m not certain how long it will stay there–the charts move pretty frequently–but it has been in the top three positions of that category since its release last week. So! Thank you, Champions, for reading and reviewing The Little Selkie!

Keeping up with our Little Selkie theme, today we’re going to chat about selkies.  Selkies (also called silkies and selchies) are part of Scottish and Irish folklore. They come in male and female varieties and are said to live in the ocean as seals, and shed their skins to come on land in human bodies. Males are traditionally handsome, and stories about them often involve women who are dissatisfied with their life and/or marriage. Female selkies, however, are usually the victims. Most folklore about female selkies are about men who steal the female selkie’s pelt, which puts her under his power. Usually the man will make the female selkie marry him because they are said to make excellent wives. Sometimes they’ll have kids and a family, but if the selkie ever finds her seal skin she will take it and return to the sea–no matter how much she loves her human kids. To add further mental anguish/anxiety on the abandoned family, a selkie can only come into contact with humans every seven years–which puts a big cramp on visiting.

When I started my research for The Little Selkie, I looked over a few old poems and texts that are about selkies (“The Seal-Woman’s Croon,” “The Selkie that didn’t forget,” “The Selkie,” “The Selkie Song,” and more) and I was struck by two things. First of all, no one specifically mentioned how capturing a selkies skin put them in your power. (Think about it. If I were a selkie and a guy grabbed my skin/pelt, I would have thumbed my nose at him and ran off. Instead the selkies stay with their captors.) Secondly, quite a few historic texts mentioned that in addition to being great swimmers, selkies had beautiful singing voices.

The singing thing was great news for me–the Little Mermaid was supposed to have the most beautiful voice out of all the mermaids in the kingdom–but I needed to hatch a plan to keep Dylan on land, which is how I came up with the idea that Jarlath could threaten to rip her pelt to shreds. I took out the seven years of no human contact part–I never found an explanation for it, I think it was added to make the sad selkie stories even sadder–and I added the singing/water magic bit to give Dylan–and her people–an offense-based power. As my selkies were guardians of the sea, I wanted Dylan to be able to face down the sea witch. With the big fuss the original Little Mermaid kicked up over taking the mermaid’s voice, I decided her power needed to be voice activated, thus tying together the two main points of the original fairy tale–the sealed voice and the mermaid on land.


An artist’s rendition of a selkie.

There was just one problem. As I was researching Harbor Seals–also called “common seals,” they live many places but most importantly they can be found on Ireland’s shores–I learned that they are smart and quick-minded, but they don’t move very quickly. While they are considered curious they aren’t nearly as playful as other sea mammals…like the sea lion. Dylan needed to be brash and impulsive for the plot of The Little Selkie to work. If she had the same personality as Gemma from Rumpelstiltskin, she would have realized that getting word to her family about her predicament before getting her voice sealed was the wisest path. Seals are fun, but in no way are they impulsive. Sea lions, on the other hand, are always getting into mischief–they even move like pranksters. The California Sea Lion (which is what Dylan is based on) can reach a top speed of roughly 25 mph, and their cruising speed is 11 mph. Seals, on the other hand, have a top speed of 12 mph, and often cruise at much slower speeds. The sea lion is also much more flexible as it can bend in half, and it moves much more deftly on land because of its hind flippers–which it can rotate–where as  seals wiggle like caterpillars.

The sea lion was clearly the better choice for Dylan–which worked out great because it allowed me to strengthen her character. Because she has been different from her kinsmen all her life, Dylan is entirely unafraid of being unique. This gave her an edge as she lived in the Summer Palace. The majority of people would be apprehensive about being tossed into an entirely different culture and race after experiencing tragedy. Not Dylan.

Speaking of Dylan’s personality, many of you Champions have mentioned that you love how much Dylan adores food. I designed that aspect of her personality after learning that seals and sea lions can eat about five to six percent of their body weight in a day. As both of these creatures weigh well over 200 pounds, we are talking about some serious food consumption.

As you can tell, I did a lot of reading on ocean and marine life in preparation for this book, and I wove pieces of my research into the story. In example, otters really do have fuzzy baby fur, sea lions can bark under water, and sand sharks hide themselves on the ocean floor to catch prey. The one way I did fudge my facts, though, was that I decided to combine the different ocean zones. Normally you wouldn’t find a California Sea Lion in the same water as a Harbor seal. I considered trying to keep things scientific, but in the end I decided to take creative liberties. Dylan lives in a fictional world, and I would much rather put effort into making the story better instead of keeping the location facts perfect.

That’s covers everything I wanted to discuss. Thank you for reading, Champions! Have a splendid day.

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