‘We fade away,’ she muttered darkly. ‘Aufwader was the name which once you gave to us. Who now recalls it? Very few, I think.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Though I have yet to settle permanently near the shore, there is brine in my veins. My grandfather was a sailor, and both the bright fishing villages of France and the grey Scottish coastline are known to me. I was raised on tales of kelpies and selkies. Once, combing the beach for treasures, I found a piece of wood so ancient it had been transformed into a perfectly smooth sphere of glittering coal – a gift from the deeps. To borrow the words of David Almond, I am half a creature from the sea.
Meeting Nelda again was like being reunited with a long-lost sister. I first encountered that brave and defiant shoremaid via audiobook, and the sound of her voice; bleak as the North Yorkshire wind, soft as the waves becalmed, has never left me. I am attached to the Deptford Mice, but the aufwaders are my kin, and I feel honoured to bear their ancient title as my name.
I’m not actually sure how it was that I came to be known as Aufwader, but I daresay it’s not as fantastical a story as perhaps some of you were expecting. When Beyond the Silvering Sea first began, my Robiny cronies needed something to call me that was less of a mouthful than ‘lastoftheaufwaders’ (which, now that you ask, bears no relation to this fantastic short film). Over the years I grew into Aufwader-as-a-name, and now it fits me like a gansey. When I met Mr Jarvis in 2016, he insisted that he only wanted to know me by that name, so Aufwader I am, and fade away I most certainly will not.
Matt’s Thoughts: Well, the first thing I’m going to have to dive in on is a pronunciation issue. Watching the Last Aufwader video that was shared by my blogging colleague above, the word was pronounced ‘Orfwader’. Meanwhile – maybe because we just had too much Bach in my house when I was growing up – most of my life I’d thrown a Germanic spin on the first syllable and been pronouncing it ‘Owfwader’. How has everyone else been saying it?
(That said, I think I also leaned completely the other way and was happily pronouncing the dragon from The Hobbit as ‘Smorg’ until the movie came out and it had to revert back to ‘Smowg’. So consistency on pronunciation of imaginary words has never been my strong point!)
Anyway, those all-important secondary matters aside, I really like this short but important chapter. Even more so, because I’ve also been reading another book at the same time, also about a race of small invisible creatures that humans can’t see. It makes me realise how difficult it is for a writer to create another race. If you get too caught up in the mythology of the characters and where they come from, your characters can just come off as strange and hard to connect with. (Which is what is happening with my other book, sadly.)
But the realm of the aufwaders is far enough removed from ours as to be fascinating and different, but has immediate emotional connections that we get. We know Nelda is worried about her missing father, we know that she has a shifty uncle, we know she is friendly to Ben, we know that she is forbidden to talk to him. These are all human things we can relate to, so we instantly warm to her as a character, which helps connect us to her as we find out more about mythology of her race.
And all of this in one short chapter! Nicely done.
Also well written is Jennet’s interaction with Aunt Alice. Jennet could easily become a spare wheel of the story in the wrong hands – after all, she has no secret sight, she doesn’t do magic. But her (sometimes ferocious) care for her brother actually, in many ways, makes her the heart of the story. She helps us feel this story, rather than just follow its plot. Great stuff. Unfortunately, things are about to get darker …