Monday 29 August 2022

Susan Richardson, "Where the Seals Sing"


Susan Richardson is a writer, performer and educator whose debut work of creative non-fiction, Where the Seals Sing, has just been published by William Collins. She has also written four collections of poetry, the most recent of which, Words the Turtle Taught Me, emerged from her residency with the Marine Conservation Society and was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award. In addition to her ongoing writing residency with the British Animal Studies Network, facilitated by the University of Strathclyde, she has shared her work on BBC Two and Radio 3, enjoyed a four-year stint as one of the resident poets on Radio 4’s Saturday Live and performed at festivals both nationally and internationally.

About Where the Seals Sing

Blending natural history and travel, science and shamanism, memoir and myth, Where the Seals Sing offers a deep dive into the life of the grey seal, a species by which Susan Richardson has been fascinated since childhood. On foot and by boat, she journeys round Britain's coast, discovering locations both inspiring and surprising, from barely-accessible crags and crevices to an industrial riverscape of petro-chemical and nuclear power plants. She visits the howling heart of a breeding colony, delves beneath the skin of shapeshifting selkie tales and engages, too, with the many dangers that seals face, from marine debris to toxic pollution.

As she gains greater insights into the impact of these threats, Richardson explores how we may more sensitively co-exist with another species in our increasingly denatured land. What will be the next chapter in our attitude towards these animals whose bone remains have been found in Bronze Age kitchen middens and who have swum for so many centuries through our cultural and spiritual lives?

You can see more information about Where the Seals Sing on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the book. 

From Where the Seals Sing, by Susan Richardson

Chivvied along by a stonechat, wing-flicking and flitting from fence post to gorse, I sidestep down a steep incline and start to curve north. Soon the final beach will come into view, the most sheltered of the three, nestled in the lee of an outcrop, free from the force of prevailing wind and waves. First, though, my gaze, as if trapped as the incidental catch of a gillnet, is dragged back towards the sea. I count two, three, four marker buoys … and is that a fifth? No – it resolves, through binoculars, into a mottled head that slopes to a nose fringed by a quiver of whiskers. An Atlantic grey seal, an adult cow, her large, dark eyes fixed landwards.

The cries are closer here but a beach boulder greened with algae is still concealing their source. Fortunately, I’m able to veer off the coast path, thrash through brambles and hoick myself onto a ledge, over the edge of which I can hang, stomach down on rock and patchy grass, to check out the beach from an unobstructed angle.

And there it is.

White fur stained with blood and yellow fluids. Its whole body jerking with the effort of each cry.

A recently born seal pup.

Its mother, resting a few metres away, is ignoring it, her pebble-and-kelp surrounds also smeared with blood. Another few metres further on, a mob of great black-backed gulls attacks the afterbirth, pulling it out of its steak-like shape into a stringier form, gorging torn-off scarlet strands, then tug-of-warring with the remains.

The pup appears to make an attempt to move towards its mother but manages only to flop onto its side, exposing a pink inch of umbilical cord worming from its belly fur. Mother–pup bonding seems to have been neither instant nor straightforward – the cow is more focused on the gulls than her pup and whenever a yank on the afterbirth brings one of them too close, she lunges, neck stretched, teeth bared, snarling.

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