Good Reading : December January 2016
Tidetown carr ies you away on a current. Reading it is like swimming in the ocean of an unguarded beach; you begin in the shallows on page one, cautiously wade deeper as the storylines wind their way around your wr ists and ankles, and gradually lose your foothold on the sand as you’re drawn further away from the safety of the shore. Suddenly you’re kilometres away from land, a hundred pages out, the beach is a white sliver in the distance and you’re helplessly afloat on the book’s intriguing tales. A shipwrecked African, a spirit man who is a bridge between the realms of the living and the dead, drags himself off the jagged coral. The deranged Fishcutter twins, incarcerated for murder ing their father in a fiery ritual slaughter, are manipulating their way closer to release. A boy is baptised by the sea into a new life of nautical adventure after fleeing a brutal cr ime. Mystery surrounds Tidetown like a mist rolling in from the ocean, and outside threats are circling its borders. Melbour ne-based author Robert Power was unsur prisingly inspired by the ocean and the rugged coast it dashes itself upon when dreaming up his setting. The first novel set in the fictional settlement of Tidetown, In Search of the Blue Tiger, was wr itten in a caravan near Ocean Grove, just south of Geelong on the Victor ian coast. Tidetown picks up five years after the events of this first novel, but it works perfectly as a standalone story. The country and per iod in which this seaside village is set is not specified; it’s been compared to the Welsh coastline featured in Under Milk Wood; Robert himself hints towards Tasmania or perhaps ‘somewhere northern’. Untether ing Tidetown from a specific histor ical place or time casts the village into a semi-fantastical realm, a place where gods and angels are more than just characters in fairytales. While reluctant to pinpoint a specific basis for Tidetown, Robert has been influenced by the soar ing, moss-streaked cliffs of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, in his birthplace of Ireland. ‘The Aran Islands have the most spectacular cliffs and stor ms,’ he recalls. ‘I’m very much imbued with the power of the environment, the elemental fear of stor ms and the impact of those coastal elements on our psyche. I get a lot of inspiration from just walking on clifftops; it’s where I get many of the thoughts about my books and the atmospher ic setting that I want to create. My characters just kind of creep out of the sea, creep out of the caves in the cliffs.’ One such sea-bor n character is Zakora, the African man who washes up bleeding on Tidetown’s shoreline. After being kidnapped from his homeland and thrown onto a ship now dashed to pieces on the unforgiving reef, Zakora is rescued by a mute monk who takes the barely breathing body to the safety of Tidetown’s monastery. The elements take their toll on people who dare to brave them in Robert’s books. He believes that people who live on the coast are unavoidably impacted – both physically and psychologically – by its unpredictable climate and the elements of wind and rain and sea swell. ‘Nature is one of those very powerful, timeless influences; those waves have been crashing on that shore for millennia, and we scurry around in our everyday lives, and yet the waves keep crashing on the shore.You can’t turn the waves back. The waves are still going to crash against the shore and we’re still going to be subjected to the power of nature. We’re just apes with hats on, that’s all we are.’ Robert is also fascinated by shipwrecks, after having researched many of the local nautical disasters that occurred near his writing bolthole in Barwon Heads, between Ocean Grove and Anglesea. He wr ites: This coast is tired of shipwrecks. For centuries boats have broken apart on rock and reef. The cliffs have listened in hushed sadness to the tear and groan of beam and mast, wood splintering and creaking in the frothy brine. GOOD READING DECEMBER 2015 / JANUARY 2016 35 UP CLOSE We’re just apes with hats on, that’s all we are.