One of the themes I wanted to explore in The Coral Bones was the relationship between human beings and non-human animals and beings, and how those relationships have changed — and could change for the better — over time. I’d always conceptualised the novel with multiple timelines and knew that I wanted to reflect both forward and back. Each timeline brought its own specific challenges.
Climate breakdown, and the bleaching of coral reefs caused by heating oceans, is at the heart of Hana’s contemporary storyline, so I decided the historical narrative should be situated early in the fossil fuel age. Whilst Judith is writing her diary in 1839, steam is beginning to revolutionise the world, at a cost no one — at least, no one in Judith’s colonial British society — could imagine. My last novel, Paris Adrift, included historical sections, but those were from the perspective of a time traveller. Writing a historical POV offered a whole new challenge in developing the voice and trying to instil some period texture. Whilst Judith pushes against her social constraints, she is still a product of her time and subject to the worldviews and prejudices of the Western age of exploration — full of enthusiasm for knowledge and discovery, but inextricably linked with imperialism. Continue reading