Readers often ask about imagery: is it consciously or unconsciously created – and the answer is both. For example, the idea of flight, of leaving the ground and swimming in the air is a recurring one in The Find, and in writing the novel I was aware of it, but I was certainly not aware of the extent of it.
Anna was, until her move to the museum, a specialist in flight, and the fossil she discovers at the beginning of the book is that of a huge, winged lizard. Other winged creatures – ravens, hummingbirds, insects, etc. populate the book, and mechanical flight features too – helicopters and float planes, airports… Here, Anna is flying back from the site in a float plane:
“The roar of the engine was both deafening and soothing and the vibration and noise together seemed to scour her mind clean. The ocean below looked more than anything like the skin of some enormous animal, though as they progressed its appearance became more complex. Huge quantities of deep green algae formed viridian clouds, shifting and billowing beneath the surface. A school of thirty or so porpoises, dwarfed by distance, leapt and sank back into the water in apparent unison, sewing their path through the sea. The plane passed over forested and rocky islands, harbours cluttered with yachts and docks, and then they were approaching the delta, the water suddenly smooth, shallow, and heavy with reddish sediments.
For a moment Anna let her eyes close, and allowed herself to imagine a huge winged creature, downy with brownish hair, its legs tucked up, its neck folded down, slowly beating its way through the air and tracked by its shadow on the water below. Its sight, far more acute than human vision, allowed it to see beneath the water — warmer back then and far more profuse with life, home to car-sized turtles, enormous squid. For a moment, she saw what it saw — and then the floatplane, rejoining the water with a bounce, jolted her back into the now…”
Even before he meets Anna, the other protagonist, Scott, has an emotional, rather than an intellectual interest in flight. He yearns to soar away from his life as it is. The base jumpers he thinks of on page 88 were inspired by this clip, sent to me by a student of mine.
I’ll admit there is something personal in all this. Flying – specifically, the human experience of it – has always fascinated me. I still recall the full page reproduction of Draper’s Lament for Icarus (the son of Daedelus, who flew too close to the sun and melted his man-made wings) in the twenty volume encyclopaedia kept in the study of my childhood home. I studied it many times and at length. I enjoyed the lushness of the picture, the vast feathery wings, the beautiful naked, sun-burned youth, the pale nymphs – but the myth was so tragic (think how Daedelus must have felt!) that it made me cry, and it seemed to be some kind of warning against trying to be more than you were… I still do not really like the story, even when it is told so that Icarus makes a choice, rather than a mistake. I like to think that not all flights will end this way, that it is possible to go almost as close to the sun as he did, survive, and bring back the story, too.