Children’s stories, faerie tales and folklore has always allowed my artistic practice flourish within my writing. The process of creating the images that makes a story come to life has always captured my interest. Below are the illustrated stories I have written based around the Sand Bothy Community Centre by the beach about three miles from where I live in Belhelvie. Soon I will link them to their full-length forms but for now enjoy. their covers and teaser plots.

Introduction to the Tales of the Sand Bothy

In the following stories, readers are introduced to a new literary pairing.  Meridith the mermaid and Sandy the Octopus defy the usual description of a twosome, but they follow on from a long tradition of odd couples.  Literature has many examples of impossible friendships: Kermit and Miss Piggy, Snoopy and Charlie brown, The Whale and the Mouse, Sooty and Sweep, Christopher Robin and Pooh. All of these are unaffected by the rules of normal kinship. They exist outside codified social and sexual networks.  Dramatic pairings such as these can show us the importance of partnership, be it as confidant, muse, aide, sidekick or comic foil. All couples quarrel and grumble but in the end when they succeed and proceed, a confidence builds in the stability friendship and we learn more about its dynamics.

As the Tales of the Sand Bothy unfold the reader is introduced to the world that Meri and Sandy inhabit. Although the stories are a mix of the real and the imagined they inform the reader about the area its history and its geography.

The stories take place in a specific 15 miles of coast in Aberdeenshire between the rivers of the Don and the Ythan. The protagonists, Meri and Sandy live under the water over the dunes from Balmedie. The stories are centred around the ‘Sand Bothy’, on what Sandy calls ‘Dry Land’.  Human people know it as the community based cultural and information centre for the area.  It is a real location as is the geography and history mentioned, the wreck of the Archangel the Girdleness lighthouse, the Ice-house the Black Dog Rock. What goes on under the sea in what Sandy calls Wet-land is anyone’s business or Sandy and Meri’s business to be precise.

 Meridith the Mermaid is a mysterious creature.  She comes from a long tradition of myth and story. She is wise to the ways of the world but isn’t always a merry Mermaid. She has a serious side and can be gloomy. She is tidy, to the point where she can be over anxious and over careful. She has well-ordered collections of shells and sea glass.  Using her Mermaid talents she shows initiative to be able to pursue her interests by using her mermaid gifts to make forays into Dry Land Balmedie. Unusually in the world of imagined mermaids, she is more committed to finding out about the world of science, than the world of romance.

Sandy the Octopus makes up for Meri by being optimistic and keen for new experiences. He is young, selfish and untidy with a wavering moral compass. He has many talents, as all octopi have, but he still has to discover quite what they are and who he is specifically. He knows his taxonomic hierarchy and is proud to be a member of the mollusc family or Mol US ca, as he might announce proudly.  He is impatient when people mix him up with cuttlefish or even jellyfish. … ‘Jellyfish?’ he might flounce: ‘JELLYFISH? they belong to a different family altogether…Cnidaria ….  ‘And that…’ he would add ‘doesn’t even sound like a word.’

The stories keep to the rules of possibility, for both characters. Meri has the mystical powers of a mermaid, and Sandy has the earthly powers of the octopus. Both are equally unbelievable, mainly because the octopus is such an exceptionally talented creature.

The author takes full responsibility for the language, the jokes and the biscuits. Apart from that, where the silken veil of story ends and the hempen homespun reality begins, none can say, but who would want to?

 The people who stray into the stories are real inhabitants of the village and the author takes no responsibility for their actions. They are who they are.

Lastly of course there is the Sand Bothy around which all the stories revolve and without which these stories could not have happened.

1               A Visit to the Sand Bothy

2               Meri Takes a Bow

3               The Belhelvie Pearl Fishers

4               A Gift of Sea Glass

5               Sandy Shows his True Colours

6               A Giant Appears Overhead

7               The Lighthouse Keeps Sandy Awake

8               Meri Forgets Something

9               The Mystery of the Missing Biscuits

10            The Terrible Thing

1. A visit to the Sand Bothy

Once upon a time in the sea just over the dunes from the Sand Bothy lived an Octopus. He enjoyed swimming around, discussing this and that with his friend, a mermaid called Meridith.

Meridith, Meri for short, was able to tell him what it was like in that place over their heads, a place she called Dry Land.  She explained how she swam up to the surface and looked over at the land across the waves.  Once or twice, she said, she had even been to visit it.

She combed her long hair as she told him these tales of the strange world of Balmedie over on Dry Land.

I would like to see what Dry Land is like for myself ‘ he said to Meri one day. ‘No offence to your collections of

shells, the crabs and the fish but there aren’t enough things to chat about down here. I need to find out who I

am and what I can do. I need to experience things for myself, expand my horizons, understand why I am here.‘

 ‘Ah yes, the eternal questions,’ said Meri distantly and she looked away towards the deepest ocean. ‘You may be  

disappointed young octopus,’ she said under her breath. (Meridith wasn’t as merry as her name suggested.) ‘You won’t fit in;

you are a wet creature and it’s very dry out there’………

2 Meri Takes a Bow

In the sea not far from the Sand Bothy Meridith the mermaid was a bit down. She had been feeling increasingly un-merry. One morning she didn’t even feel like combing her hair. She blew her nose on her seaweed handkerchief and looked gloomily into her mirror.

‘Wossmatter?’ said Sandy the octopus as he glided to a standstill.

Meri moved along to make way for him. ‘I think I need cheering up’ she said, ‘Let’s go for a swim up the coast.’  ‘I don’t know what’s wrong’ she added, ‘everything seems so colourless and over there by the Black Dog Rock a sad feeling comes over me in waves’…….

3. The Belhelvie Pearl Fishers

Not long ago, in the sea, over the dunes from the Sand Bothy, Meridith the mermaid was practising scales on her harp. She was very fond of the beautiful instrument.  It was a miracle of science, technology and magic. The large frame was carved from a whale jawbone and the strings were made of sea-silk. This particular harp had passed through many generations of Meridith’s family.  One of the problems of inheritance is that the shoe does not always fit, so to speak.  In this case the harp did not quite fit. It was on the large side for her reach.  Because of this two or three strings at the far end stayed quiet when she played. Occasionally her crab, when it was in a good mood would go over to that side and help.  At the right moment it would pluck them for her if it was in a good mood.  On this particular occasion it was joining in with perfect timing.  Meri was so blissfully absorbed in her musical arpeggios that it was some time before she noticed her loss………………………..

4. The Gift of Seaglass

It was a quiet day off Balmedie Beach.

‘Knock knock.’ said Sandy the Octopus

‘Who’s there?’ said Merri warily.

‘Fish’ said Sandy keeping his Octopus face straight.

‘Fish who.’ said Meri, knowing she was falling into a comedy trap.

Bless you!!! Said Sandy and he jetted off, pleased with himself.

Meri sighed and turned back to her collection of sea glass. This morning she was arranging them in order of size, in a circle, from small to large. She liked sea glass. They reminded her of frozen fragments of sea……………………..

5. The Underwater Talent Show

It was one of those days at Belhelvie.

It was misty over the land. It was dismal down by the Sand Bothy. The Sand Bothy window was closed.  No one wanted coffee or even ice creams today.

Dark grey waves lapped at a light grey beach.

Under the water the fish swimming by were grey.  Meridith the mermaid stared at her reflection in her mirror …it was a 100  shades of grey.

‘I would give anything to see some colour.’ She said to her friend Sandy the octopus. They were swimming up past the old wreck of called Archangel. The old steel hull was covered in grey barnacles.

 ‘Tell you what.’ said Sandy. ‘Would you like to see my comedy magic act? I’ve been practising.’

Please don’t tell me you are going to wear a fez with a tassel over one eye and say ‘jushlikethat’. Said Meri.

‘No, why would I do that?’ said Sandy, being unfamiliar with 1970s T.V.  Magicians. ‘Nope, I’m going show you a card trick.’ …………………………………..

6 Sandy Hides from a Giant

There had been a storm over the sea by the Sand Bothy the tide had been higher than usual. Alan and David were fixing a problem on the Sand Bothy roof.  Over in the sea Merri hadn’t seen Sandy all morning. She was also inspecting the storm damage. She was turning over a starfish that had become discombobulated in the storm. ‘My it’s quiet today.’ she said. ‘No Knock Knock jokes… no surprises, just peace and quiet.’ ‘There you go.’ she said knowing that Starfish didn’t enjoy being tumbled about in the strong currents.  She moved along looking this way and that for more things that might need her help………………………………

7. Something Keeps Sandy Awake

‘That whitewashed winker kept me awake last night.’ Sandy complained to his friend Merri. ‘I think there must be something wrong with it.’ For a moment Merri was at a loss to grasp what Sandy meant. ‘You know,’ Sandy went on, ‘that thing that keeps blinking out over the sea.’, ‘It stops, I go to sleep, it blinks, I wake up, it’s dark, I drop off, it blinks again…I wake up…’  ‘Yea, I get the picture Sandy.’ interrupted Merri before the morning was lost to repetition……………

It was a quiet day off Balmedie Beach.

‘Knock knock.’ said Sandy the Octopus

‘Who’s there?’ said Merri warily.

‘Fish’ said Sandy keeping his Octopus face straight.

‘Fish who.’ said Meri, knowing she was falling into a comedy trap.

Bless you!!! Said Sandy and he jetted off, pleased with himself…………………….

8.Meri Forgets Something Important.

Sandy the octopus didn’t like seals. He kept away from them if he saw one in the distance. One of his arms had never quite grown back properly after he had been bitten. The seals from the Ythan estuary didn’t usually stray down as far as Balmedie but he always kept an eye out just in case. Meridith the mermaid wasn’t that keen on them either. ‘You never know with seals’. She said mysteriously. ‘You never know what?’ said Sandy.  ‘I mean,’ she said, ‘I don’t like the look in their eye because I never know if they are a’ …and she lowered her voice… ‘a Selkie.’…………………………..

9. The Mystery of the Missing Biscuits

Meridith the mermaid was very fond of biscuits. If there was one thing she envied her human sisters for, it was the ability to munch on a Bourbon, nibble a Hob nob or eat a Digestive with cheese on a quiet cooking day.

It required a bit of mermaid magic to preserve the crunch underwater but Meri chose to dedicate a good portion of her limited supply of magic to biscuit maintenance.  A short spell took away their sogginess under water and another allowed her to make a hot seaweed tea to have with them.

Unfortunately, Sandy the octopus wasn’t averse to a biscuit either. He didn’t mind if they were soggy…. I live a life without crunch without rigidity he said… you mermaids are like a bag of sticks all bony and pointy and humans are even worse; but I,  (and he demonstrated his ability to coil and uncoil and flatten and unflatten himself in front of her) ‘I, am completely amorphous’. 

Meri knew Sandy well, so she took precautions with her underwater security. She thought she had solved the problem by hiding a screw topped jar of her favourite snacks behind a rock. This rock was in the sea, over the dunes from the Sand Bothy…….

10 The Terrible Thing

Sandy had been eating biscuits.  He was enjoying them. They may not have been as crunchy as the ones

Meridith the mermaid had due to his lack of magic powers but they were biscuits all the same.   Merri had

hidden her biscuits and Sandy knew where they were. In a blue metal tin Merri had discovered in the sea

off Black Dog.  However the clamps were proving too difficult to undo just as Merri hoped.  Octopuses are

clever and resourceful and they have plenty of patience but those clamps were still beyond him

 One day while Merri was singing and combing her hair Sandy managed to find his way to another source

of biscuits not too far away from home. He had gone over to the Sand Bothy again and he had found his

favourite packet of crumbly snack the jammie dodger. After a particularily good eating session Sandy was half

floating half sinking on the surface of the sea, just over the dunes from the Sand Bothy. He wasn’t thinking

of anything much, he was just happy in a haze of overindulgence.

Just then the beginning of ‘The Terrible Thing’ happened……………………..

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