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And The Ocean was Our Sky – the Birth of the Idea

With lush and atmospheric art of Rovina Cai woven in throughout, “And The Ocean Was Our Sky” by Patrick Ness turns the familiar tale of “Moby Dick” upside down and tells a story all its own with epic triumph and devastating fate.
But where did the idea for And The Ocean Was Our Sky come from? Here is an excerpt from the introduction of the book by Patrick Ness, where he tells us just that. Take a look!

And The Ocean Was Our Sky started with a simple question, and then got weirder from there. I was thinking one day, “What if Moby Dick was told by the whale?” I’m always fascinated by who tells a story and how that changes it. A good example is a story like Wicked, where the Wicked Witch of the West has an entirely different take on Oz. I love that. Imagine if cats got to write all the books about what dogs are like.
But then the idea kept growing. What if whales hunted men like men hunted whales? What if there was a world where they both did that at the same time? What legends would arise? Most interestingly, how strange and compelling to look through the eyes of a main character who, at the start at least, views us as little more than prey.
Which spawned the character of Bathsheba, our narrator. Young, but tough. Moreover, a strikingly different kind of intellect and emotions than a human might have. I’m Scandinavian, and the stereotype about us is our stoicism. I’ve argued for years that stoicism doesn’t mean unemotional; it means privately emotional. And that’s what a whale felt like to me. There are deep, deep feelings in her, as deep as the sea. What happens when they get close to the surface?
And then the illustrations! Good God. I can barely draw a stick figure, and the beauty and breadth and drama that Rovina Cai has brought to this book – in much the same way the genius Jim Kay did on A Monster Calls – are astonishing to me as things I could never have thought of. She took the story to a whole new level. Bathsheba is alive and on the page. Facing her demons.
Because to my surprise, this became in the end a story of the devils we chase, the devils we hunt, the devils we perhaps create. And our need for constant vigilance over those very devils who would seek power over all of us. It became a very contemporary story of the power of rumour, the power that words have to change and sometimes even make reality. And not always in a good way.
And so here are the first couple of chapters of the story of my brave and powerful Bathsheba, coming to understand the scope of the world, hoping that she’s not too late…
All best,
Patrick Ness
March 2018

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