As the mornings grow colder, the nights longer, and it feels like there are perpetual grey skies threatening months of rain, sometimes all you can do is put on your most threadbare pyjamas and snuggle up with a good book. However, with deadlines looming and online University being weirdly more stressful than the real thing, considering I’m attending in said pyjamas, what I really need is a slither of a good story. A short story, so to speak. Sculpting a believable and captivating world in a handful of pages is a difficult thing to get right, but fellow Exeter student Daisy Ella does just that in her first self-published story, Beneath the Waves.
Transporting us back to the blistering cold of Scotland in 1896, Ella weaves a tale of scientific exploration, obsession and desperation. We are first introduced to her passionate scientist, Dr. Arthur Cornwell, through the news of his death in a 1911 copy of ‘The Illustrated London News’, before we are swiftly plunged into the world of his greatest scientific discovery.
Many of us who grew up devouring fairy tales and stories of mythical creatures will understand the lure of proving them to be real; a lure Cornwell finds too strong to resist. In his pursuit of scientific evidence to prove the existence of mermaids, Cornwell finds himself drawn to the Orkney Islands and into the home of Marjorie Erskine. It is here that he begins his descent into a frenzied obsession for the ‘truth’, that pulls the reader deep down into the waves with him.
Ella writes with a precise and rapid pace that captures the sharp deterioration of the Dr’s control over his research, health and sanity without losing control of the prose itself. The narrative is quick. Within two months, Cornwell is convinced he has seen a mermaid and finds himself drawn and hypnotised by her beauty and the fear of losing his proof, his “creature”.
However, the line swiftly blurs between scientific exploration, obsession and love as Ella rapidly races towards the climax of the story with the promise of answers teased in the opening article. In many ways, the answers aren’t what I want. Ella delivers a swift blow of reality which feels at odds with the fantastical nature of her mermaids, and yet serves as a reminder that this is a story rooted in the findings of a scientist. Ella allows both the reader and Cornwell to indulge in the world of make-believe and mythical creatures, whilst keeping a firm grip on reality so that neither of us drown in the waves of our obsessions.
Ella has crafted an impactful and consuming story that plunges the reader into the depths of a man’s obsession for the truth. In a short burst of pages, Ella presents us with a succinct cast of characters who transform to fully-fledged figures throughout the story as the truth comes running quick and fast. As a writer, Ella leaves you wanting more to read. Her effortless blending of past and present keeps the storytelling exciting without being confusing, and despite wishing the story was longer, I still felt fully satisfied by the end.
Despite the cold, blistering setting of Ella’s Beneath the Waves, reading it on a chilly autumnal day left me feeling warm and cosy like only a good story should. It is a brilliantly confident first self-published story and one that truly transported me to the world of Dr Arthur Cornwell’s research and obsession. I look forward to reading more of her short stories soon.
– Georgia Balmer
You can access the eBook edition of Daisy Ella’s first self-published short story, Beneath the Waves, here.
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