Welcome and introduction
Michelle: I am delighted to welcome you to the work-in-progress sharing of ‘Hayling Island – stories at sea level’. This was conceived as a digital audio collection of short stories all set on Hayling, and as the lead artist I am thrilled to have Caro C, Maya Chowdhry, and David Cooper joining me as creative collaborators, along with our best of the best producer Abigail Ward.
The finished project will be an online collection of short stories that sits alongside sound sculpture, imaginative maps, and non-fiction writing. I want audiences to be able to listen to or read the stories and non-fiction, and customise the text in the way that suits them best.
Who are we?
Musician and engineer Caro C is our sonic sculptor, recording all of the text in a sound-sensitive, radio-quality way, as well as creating bespoke tracks and sound pieces that are inspired by the island and by the maps and stories we are making.
Writer and interactive artist Maya Chowdhry is our digital designer and artist, creating the online home for the stories, music and non-fiction, and working with a wide array of technical and creative maps, live environmental data, photography and film.
Lecturer and academic David Cooper is our literary geographic guide, advising us on the art and the theory of map-making in literature, as well as co-writing non-fiction pieces with me, reflecting on some of the different ways we experience a place.
Our Production Manager leading on logistics, promotion and outreach is Abigail Ward, known also for her work at Drake Music and as the curator and lead for the Manchester Digital Music Archive.
I’m Michelle Green, a writer and artist with a passion for short fiction, maps, and a small island off the south coast of England. I am writing the short stories, co-writing the non-fiction with David, and creating some of the imaginative maps that Maya is weaving into the frame of our eventual online site.
We are striving to create as much access to this work as we can. We regret that in this beautiful temporary arts space there is no wheelchair access.
If you need to be able to read the text for this event, you can access that on your devices for the duration of the show at www.haylingstories.com/live-event-access or read from one of the paper copies I have with me now.
This is a relaxed performance, which means that if you need to move or tic or take medication, you can do so freely without worrying about interrupting the show. This invitation is intended for people with illnesses, conditions or disabilities to make yourself comfortable throughout the show, not for those of you without disabilities to chat with your neighbour or take phone calls! If someone near you tics or moves to make themselves more comfortable, please don’t draw attention – it’s easier for us when we are able to adjust to what our bodies need without feeling like we’re on display, so please relax, and enjoy the performance.
Thank you to…
Arts Council England, without whom this would not be possible, and New Writing North who began it all with a vital grant and huge enthusiasm at a crucial time.
Our thanks also to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation for hosting our storytelling experiment, and Comma Press, our short story partners and constant allies in all this.
We are also grateful to Manchester Metropolitan University for supporting David in his practice not only as an academic but also as an artist on this project.
And of course to each of you for joining us today.
voiceover: Lawrence Durrell: I once found a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, and among these there occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit. There are people that find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are on an island fills them with an indescribable intoxication.
Michelle: I took a long time to learn how to tell time. Stood at the end of the classroom and faced a large cardboard clock while the rest of the class practiced their descenders. ‘Now where is the small hand pointing? And where is the big hand pointing? So that means… ’ I became obsessed with clock faces. I could never manage to wear a watch and keep it working, so I collected them instead: driftwood from the market, charity shop with bent arms, plastic Casios and alarm clocks with hammers and bells, then my granddad’s wristwatch, grandma’s bedside clock. They’ve all stopped, whether powered by coils or double A batteries, and now they each mark some unnoticed point in the past, with only one message left: you were here.
Time is an exercise in counting – grains of sand, metal arms, the free swing of a pendulum. Pull of the moon. On an island that lies just off a larger island, the sea counts time in half-days. High tide sucks at the rocks on the Hayling shore, bubbling and tumbling, and it fills the Langstone and Chichester harbours with silt. A bank of shingle dredged from the Solent protects the golden sand beneath, and then the shingle drifts, and it is brought back, and it drifts, and is brought back; a Sisyphean shore.
David: I hear them before I see them.
Walking westwards, eyes fixed on the Emirates Spinnaker on the other side of Langstone Harbour, I can’t quite pin it down. I wonder if it’s muted rapid fire; but I soon realise that I’m only grasping for that explanation as, over breakfast, I had been reading all about the Sinah Gun Site. Then, looking up – towards the Forts and, beyond, to the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight – I see a teenage girl, around the age of my eldest niece, riding a horse out into the Solent. They pick up speed as they travel further and further away from land, the horse skimming across the surface of the water. Last night, sitting at the Inn on the Beach, I looked into the distance and, seeing ship after ship, thought about the hyperactivity of this particular horizon. This morning, though, all I can see is a horse carrying a teenage girl out away, further and further, from the safety of the shore.
Before I travelled south, I had a fleeting conversation with a colleague who had grown up in the area. When I asked for her favourite place on Hayling, she name-checked, without hesitation, East Winner Sand Bar. Frustratingly, though, I had trouble locating it on any of the maps that I had piled up in my office; and, it was only after some searching online, that I worked out that it’s a mile-long sandbank which stretches out from – confusingly – the south-western part of the island.
Sand can confound cartographers. On the wall, halfway up our stairs, we have a map of Morecambe Bay. I often stop on the journey between floors and wonder when that map was made. I don’t mean the year in which it was drawn, but, rather, what time of day. According to this map on the stairs, the coastline north of Morecambe is clearly and unambiguously fixed. There is land, sea, and a bold black line separating the two. We all know, though, that this is a cartographical sleight of hand. The Bay fills up and empties; the sand dismantles that illusory border.
I think of such mis-mappings as I watch the horse head out into what is, according to most cartographers, the blankly blue space of Hayling Bay. Even islanders need an elsewhere, a beyond to which they can escape from the practice of everyday life. Each low tide, then, there is a gravitational social pull towards a bank of sand that most cartographers leave concealed beneath the sea.
I turn away from the sound and foam of the boundless deep and head back to West Town. Back in my hotel room, I go online and find out about a 100-foot schooner that appeared at East Winner after a series of storms in January 2014. The maritime archaeologists had ‘to work against the clock’ before the wreck disappeared again into the sand.
Voiceover: Caro sings ‘I can carry’, in a loop
Michelle: Our low tide is almost dark. The sun is setting behind Southsea and the lights of the ships beyond the bay are flickering coals on the water. We walk along a high bank of white shells that squeak and crunch, and pass a fisherman casting his line, only a head-torch and small dog for company. Across Langstone Bay, a huge excavator shifts boulders around a floodlit pit on the shoreline. Men in hi vis jackets move around the site and we creep unseen from the bank of shells and down onto the wet sand of East Winner. There are pools and whorls and ripples, a lunar seascape reflecting the last light of the sun and the face of the waning moon, and as we walk out past the narrow cut-off and onto the main stretch of time-bound land, I remember that my Auntie told me to watch the water around that slim neck, unless I wanted to swim back with my camera above my head.
Further to the east, past Beachlands and the few remaining seafront arcades, huge granite groynes crouch beside a low sea wall, holding the shoreline together and acting as defence against the rise of the sea. Most of my family have long since left the island, following work as it departed. When I visit the few who remain, they tell me it’ll be a hundred years, maybe two hundred if we’re lucky, until Hayling is swallowed. My family used to live on Sandy Point, the south east end, and that’ll be the first to go as it’s already the narrowest bit. Everyone tracks the shoreline, knows the outline here, the weak spots and the strong. Everyone asks if I’ve heard the church bells in the bay, marking the hour three miles out and all that sea used to be fields, they say, but when I look on the old maps in the library I can’t find the fields, the church, or the bell tower. It’s all water.
I visit Creek Road, where my family ran the Marylands Amusements, two cafes, a tea bar, and a rock shop on the end. I stand on the corner of what used to be Eastoke House, my family’s home, and turn 360 degrees. This was once farmland. There are blocks of flats and houses, a small shop opposite a salon. The salon is shut, and the sign in the window says, ‘please ask in the shop across the road if you wish to make an appointment.’ There is a café and a pub and a stretch of houses facing flats that face away from the sea. I know it used to be bingo and penny slots and chips in paper, tumbledown houses on the seafront, holidays lets, and a train carriage called ‘Cuckoo’s Nob’ on the beach, home to my mum and her mum, and before that it was tilled fields, the farmhouse.
Time is an exercise in counting – seconds, hours, tides, shingle, houses, winters, and eyes down, under the G it’s 55 snakes alive, seven days a week, long summer months on a midnight close. Sacks of pennies at the end of the shift and the smell of blood on the cash desk, that copper coin tang.
Time moves differently on an island – that’s what they say, the holidaymakers, when they come for a week. Now it’s day-trippers and windsurfers, with the Funland rides alive on the weekends. A different kind of map.
David: It started not long after he moved into the home. She came down for the day and brought with her a map of New Cross in the 1940s. Earlier that week, she’d read an article in the paper about how maps can help with memory loss; so she went online and bought a map which might remind him of his childhood at the foot of Telegraph Hill. It worked. Her Dad spent the rest of her visit deep inside himself, re-treading the roads that he once walked on his way to and from school. His finger scored the memories back into place. She didn’t mind that she didn’t have a chance to tell him her latest news: the new car that she had her eye on; the colleague who left the office one day and headed straight to Dubai; the fact that her eldest was wavering over whether or not to take up his university offer. She didn’t mind at all. She was happy to have him transplanted back, if only for an hour or two, in 1948.
The next month her Dad put in his orders. He wanted more maps and for those maps to go beyond New Cross and into East Dulwich and Peckham, Greenwich and Brockley. Over the next year, he built up a comprehensive cartography of post-war London, each sheet unfurled and attached with Blu Tack to the wall above his bed.
Once that wall was done, he asked for yet more maps. He wanted to revisit those places he and Elizabeth had rambled across in that all-too-short spell before their daughter was born. They mostly walked along the Kent coast and over the Downs. They also went up to the Peak District, though, and, one summer, they even made it as far north as the Cumbrian fells. Her enthusiasm had begun to wane and, instead of going online to source historic maps, she went into town to buy a job-lot at Stanford’s. It didn’t make much difference this time around as these landscapes hadn’t changed as much as the streets and suburbs of his home city. The wall behind his bed, then, became a cartographic collage: the coastline at Deal was placed above the White Peak; Ullswater was stuck alongside the chalk hills of East Sussex. The display was arranged according to the private logic of his own personal geographies.
The walls above and behind his bed were now completely covered. This meant, though, that the wall facing him as he sat up was disconcertingly blank. Sensing his daughter’s dwindling interest, he asked the girls who looked after him if they could get hold of some maps of Hayling: the island he’d lived on for almost half a century but which he still couldn’t quite call home. The free maps that they picked up around the island framed Hayling in different, and sometimes contradictory, ways. There were maps of the Seafront and Sinah Common; there was a Cycle Map, an Indexed Street Plan. Some of the maps readily took him back to those early years when the kids were small and to walk out onto the East Winner Bar was an epic adventure. Others, though, reminded him how much the place had changed with bikes having long replaced the train on the old Billy Line.
This wall was smaller than the others as a result of the mirror and tiles above the sink; so, very quickly, it was as covered as the other two walls. He didn’t want to stop, though. The maps kept on coming and he simply Blu Tacked them on top of those that had already been stuck to the wall. One of the girls joked that the map was getting so thick that the walls were beginning to close in. He didn’t seem to mind.
Every day he followed the same routine. After breakfast, he’d begin in London. Then, after lunch, he’d send himself off to sleep by roaming along the flatlands of Kent before moving progressively higher up the Downs, the Peak and the Lakes. After dinner was the final session of the day: Hayling.
His daughter came down one Sunday and, looking at the layers of Hayling maps, asked why he hadn’t moved over to cover the blank wall space around the window. He snapped back that he wanted that wall to be left empty. But he didn’t know why.
Voiceover: Teresia Teaiwa: ‘Shall we make island a verb? As a noun, it’s vulnerable to impinging forces . . . let us also make island a verb. It is a way of living that could save our lives.’
Michelle: In trying to map memory, I meet time on the corner where the roads cross. I start on Hayling, Creek Road. I look for a wind rose, something that tracks the cardinal points, and a key of symbols to mark the areas of interest, the noted monuments, grid references. Here is where one was born with a dent from the forceps; here where two fell in love on the barstools of the Hayling Club; here where three ran away from unhappy childhoods and stood on the shore drinking sea air and cider, practicing a new accent.
I look to my family first, the chosen and the genetic, and I remember the cliché I’ve heard so many times – ‘blood is thicker than water’, or in other words, what you’re born into is more than what you create. Perhaps the perfect strap line for disillusioned times, but it’s a lie. The phrase is a diluted version of the original, and like so much memory and so many maps, it has been distorted. The full quotation is this: ‘The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.’ It’s from the Old Testament. The blood of the covenant: I take a red pencil to the map of my memory and mark the mooring sites of the people I’ve lashed myself to. Those I would follow to the edge and beyond. I mark them and mark the lines between them. The chosen family. Some on this island, some far beyond.
Next: palest blue to mark the water of the womb, like the top of the surf as it breaks, almost clear, so that the line might disappear against the shingle, or radiate as it crosses with the red, lit from below.
Next, a yellow line, curved through the centre of everyone I’ve ever lived with, and then green for the teachers I remember and the reasons I remember them. Purple is my first job, and my second, and my third, seventh, fifteenth, some of them scattered near the red lines and the white – night shift in the bank, the hostel on the other side of the Atlantic. The map grows, spans continents. A dotted line runs along my west coast, luminous green, marking the recurring dream that I forget again and again, the one that follows me – and like every line on this map, every memory, every point of interest and grid reference it appears, and it disappears; an imperfect record, stuttered time.
Projection: Maps as stories, stories as maps
Maya and David talk about how maps tell stories, and Maya’s use of colour and live data as an artist
Spring Tide – short story
Sam waits till they’ve all gone to bed and then waits a bit longer, and then, once it’s been quiet for a long time, she pushes the window up and holds it carefully on each side so it doesn’t squeak, like she practised. The path’s right there. She climbs through the window and then pulls her nightie back down. It’s easy getting out.
Grandma T says it’s an upside-down house because the kitchen and the living room are upstairs and the bedrooms are downstairs, but it’s better that way. It’s better to be up in the sky in the daytime so you can see the sea and the fairground and the other end of the road, and then at night you can be near the ground, like all the animals are. It’s easier to go for walks that way.
Right outside the window, the back path turns off from the house and goes out to the fence and the gate. From there it goes to the field and then it stops being a proper path and it turns into one of those ones that’s made from everyone walking there all the time. It gets muddy when it rains.
The made-up path goes over the hill and then on the other side is the beach. When she was little she thought it was a huge hill, a mountain, but now it’s just normal.
Tonight the moon is full and it’s very bright outside, night-time bright. The grass is prickly on top of the hill and she gets scratches on her legs as she walks through. The sand is cool on her feet. It feels nice.
‘These things are as tough as leather sandals,’ Dad would say, and he’d slap the soles of her feet the way you slap a dog on its side to tell it it’s a good dog, hard and gentle at the same time. ‘You could walk hot coals with these.’ She’d narrow her eyes like a dog does, sleepy eyes, and pretend to be floppy so he’d do it some more. Sometimes he would.
She saw someone walk hot coals once. Terry Inch, from the other side of the island. He was always doing things like that, dangerous brave things. He pulled the old train carriage with his teeth once, the one that Grandma T lives in, before it was her house. They were moving it along the old bit of track that just stops in the field and he did it the last bit of the way, pulled it with just his teeth to where it is now. Everyone gave him money. Same when he walked on the coals on the beach. He did all those kinds of things. He wasn’t in the circus, he just did it on his own with no clowns or anything. When the holidaymakers come in the summer he’s out every day on the field next to the fairground, sometimes the beach. They always want to give him money when he does those scary things, but in the winter he’s like everyone else and he stays home.
Once, Dad was talking on the phone at night after bedtime, and Sam heard through the door. Dad called Terry Inch a f. b. ‘Terry Inch’s a f. b.’ – that’s what he said. You’re not supposed to say that, but sometimes people do. Sam didn’t know who Dad was talking to, but he put the phone down and then him and Mum shouted at each other instead and in the morning Dad was gone. Mum didn’t say anything. It was just like everything was the same, but it wasn’t, because at the end of the day Dad didn’t come back.
Mum said he was doing a job up in London, and then the next day Grandma T said he wasn’t, he was visiting his friend who wasn’t very well, but then the day after that they both said the same, together: that he was fishing. They said he was fishing on his friend’s boat because he promised a man that he would. He really had to, it was that kind of promise. Sam didn’t know if Terry Inch was there too but he might have been because nobody saw him after that. Dad had to fish until after the end of summer, that’s what Mum said, so until then she’d run the bingo instead and Grandma T would take care of Sam.
It was two weeks until the end of summer, and then some more after that. Maybe four. A lot of fishing.
That’s how she’s outside tonight, her hard feet cool on the path, the moon making the world silver-white. It’s the spring tide, extra-high. Sam remembered it from before and asked Grandma T because she knows things like that, about the sea, and if there’s going to be a bad storm.
‘Oh yes, that’ll be the day, my love, but don’t you worry. I’ll put you to bed in a little boat that night.’
It only happens sometimes, before the summer and then after the summer. It’s called spring not because of springtime but because it’s bouncy. What happens is the moon gets so big and the wind so strong and they bring the tide in very fast and it bounces up high. It covers the car park, and then across the road, into the pub, and all the tiny fishes and see-through crabs end up swimming all over the street. The biggest waves crash over Grandma T’s train house so she has to put the boards over the windows and doors and stay with us. For a few hours, the island is a real island because no one goes anywhere. They all stay still.
This is when she’ll find him. It’s the best time. When the waves come in with the moon. The sea will be extra-high and no one will be out and she can walk out for a long way before it reaches the end of her nightie, soaks up like a tea towel over the edge of the sink, and she’ll lean her arms out across the water like floats, spread her fingers, crane her neck, narrow her eyes at the little lights on the water bobbing like the fairground, like hot coals crackling, like Dad, Dad that’s your boat. Dad.
Caro’s sound sculpture and track
Caro talks about how she created the elements of her track from sounds on Hayling Island, and then she plays the track.
END OF SCRIPT
Thank you so much for being here today! As this is a work-in-progress of what will eventually be a much larger creation, we would love to know what you thought and felt about it. We’ve brought one of Michelle’s imaginative maps of Hayling Island with us, and invite you to write your comments (or have someone write for you) on one of the luggage tags and stick the tag to the map. Please tell us what you thought and what you felt about this piece, as well as any other comments you wish to share. This will really help us as we develop this project.
If you made use of any of the access elements (such as this script online or on paper) or have any comments about the accessibility of the piece and the venue, please let us know how well that worked for you.
You can follow the project as it develops over the next couple of years on
Thank you so much for supporting live literature and creative collaboration!