In conversation with Sam Webb, local Thirroul writer

For September/October, I decided to do something a little different! I was lucky to have the opportunity to chat with Sam Webb, a local Thirroul writer, about her self-published Aus YA fantasy novel, Ocean Whirled.

Originally published in 2017, Ocean Whirled is about to be re-released in the US. It’s a thrilling tale of undersea adventures, friendship and harmony between all living things. The story focuses on Penure, a young N’harmae boy, whose mer people-like race has been almost completely obliterated by the menacing Vi’red: foul, shape-shifting creatures of the deep.

With the aid of a sperm whale, a manta ray, a giant octopus and the dryads, Penure must fight to save the last of his people from extinction – including the lovely young K’noko, her mother Marni and R’meira, another N’harmae woman. After escaping enslavement by greedy humans, the N’harmae people team up with sailors Captain Mongan and Jack the first mate, as well as Sir Francis Fabershome, a scientist wanting to study the N’harmae ways. Together, they must eradicate the Vi’red and restore balance and harmony to the ocean.

I met up with Sam Webb at Franks Wild Years, a funky record store bar in Thirroul, north of Wollongong NSW, to chat about the inspiration behind Ocean Whirled.

Sarah: How did your initial ideas take shape for Ocean Whirled?

Sam: I’ve always loved the ocean and its creatures, ever since I was a little girl.

I’m interested in marine biology, and I wanted to write a story that combines scientific concepts with fantasy and adventure. For example, I wanted to describe some of the real-life behaviours of whales and dolphins.

Sarah: Would you say that conservation is a key theme in the novel? What are some other key themes?

Sam: There’s definitely an underlying message about the importance of marine conversation. That’s why the N’harmae are known as the “caretakers of the ocean”, and why the humans and non-humans have to work together to save it.  

I’d say the other key theme in the story is being challenged to venture outside your comfort zone.

Sarah: The N’harmae are portrayed as good and kind protectors of the ocean – but what about the Vi’red? Are they purely evil?

Sam: The Vi’red aren’t evil, they’re just misplaced. They’re alien to the world they inhabit and don’t have any predators, so they’ve been able to thrive – but at a cost. The Vi’red are multiplying really fast, and they have to source more and more food, which is tipping the ecosystem out of balance. It’s a bit like the invasive crown-of-thorns starfish in the Great Barrier Reef and lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sarah: What about the role of women in your novel? What did you hope to say about the hardships of N’harmae women?

Sam: The N’harmae women face some really difficult situations. I wanted to comment on the fact that women carry so much of the weight of suffering in this world. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes at the hands of men.

At the same time, I wanted to emphasise the strength and resilience of women. While characters like K’noko, Marni and R’meira are put in precarious situations, they remain strong and endure those situations. Their stories are about hope and healing.

Sarah: When you first sat down to write this novel, how did you hope it would turn out?

Sam: I hoped it would be a page-turner!

Sarah: Are there any particular stories or characters that inspired your work?

Sam: I really enjoy science fiction, like Frank Herbert’s Dune, and fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. In terms of character inspiration, Keeko [the sperm whale] and Ossnar [the octopus] are inspired by Moby Dick and the Kraken.

Sarah: Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process?

Sam: I’m a full-time carer, so I fit in my writing where I can. Even when I’m doing mundane things like hanging out the washing, I find myself mulling over ideas in my head.

Some days, when I need extra inspiration, I like to take photos of rock pools around Coledale, Wombarra and the Illawarra coast. If I need to travel, I always take a notebook with me so I can jot down ideas.

Sarah: What does your workspace look like?

Sam: My house is being renovated at the moment, so I’m in the process of setting up a new workspace. In general, though, I like to have my desk set up near a window, so I can look at the garden outside, and I usually write on a computer.

Sarah: Finally, do you have any advice for other writers looking to self-publish?

Sam: You really need to do your research to find the right publisher. Definitely don’t just choose the first publisher you come across! I’d also suggest spending a bit more money on your cover and editing, to make sure it’s good quality. 

Sarah: Thanks so much for your time, Sam!

More about Sam Webb: Sam Webb is a Thirroul-based writer who grew up in Sydney and Victoria. Ocean Whirled is her first novel. Earlier this year, Sam published a children’s book called The Monkey and The Dragon, with illustrations by Illawarra artist Kiara Mucci. You can follow Sam on Instagram @samwebb_author.