My name is Rob. I’m writing a story about Blakemere Pond, a desolate place in the Peak District, where rumour has it, a mermaid has taken up residence. It’s on Wikipedia, so it must be true.
In the name of research, I scooped some water out of the pond and brought it back to my room. It’s now on my desk in a bottle and to be frank, it’s a little bit whiffy. But the fact that I had to trudge through the snow (and fall down a hill) in order to get it, makes it feel like a trophy.
My goal is, to capture the romance of mermaids but I don’t want anything cheesy, like a girl in a tail who spends her days looking in the mirror as if she’s taking a selfie. I want grit. But how can I capture the spirit of a mermaid without resorting to cliché?
Like most people, my default choice of where to turn for artistic inspiration is the cinema. I’ve worked in film for 20 years, so have seen a truckload of movies but which one screams mermaid?
The obvious choice is Splash! The 1984 cheese-ball in which Tom Hanks falls in love with the top half of Daryl Hannah and the bottom half of a carp (go figure). I also liked Jenny Seagrove’s aptly-named Marina in Local Hero, which was released the year before. But both of these are physical depictions of real-life women as opposed to something ethereal.
I like the look of the old films like Brief Encounter and Paper Moon, both absolute classics. I love that grainy black and white, film noir vibe, where the undercurrent is doom. But again, they’re not quite right for this project. They’re both whacking-great slabs of cinema history whereas my story is tiny and weird.
I have always loved weird, from the darkness of the Brothers Quay to the sheer, unadulterated joy of Tears of the Black Tiger. As a boy, I would stay up late and watch French films, dreaming of the exotic. I can still recall, as clear as day, the first time I saw In The Mood for Love. I couldn’t believe that so much was happening, when nothing was said, just two people buying a takeaway yet there’s so much passion, it could melt the chocolate off your Jaffa Cake. And besides, they’re not weird films at all, compared to Power Rangers.
Then it came to me! My mermaid movie! It’s a Japanese horror flick called Dark Water. It’s not the greatest film I’ve ever seen but it’s been wedged in my head for the past 16 years. The story is, brace yourself… a woman is haunted by damp. How bonkers is that? It’s hilarious! There’s a patch of damp on her ceiling and it grows. There’s something ‘not quite right’ about it and that’s what hooks you in. As someone who hates damp, I can totally relate to it because all damp is creepy. But while I would hire someone to fix it, via Check-a-Trade, this heroine spends her time walking slowly up corridors until the bad thing happens! Da-da-Daaaaah!
Like I said, it’s not a classic but it does capture the fear of the unknown. You know that something is out there, you just don’t know what. As with all of these films, when you do eventually see the monster, it’s not half as scary as when you didn’t. And that’s what got me thinking.
What if we never see my mermaid, she’s just a dark and brooding presence. She doesn’t swim in the water, she isthe water. And if she is a ghost, in liquid form, then how does she communicate? Does she use the water like wi-fi? Is a splash a giggle and the rain a round of applause?
I find myself staring at the bottle on my desk, the water I scooped from the pool. Wikipedia says is haunted, my nose says it stinks and the whole thing is creeping me out but I like that. Something is happening.
A story has begun…