Mermaids in Felixstowe!

We’re delighted to share this interview with you of local author, Ally Aldridge, who tells us all about her latest magical novel, Ocean Heart and how the setting of Felixstowe inspired it! 🧜‍♀️

What is your novel about?

Ocean Heart is about a teen girl, Mariah, living in Felixstowe who unlocks her mermaid abilities. But being a mermaid brings a new depth to ‘it’s complicated.’

Mariah's life is anything but simple. Between a crush on her best friend and a rivalry brewing with the swim team star, her powers awaken early. 

When Mariah’s guardian meddles in her life with magic, she causes more harm than good. The soul reapers are coming and there’s a werewolf hungry for merblood. All secrets wash ashore sooner or later, and Mariah’s about to discover hers.

Mixing a messy love life with deadly powers will whip up a storm of trouble, and the book is a journey to find out if Mariah can contain it or will she be swept up in its wake.

How has the book evolved while creating it?

The book has had a few titles to start with. The first draft was called Drift but this was a working title. When I changed the main character's name to Mariah, I changed the title to Jewel of the Sea, which is what Mariah means.

When I decided to self-publish the novel went through a number of changes. I paid for professional edits to bring the novel up to standard, a professional cover, and professional formatting. I decided to rename the novel to reflect that it wasn’t the same book I started with. “ Ocean Heart” felt perfect for a fantasy romance about a mermaid. 

How does Felixstowe inspire your writing?

Felixstowe is where I had all my adventures growing up with my friends. I remember as a teen thinking there was nothing to do in our town, but as a writer the location is rich with a variety of settings.

Ocean Heart is set in Felixstowe with a few scenes in Ipswich. The teens attend the local high school, hangout down the front, go to the pier and parks.

I’ve finished drafting book two, Sky Heart, which starts off in Felixstowe but also features the Isle of Skye in Scotland where I went on holiday as a kid. I guess my imagination loves places I’ve visited.

What is your favourite part of Felixstowe?

I love the Grove as I find forests really peaceful. I bet you weren’t expecting that from someone who wrote a novel about a mermaid and the ocean! I do love our beaches, from Languard Fort and all the way to the Ferry.  It’s true, in Ocean Heart, book one, there are a number of chapters featuring Felixstowe’s coast because the sea is definitely my main character’s favourite place to be.

I have managed to include the Grove in book two. There are also a number of other well-known locations from Felixstowe town in the series.

Do you have any advice for others who would like to write?

Don’t worry about whether your writing is any good, just write. The more you write the better you’ll get.

Be brave and attend a local writing group. I went to Felixstowe Scribblers.  Reading my writing out loud was scary but it helped me grow and improve. The weekly homework helped me develop a writing habit. Being surrounded by others with a passion for writing was a great feeling... like I found my people. 

Never give up. I can’t write every day, and I don’t have a dedicated space. A writer's greatest asset is tenacity.  Every little word adds up. If you keep going, you will soon enough have your very own novel.

If you’ve written a novel and want to publish, give it your all. There are plenty of ways to get a traditional deal, and plenty of ways to self-publish. Research every option and see them all as opportunities. Keep knocking those doors until one opens, and write more stories while you wait.

I wish I had believed in myself sooner. I always wanted to be an author but never thought I was good enough. I thought I needed to have seen the world and got a fancy English degree.

One year, I attended an event at Felixstowe Book Festival called Containment by author, Richard O’Neil. This workshop got me to realise that many of my barriers to publishing were ones I created and some weren’t even real. It helped change my mindset and to think about solutions. Instead of saying, “I can’t afford to publish,” I realised if I saved a little every month, eventually I would be able to. And, I don’t need a fancy English degree, this was a prerequisite I had manifested.

Over the years I’ve learnt, there’s no better time to pursue your dreams than right now. Stop making excuses, and do it! Don’t be the one standing in your way.