On a Falling Tide was in its early stages when I heard there might be a film made about Mary Anning. I was excited for a couple of reasons. I knew what I was writing had promise and it was good to know others found fossils interesting! Plus, the film would be made in my favourite town of Lyme Regis and about a female scientist who needs more recognition.
At long last the film, Ammonite, is on general release. Hampered by the pandemic, it’s only just become available and I can’t wait to see it.
It combines many of my favourite things: Mary Anning, Lyme Regis, fossils and nineteenth century history. I was living in Lyme during filming and it was fascinating to see how the town was transformed into a film location.
Anning’s descendants objected to the portrayal of Mary having an affair with a woman and, while it’s true she never married and had significant friendships with two women, the lesbian affair between her and Charlotte Murchison is down to the filmmaker. Saoirse Ronan’s Charlotte comes to Lyme to take the sea air and cure her of her ‘malaise.’ She becomes entranced by Kate Winslet’s Mary Anning and her science, and is soon fossiling along the Black Ven cliffs in her wake.
Anning continues to inspire over a hundred years after her death. Not only does fossil hunting continue to be an important science, it’s something most tourists in the area like to have a go at. The summer months resound to the racket of hammers on rocks. It’s better, though, to go with an expert to guide you on what to look for. I did a fossil tour and it was incredibly satisfying. We walked to the Ammonite Pavement which is an extraordinary sight. A large expanse of enormous, flattened ammonites, around two million years old, it’s well worth a look.
A few years ago, finding an ammonite on nearby Charmouth beach and strolling along against the background of the looming grey cliffs began something stirring in my brain. Talking to a couple of night fishermen about their experiences of being caught in a landslip added something else. Ideas for books come together gradually, in dribs and drabs: half-remembered pieces of information, an image glimpsed and lodged in the brain, a picture in the head of a ghostly figure drifting across the beach. All these added up to the final work. I included the Ammonite Pavement as a place for a significant moment in my heroine’s journey. It’s also where my two heroines meet, although they don’t realise and are separated in time. I called it the Snakes’ Graveyard which is how it was known in Anning’s Lyme Regis.
Although Mary Anning is only mentioned in passing in On a Falling Tide, her presence is everywhere in the book. She’s the scientist Lydia Pavey longs to be, she’s the person who dominates the museum Charity visits and who Charity fleetingly wonders is haunting her. She’s the fossilist who came from humble beginnings and who found science-changing discoveries.
I’m delighted that the spotlight has landed on Mary Anning and Lyme Regis. It might even attract attention to my book too!