Song Beneath the Tides

Ally arrives from England with her brothers to stay for a month in Africa – weeks of running wild on an unspoiled, untamed coast amid mangrove creeks, vast white sandy beaches, coral reefs and warm seas.

But on their first walk through the forest, Ally is swamped by a sense of an unseen presence..

Then local teenager, Leli enthusiastically sweeps her into the world of his village and their offshore island, Kisiri – the place of secrets. Swiftly, he becomes the centre of her life; but Kisiri is a place of legend, protected and feared: and when the island is threatened, everything and everyone, conspires to drive a wedge between them.

SONG BENEATH THE TIDES is published by Guppy Books

The beautiful cover is designed by Salvador Lavado of Salvador Design.

Click here to see the latest and some of my favourite reviews of Song Beneath the Tides

I had such fun making this trailer, looking through pictures, listening to Ayub Ogada’s wonderful music. Experiences came back to me, special memories of my childhood and travels, and of visiting other places that inspired me to dream up stories.

Many things about Kenya inspired me…

Guest blog for YLG

The Youth Libraries Group invited me to write about the background and inspirations to Song Beneath the Tides. Read it here:


I so enjoyed answering these questions from ReadingZone about the multiple strands and inspirations behind Song Beneath the Tides.

Reviews of Song Beneath the Tides

Favourite Reviews so far! Will keep adding!


‘The best books for teens this Easter’ in The Scotsman, by Hannah Sycamore

‘Those in search of a more unusual thriller should try Song Beneath the Tides … a rich and gripping novel that explores the lasting impact of colonialism, the horrors of animal poaching and the effects of tourism on local communities in East Africa. Past and present stories collide as Ally experiences glimpses into the past. Her visions are deeply rooted in the legends and stories of Kisiri, a sacred island at risk from poachers and threatened by tourist development. Told in parallel timelines, this novel is a unique and fresh story for YA readers. It presents challenging themes in an accessible, engaging and thought-provoking way and at its heart it is a story about hope and the importance of working together.’

For the full review, click  ⇓  

WRD About Books

‘A complex and lyrical adventure that’s part ghost story, part thriller, part love story. Compelling, atmospheric and beautifully written.’

Scottish Books Trust

‘Gripping. … explores themes including colonialism, international tourism and animal poaching, change and resilience. At its core, it’s a book about hope and working together. Click post-it for video review:

Youth Library Group

‘lyrical yet urgent new novel’

I wrote a guest blog for YLG about the background and inspirations to Song Beneath the tides. Read it here:

Book of the day in ReadingZone

5* review and Book of the Day – thrilled!

‘This is a story that’s rich with history, folklore and mysticism. As a reader you are swept away by the evocative language. … a stunning and sophisticated combination of romance and mystery and is sure to be devoured by teenagers and adults alike.’

Clare Wilkins, school librarian.


Ally is on the holiday of a lifetime with her brothers in Africa. With her Aunt distracted by her workload as a doctor, Ally and her brothers can run free along the wild and stunning coastline. They quickly make friends with some local children and soon find themselves drawn in by the local folklore and customs and the modern world that clashes with them.

Ally, in particular, is drawn to local boy, Leli, and an intense bond develops between them. Fearing for the future of Kisiri, a local island swathed in legend and revered by locals, Ally and Leli set out on a dangerous mission to protect the island and its heritage. However, Ally’s status as a foreigner and outsider hinder her attempts o help and, as the locals become increasingly alarmed by a new tourist development, matters rush to a terrifying conclusion.

This is a story that’s rich with history, folklore and mysticism. As a reader you are swept away by the evocative language and the brutal descriptions of threats to an established and sacred way of life. Ally and Leli’s story alternates with a historical narrative of Portuguese invaders and the comparisons between the stories and links to local legends are cleverly entwined.

This is a stunning and sophisticated combination of romance and mystery and is sure to be devoured by teenagers and adults alike.

To see the review and read an extract in ReadingZone, click ⇓ 

Ipswich Children’s Book Group

‘Lyrical, layered and dealing with relevant themes of animal poaching and the effects of uncontrolled tourism, this is a powerful novel, transporting the reader to a richly observed setting. It stays with you long after closing the last page.’

Ipswich Children’s Book Group 

Review and interview in Just Imagine

‘Song Beneath the Tides is a thrilling adventure with important things to say, and it is superbly written. I strongly recommend it.’ Read the full review ⇒  

Nikki Gamble interviewed me for Just Imagine, talking about my early life in East Africa, and the inspirations behind Song Beneath the Tides.

I also wrote a story-starter/writing task

‘Beautifully written, compelling, magical and with powerful historical and political information elegantly woven into the mix. ‘

Judy Allen, Whitbread-Award winning and critically-acclaimed author of over 50 books

‘Ah, I was trying not to read Song Beneath The Tides too fast, trying to savour every moment. Instead I found myself caught up and carried along by the tide of your story. Congratulations! Perfectly woven together, I lived it, heard it smelt it, touched it as I was transported to the forest and beach to Shanza and … Kisiri.

And underneath it all a deep, knowing current anchored in factual history and oral traditional tales giving it depth and resonance.

Margaret Bateson-Hill much-loved story-teller and award-winning author of multiple books including The Dragon Racer trilogy and Masha and the Firebird

‘A magical layered story weaving past and present that stole my heart.’

Jasbinder Bilan, Costa Award-winning children’s author of Asha and the Firebird

‘Set on the idyllic Kenyan coast, in luminously beautiful writing, it combines a poignant ghost story, modern day love and a serious political message.’

Patricia Elliott award-winning and critically acclaimed author of many novels including the Connie Carew mysteries and the Pimpernelles books

The writing is beautiful, summoning the East African landscape with such clarity and precision that I feel I’ve walked on this light-drenched coast. A tender love story that turns eerie, fierce and political, with a strong message about community and resistance.’

Liz Flanagan, Carnegie Medal nominated and critically-acclaimed author of Eden Summer, Dragon Daughter and Rise of the Shadow Dragons

‘a fascinating richly-layered novel asking big questions about how we explore and understand the past as well as deftly building to a thrilling climax. Highly recommended!

Cath Howe award-winning and critically-acclaimed author of Ella on the Outside and Not My Fault

‘It brings Africa so close, so beautifully drawn, haunting and so heartbreaking … yet so life affirming’

Sarah Mussi, award-winning and critically-acclaimed author of multiple novels including Siege

‘Beautiful, intense and atmospheric book. Intricately drawn characters in a rich, vibrant setting, and is packed with mystery and action.

Mo O’Hara best-selling and acclaimed author of many books including My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish series and Agent Moose

‘It is a fine book, vibrant and powerful, infused with a deep love for a land and its history. She cleverly interleaves the greed and violence of the colonial past into a gripping story of modern day smuggling, poaching and exploitation and shows how such threats can be defeated and overcome by love, friendship, loyalty and a people’s respect for the land, its culture and each other.’

Celia Rees, award-winning and critically-acclaimed author of Witch Child, Pirates! and Glass Town Wars

‘a wonderfully told story that crosses history with modern political issues, and diverse cultures seen through different perspectives. Evocative landscapes are woven together with engaging characters to create a rich tapestry of mystery, suspense, and teenage romance. Raising environmental issues that really make the reader think, this is an essential book for secondary school libraries to spark discussions on themes such as community, ownership, cultural differences and values, and the power of beautifully descriptive writing.’

Victoria Williamson, critically-acclaimed author of The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle and The Boy with the Butterfly Mind


rift cover

In a vast African landscape four teenagers and a journalist vanish without trace from a camp below a steep rock ridge, ‘Chomlaya’.


Ella, the young sister of the journalist, helps Inspector Murothi piece together what’s happened as the search helicopters continue their constant hum over the rock ridge. But Ella and Murothi begin to wonder whether they are already too late …








What inspired RIFT?

Firstly, a memory …


‘It’s night-time; I’m stepping into a dark tent. The only light is the beam from my torch. My feet touch something warm, soft and sticky. Swing the torchbeam down. Something’s squelching over my sandals – wet, glistening. It takes a moment to recognise the innards of a decapitated snake spewed across the groundsheet. …

Read more

Secondly …



Fascination with the atmosphere of places. And with the search for human beginnings in Africa, skull-from-guidecropped-001-cwhere I grew up. I thought ‘what if people disappeared in peculiar, unexplained ways? What if it happened  in the place we think was the cradle of humankind?

Then there’s the raw wildness of mountains and plains, animals and birds … I imagined being lost there. Coming face to face with an elephant or rhino. Or a leopard …



Photos: © Nick Birch



[RIFT published by Egmont Press, audio by W.F. Howes, Film optioned by Hanthum Films]

Sea Hawk, Sea Moon

SEA-HAWK--SEA-MOON-for-webbc‘She drifts, bumping the rock. Seaweed laces her legs and her hair spreads thin on the tide. She rolls with the wave, and her face rises to look at him …’ 


Ben will never forget the summer with his uncle in the Scottish highlands. How it began: restoring an old wrecked boat, Sea Hawk. Wandering the lochs in a boat with the wonderfully mysterious girl, Iona. But then the frightening dreams begin. And Iona vanishes.


Is she the girl in his dream? Has she been snatched by the waves, drifting in seaweed below grim, dark crags?

Is she the key?




When I was ten I read a story about two children roaming a lake in a boat, among misty mountains. I lived in a hot, dry place in Africa, but I thought, one day I’ll go there and write my own story about it. Years later, I was on the edge of just such a loch, in the Scottish Highlands. I woke one morning and Ben’s story was in my head. So I wrote it. I’ve always been fascinated by how people and events of the past seem to leave a gleam, or a shadow, or a resonating murmur of sound in a place. In a way, that’s where this story begins. It’s about a secret that refuses to stay hidden. …

fishing-boats-vertical 2-cPhotos: © Nick Birch


[Sea Hawk, Sea Moon published by Hodder Children’s Books]

The Night of the Fire Lilies


‘The lights flickered, like red eyes mocking her from the darkness. They lurched, bobbed, weaving away down the track. She choked on the stench of dust – and a sudden, drenching shock at what she’d done.’


A holiday in Italy! The chance of a lifetime to Jennifer – except it’s with cousin Berny, five years older and fifty times cooler.



The mountain village is beautiful, the villagers friendly … particularly Paulo, their glamorous neighbor.  Berny thinks he’s wonderful.  Jennifer just doesn’t trust him – his invitations, his presents, his endless promises.


Berny says she’s  a fool, with no sense of fun. So now she’ll have to find courage and stand alone. But as the village carnival draws near – the Night of the Fire Lilies – Jennifer’s caught in a tangled web of shadowy strangers, deceit, intrigue … and death.






Photos: © Nick Birch




[The Night of the Fire Lilies published by The Bodley Head & Red Fox, Random House]

The Keeper of the Gate


“Sara listened. No birdsong. Even the flutter of monkeys had stopped. 

       Yet there was movement. A silent whispering. A gathering wind that had no sound. In that instant she felt the path around them thronged with people. Panic was in the air, and terror, and the silent sound of rushing feet. Yet around them, path and forest were empty.

       Muniri looked back at them. ‘Leave the path!’ he said urgently. There is great danger here! Leave the path,’ he looked towards the curve of the track where it turned out of sight. ‘Come!'”


Kenya is Sara’s home. But the mysterious Muniri shows her everything through fresh eyes. She’s never really seen and felt this place, its starling mixture of ancient history and custom jostling with modern life.

And when Muniri takes her to the ruined city of Kingwana, deep in the forest, he draws her into an ever-deepening mystery that she must pursue to the end to discover the truth.

Muniri holds the key …


inspirations …

The idea for this story came to me when I was about 11, walking with friends through an ancient forest. The darkness under the trees, the chattering monkeys and invisible creatures scuttling in the undergrowth was eerie and unsettling. We remembered stories about people vanishing in this place. Then, lit by a sudden ray of sun through the leaves, I saw a great fig tree. Its trunk had a slit, like a narrow doorway, and beyond, the forest glowed like flames. ‘That’s a gateway to somewhere strange,’ I thought.

Years later I started to write this story.



[The Keeper of the Gate published by The Bodley Head & Red Fox, Random House]