Q & A with Rebecca Stirling, Author of THE SHELL AND THE OCTOPUS

Q & A with Rebecca Stirling, Author of THE SHELL AND THE OCTOPUS

Rebecca Stirling’s new memoir The Shell and the Octopus published on July 26, 2022. Rebecca lives between Aspen, Colorado and Kauai, Hawaii, with her two children. She teaches creative art and writing classes to help spread the knowledge and ingenuity of world cultures. She continues to sail and travel, read and write, and has a love for the stories that individuals, cultures and our earth have to tell. 


Synopsis of The Shell and the Octopus from the publisher:

This is the story of Rebecca Stirling’s childhood: a young girl raised by the sea, by men, and by literature. Circumnavigating the world on a thirty-foot sailboat, the Stirlings spend weeks at a time on the open ocean, surviving storms and visiting uncharted islands and villages. Ushered through her young life by a father who loves adventure, women, and extremes, Rebecca befriends “working girls” in the ports they visit (as they are often the only other females present in the bars that they end up in) and, on the boat, falls in love with her crewmate and learns to live like the men around her. But her driven nature and the role models in the books she reads make her determined to be a lady, continue her education, begin a career, live in a real home, and begin a family of her own. Once she finally gets away from the boat and her dad and sets to work upon making her own dream a reality, however, Rebecca begins to realize life is not what she thought it would be—and when her father dies in a tragic accident, she must return to her old life to sift through the mess and magic he has left behind. 


Rebecca answers some questions that I posed to her about The Shell and the Octopus:

1. What inspired you to start writing The Shell and the Octopus?

I am from a family of writers, and have been writing in journals since I could write. This story emerged from our family friend, Charlie, a character in my book, who wanted me to write his story as he had sailed from Pen Chau en route to Singapore encountering pirates, typhoons and prison. When he was released, my dad was inspired and he joined us on the first legs of our journey. I worked on this story for five years and when I went to submit the story, the same question always arose: why are you writing this story? They wanted to know more about the little girl who was on the boat with these men, and now they do!


2. What kind of research did you have to do?

I had to check my journals with maps and our sailing log. I had to look up the history of the Suez Canal around the time my dad sailed through. I went back to the place our boat was built, and several of the places we sailed to for research. And I had to dig deep within myself to decipher how honest I could truly be.


3. Can you share something with me about your book that is not in the blurb?

I hope that it honors my dad. Despite his setbacks, he was a uniquely driven, loving and adventurous man.


4. What do you hope your readers take away from your book?

It is a space for readers to identify with their darkest shame, and magic, from childhood, and realize that many of us carry this to some extent, and that despite them and because of them, we can work through them and grow and become better humans.


5. Are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with me?

Yes, I am still working on Charlie’s story. And, I am working on a novel that builds on many of the threads that begin in this memoir such as cultural crossing of religion, commerce, language, societal expectations and structures, and how they may defeat, or support one another in our growing globally integrated world.


6. What are you reading now and what have you read recently that you loved?

I am now reading Kaitlin B. Curtice’s Native, who elegantly describes the devastation and the support of growing up as a Potawatomi Native and a Christian. She clearly outlines that both identities can be embraced and honored, as opposed to excluding or oppressing the other, which sadly has been done.

I just read Lidia Yuchnavitch’s The Chronology of Water, which is beautiful and also challenging in its honesty, though it encourages me to write with honesty, in hopes to stand side by side with others who have struggled, so that they may heal and grow.


Buy The Shell and the Octopus at Bookshop.org.