Somerset

Children's book inspired by Somerset's 1607 killer wave

Emma outside bookshop Image copyright Emma Carroll
Image caption Author Emma Carroll said she was always on the look out for bits of history to turn into stories

Catastrophic flooding which happened more than 400 years ago in Somerset has inspired a children's story after the author learnt it could have been a tsunami.

Emma Carroll's book, The Somerset Tsunami, is set during the aftermath of the 1607 flood, which has been described as "the worst natural disaster to hit Britain in historic times".

About 2,000 people are thought to have died when a "killer wave" flooded coastal areas along the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel.

Accounts from the time told of "huge and mighty hills of water" advancing at a speed "faster than a greyhound can run".

It is estimated 200 square miles (520 sq km) of land were covered by water.

Image caption Woodcuts from the time show the floods from 1607 in which about 2,000 people are thought to have died

Ms Carroll said she had the idea for her book after she watched BBC Timewatch documentary The Killer Wave of 1607 by Professor Simon Haslett and Dr Ted Bryant.

"I'm always on the lookout for juicy bits of history with potential to spin into something fictional. I heard this [1607 flood] mentioned on TV during a more general programme about tsunamis," she said.

"When I looked it up online, I found Professor Simon Haslett's documentary and took it from there."

Prof Haslett, a professor of physical geography at the University of Wales, and tsunami expert Dr Bryant had investigated the 1607 flood.

"Being geographers, Ted and I were able to study evidence in the landscape as well as historical documents and quickly came to the realisation the 1607 flood may very well have been due to a tsunami and not a storm," Prof Haslett said.

Image copyright John Christie
Image caption Prof Haslett and Dr Bryant made BBC Timewatch documentary The Killer Wave of 1607, which was broadcast in 2005

"We began to realise the 1607 flood may have been caused by a tsunami when one of the historical accounts we read stated that the day was 'fayre and brightly spred' and that the wave rushed in faster than a 'greyhound could run'.

"Such descriptions are at odds with a storm, which often floods slowly starting with a thin sheet of water covering the ground and then rising up, rather than travelling as a faster wave like a tsunami.

"As we looked into the coastal landscape around the Bristol Channel other clues supported our theory, such as large boulders that realistically might only be moved by the force of a tsunami."

He said he was "very pleased" their work had inspired the author as it would "continue to broaden the public interest in our theory and widen the educational reach of our academic research to a younger audience".

Image copyright Kirsty Button
Image caption Teacher Kirsty Button said the book had inspired the children to find out about the events that occurred in 1607

Ms Carroll set her adventure story in Somerset in the 17th Century, with fictional characters Fortune Sharpe and her brother Gem.

She said: "Fortune and Gem make a boat at the start of the story for a bit of harmless fun. Then, when the flood hits, Fortune is accused of knowing the tragedy was going to happen and is tried as a witch.

"The witch-hunt story thread deals with the moral panic society can create when faced with difference or the unknown. Through reading, we understand other people's lives. It helps us build empathy."

Teacher Kirsty Button, from Newbridge Primary School in Bath, has been reading the book with her Year 6 book group who she said had been inspired by it to "widen their reading genres".

"Many are now choosing to read historical literature and also to find out about the events that occurred in Somerset on 29th January 1607."

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