how the story begins...


It was the most special day of my life.

It was the day I nearly drowned, but don't you ever tell my mum.

That can't happen any more, my best friend, Sally, says. She thinks that some day we could swim the Channel or maybe even the Atlantic!

It was the last day of the holidays, all sunny and gold, and me and Sally had the beach almost to ourselves. The sea was still warm, but the summer visitors had all gone, apart from the ones in the camper van who played really loud music.

Mum had been away all that week, looking after Gran. She'd even shut down our gift shop, and told Maggie, the friend who helps her, to take a break. The season was over, she said, and not many people now would come looking for prints and ships in bottles and hand-made pots.

Now don't get the wrong idea. My grannie's tough, she doesn't like being fussed over, but she'd fallen off a ladder and messed up her right arm.

I'm named after my gran. Elizabeth.

Sounds much too posh, doesn't it? Sounds like the queen. So I prefer to be called Liz.

I don't have a dad worth mentioning, so Mum arranged for me to move in with Dora for the week. Dora was Mum's art college teacher and she used to babysit me when I was little, so she's almost family. I could stay with Dora for ever if she'd have me, but she can't because most of the time she's too busy, either painting or protesting about cruelty to animals.

You see, Dora loves animals almost as much as people. She's got three and a half cats - Sukie, Bobby and Picasso (Tiger sleeps rough and only turns up sometimes to be fed). She's got this balding parrot she adopted from a pet shop that got closed, and an ancient tortoise called Plato I try not to step on.

You can tell Dora anything and she never gets bothered. She either listens properly, or she gets that dreamy look which means she's really somewhere else so you shouldn't waste your time. And with Dora, I never have to eat up my meat because there isn't any. Mum says growing girls need the protein. That's when I tell her - look at your old teacher.

Dora's quite elderly, but she doesn't have many wrinkles, and her long, greyish hair is really thick. She doesn't teach any more, she makes prints and big pictures, mostly of the coast and the ocean - rocks and pebbles and complicated water patterns - that sometimes end up in galleries. She hangs fairy lights round her fireplace when it isn't Christmas, and I think she's always half-believed in magic, like me and Sal do.

So when we brought the girl out of the sea, she didn't gawp or make a fuss.

She just said, 'I always thought there was some truth in those old stories.'


Not many people have a best friend who's a mermaid. What would you do if you met one and she asked for your help?