Sarah Underwood introduces her debut YA novel, Lies We Sing to the Sea

I started writing Lies We Sing to the Sea in July 2019, on a ward in Hammersmith Hospital during an inpatient stay for a clinical trial. For ten days, I was restricted to a single room with no other patients and no windows. With nothing else to distract me, I finally did what I had been thinking about doing for years: I opened a blank word document, and I wrote. Three years (and many, many rounds of editing) later, here we are.

‘Only one of them [the maids] is named… Now, I wanted to give her a story—and her revenge.’

Sarah Underwood

Lies We Sing to the Sea reimagines the fate of Penelope’s twelve hanged maids in Homer’s The Odyssey. To me, the story of the maids is one of blame and of agency (or lack thereof): twelve young women, arguably slaves, vilified for having sexual relationships with older and significantly more powerful men. The men that raped them die in combat—honourable deaths. The maids, by contrast, are slaughtered like animals (‘hung like doves’, as Fitzgerald translates it in a verse I know by heart). They are dehumanised completely. In fact, only one of them is even named. She is ‘sharp-tongued’ and ‘disloyal’ and a ‘shameless bitch’ and she is called Melantho.

She had a name. Now, I wanted to give her a story—and her revenge.

I’m not a classicist by any means so I knew this wouldn’t be a myth retelling in the traditional sense. The Odyssey serves as a backstory to my new narrative, and two of the three main characters—Leto (the daughter of a murdered Oracle) and Mathias (the crown prince of the kingdom that murdered her)—are entirely new. Also, Melantho’s a lesbian now. I hope I have done her justice.

I am so unbelievably grateful for all the enthusiasm booksellers have already shown me – thank you for your kindness (and beautiful pictures of the proofs!), and thank you in advance for everything else still to come. There are so many gorgeous books I have discovered because of the incredible knowledge of booksellers; it’s both daunting and exciting to be sharing this story with you. I truly hope you love it.

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