IF you were born with the name Codd, raised by a loving, close-knit circle of family and friends, grew up by the sea on the Dorset coast and swam like a mermaid, the last thing you would expect is to develop an all-consuming fear of the creatures that live in the ocean.
What are the chances that with that background you will be afraid of fish? That you will suffer the crushing terror that earns the scientific description “phobia”?
They ought to be zero, but, for Georgie Codd, her ichthyophobia became so overwhelming that she eventually realised she would have to do something about it. She thought a lot, she talked to a friend who had undertaken cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to deal with her arachnophobia (fear of spiders), and eventually she decided that the way to deal with her fears was to confront them.
So she set out to learn to scuba dive, to swim with fishes and eventually to swim with the biggest fish of them all, the Whale Shark.
A writer since childhood, and a graduate of the famous creative writing course at the University of East Anglia, Frome-born Georgie Codd has just published her account of her phobia and how she conquered it, We Swim To The Shark*.
Her project took her to freezing cold English lakes, to the balmy seas off Thailand, to backpacker hostels where a single young woman was at more risk than she was in the ocean, to tropical islands, to underwater wrecks and deep into murky depths where the divers could see nothing.
But this engrossing, exciting and very well-written book is about a lot more than learning to dive, learning to conquer her fear of fish, and overcoming financial, psychological, emotional and practical challenges to get to the places where she can dive with very big fish, even, perhaps, eventually, a Whale Shark.
It is also a well-researched study of the history, literature and allure of deep-sea diving, of discovering the mesmerising beauty of a world that most of us will only see on David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, of observing at first hand some of the impacts of man’s profligate abuse of the oceans, and of the dangers inherent in going a long way under the surface of the sea with nothing but your equipment, your training and the support of your dive partners.
More than that, it is a memoir of Georgie’s relationship with her grandmother, who helped to bring her up, and who died before this book was finished. We Swim To The Shark is dedicated to “Granny Codd” and the warmth, strength and support of her grandmother is present throughout the book.
You could say that the sub-title, “Overcoming fear, one fish at a time,” is a good slogan for anyone tackling a deep, irrational fear, but very few of us, whatever our fears – spiders, bats, snakes – could undertake such a single-minded project to beat the phobia.
George Codd was not fearless – she was full of fear, but by making this journey not only into the deep blue but into her own psyche. she learned to swim with sharks and in the process found love and a powerful voice as a writer.
* We Swim To The Shark – Overcoming Fear, One Fish at a Time, by Georgie Codd, is published by Fleet, part of the Little Brown Book Group.