Next week my guest here will be Debbie Young whom I met after she had read Kettle of Fish while on holiday (appropriately) in Scotland. As we chatted in the excellent Hamptons of Chipping Sodbury (we know how to live!) she told me about her visit to the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther which gets a brief mention in Kettle (even though I haven’t been there!) and also the amazing Fishwives Choir (yes, think Military Wives but different) who are celebrated this week on her blog. Do take a look.
As it happens I’ve been thinking recently how the fishy theme came to be such a big part of my own novel, and how it also led me to Project Three, as I call the book I’m writing now (which sounds v. self-important but springs from the fact I didn’t quite know what I was dealing with for a while!)
Because of Ailsa’s interest in the sea, about half way through the novel I have her pick up a leaflet about an exhibition of photographs of the fisherfolk of Newhaven. This was, or had been, a real exhibition in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery of the work of early Victorian photographers Hill and Adamson. Mildly curious I followed this up and discovered many of their photographs online. So began my latest obsession.
The photographs of 1840 show the strength and character of these women which lives on in the fishwives of today. But of course, for all their beauty and dignity, these women led exceptionally hard lives, always doing the bulk of the work on land, gutting the fish and taking them to sell. In summer the men travelled for weeks at a time as far as Wick to fish from small boats and so the women, then as now, were left alone.* When the price of fish was high, they would remind buyers, ‘It’s no fish ye’re buying, it’s men’s lives.’ So let’s here it for fishermen and their wives everywhere.
Since we’re on the topic, there are two other books (well one is a play) I’ve come across that touch on the Scottish fishing industry in very different ways, Catherine Czerkawska’s The Price of a Fish Supper, which I enjoyed very much on radio a few years ago and Chris Longmuir’s The Salt Splashed Cradle – a spirited historical novel about life and love in a fishing community near Montrose.
Both are well worth reading.
*Reference: Facing the Light, The Photography of Hill and Adamson, Scottish National Portrait Gallery 2002.