There are times in the writing process when there’s nothing else for it but to stop everything else and immerse yourself in the work. And sometimes the work itself demands that you stop and think. The book in question is Distant Water – Stories from Grimsby’s Fishing Fleet – due to be published in May.
This is my third time out working on heritage publications as co-author, researcher and editor. Mainly, as in this case, the books work with the words, voices and experiences of those who lived through a part of Britain’s industrial past to tell their story and that of the industry.
The last few weeks I’ve got down to the nitty-gritty of transcripts and sound files of forty separate conversations with (mainly) men involved in Grimsby’s long-gone fishing industry. The majority are proud to have been fisherman, deck hands doing the heavy work on ships in the worst North Sea conditions. It’s no secret, when the industry was at its height the mortality rate for fishermen was 14 times that of coal mining.
We’re in Ken Loach territory here. For the best part of 150 years, the fishing industry operated on the fringes of society, unchecked by the niceties of a safe workplace and frequently without the guarantee of a fair day’s pay. This story this sits firmly on the shelf alongside Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. You don’t have to look hard to see where the profits went – just take a short walk around the area of Grimsby that used to boast a thriving industry. When the trawler owners shipped out in the mid-80s, they took their cash with them – more than £1m from the government and whatever they got from selling ships on for scrap or to oil companies as standby vessels. Fishermen, always classed as casual labour and therefore, expendable, received nothing. For many, the fight for compensation goes on.
As the book comes together in the few weeks, the words of fishermen will tell their own stories. Some say, that’s just the way it was, and, it was all part of the job. But that doesn’t make it right.
Distant Water by Nick Triplow, Tina Bramhill and Sophie James is published by North Wall Publishing on the 5th May 2011. An accompanying exhibition will be on display at Grimsby's Fishing Heritage Centre throughout May and June.