|'Distant Water' front cover painted by Dale Mackie|
Distant Water was launched this evening at Grimsby’s Fishing Heritage Centre. A fair old gathering of former trawlermen, many of whom were interviewed for the book, made it along; some alone, others with their families. Above all, it was an evening to celebrate their working lives and to thank them for their contributions to the book.
When you take traditional historical research and bring it together with oral history, there comes a point in the writing process where, if the subject matter is good enough, you have to lose yourself. Your own narrative voice is given wholly to the mission of creating a deeper understanding of your interviewees’ lives.
For Distant Water, the memories of fishermen are told with such clarity and with a richness of language that the best you can do as a writer is to step back and allow the voices to speak. You shape their stories, tying up loose ends, making them work on the page and providing context whilst keeping faith with the narrative that emerges. But like any good documentary, the camera should always be on the subject. In this case, the unique lifestyle, work, culture and beliefs of fishermen living their lives at sea, one trip at a time.
It was our aim that Distant Water would add a realistic appreciation of this long lost way of life to the dozens of books about fishing already on local bookshop shelves. We wanted it to expose the levels of hardship few of us can imagine – some of the images we were able to use certainly do that, particularly the Grant/McKenzie photographs taken by the Sunday Pictorial photographer known as 'Mac of the Pic' in February 1959. It was also important to explore and debunk some of the myths and stereotypes which inform our understanding of the industry, not just in Grimsby, but across the Humber as a whole.
|At sea on the Grimsby Trawler Isernia in February 1959 |
(Grant/McKenzie collection - donated by Derek Grant)
One the most important outcomes of the Distant Water interviews is the way in which they provide some of the people we spoke to with an opportunity to make sense of their own experiences. It’s certainly important that they know their working lives are valued and not forgotten. I know that for a lot of them it feels that way.
In bringing the stories and memories together, capitalising on the oral traditions working people alongside detailed historical research, we hoped to create a greater understanding of Grimsby’s past and to give the men who went to sea the chance to tell their story of the industry which, for 150 years, was the measure of the town, its community and the region’s success.
Distant Water by Nick Triplow, Tina Bramhill and Sophie James is published by North Wall Publishing. The accompanying exhibition is at the Fishing Heritage Centre, Grimsby until the end of June.