Tuesday, May 13, 2014
The Sea – a source of inspiration for writers
For centuries, the English Channel was a shield against invaders – a thin coat of liquid armour protecting a crumbling coastline. But the waves and currents flowing around Britain’s shores also served to carry ships abroad to far off lands and from there evolved stories of adventure and derring-do, and children’s classics like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. Fiction writers have never been without tales to tell of smugglers and pirates, of great whales and sea monsters, of fleets of fighting ships and cannon raining fire onto the sea.
But for some writers, the sea merely provides the backdrop to a story portraying it in passing as impersonal and characterless. Yet, for others, at times, the sea takes on distinctive roles, transforming in an instant from calm to aggressive, prone to violent outbursts, malevolent tantrums, capable of unleashing untold terror on the unsuspecting. This dominant gendered sea forever lurks in wait ready to challenge the brave souls who dare venture into its realm. Yet its opposing persona is soft, serene, bountiful and beautiful. La mer extends its all-encompassing arms to cradle the weary mariner and rock him throughout his slumber.
With two brothers who rose to the rank of Admiral, Jane Austen was intimately connected to naval life, an influence that filtered into some of her books. After being inspired by the battles fought during the Age of Sail, the classic seafaring novels of CS Forester (Horatio Hornblower series) and Patrick O’Brian (Jack Aubrey/Master and Commander) were spawned. From Vikings raiders pillaging coastal villages, to the arrogant Spanish fleet sailing up the Channel, to the threatened invasion of England by Napoleon’s forces, many stories have already been penned, while false lights, shipwrecks, cannibalism and survival have also coloured the pages of literature.
For non-fiction writers, the list of real-life heroes and their ships is never ending. Francis Drake in the Golden Hinde, Walter Raleigh, Horatio Nelson, and more lately Ernest Shackleton and his ship Endurance, whose enemy was not the freezing winds blowing up from the South Pole, but the frozen waters of the Weddell Sea that gripped the ship’s hull and dragged it down into the deep.
The sea is a vast ocean of inspiration with many tales still waiting to be told - stories of early emigrants, the pioneers who populated the Atlantic littorals, whether as willing migrants, as slaves, or as felons transported in chains. Each is a story worth telling.
As a writer, what does the sea invoke in you?
An idyllic South Sea island setting? Stories of stowaways, storms or sunken treasure? Or sword-wielding pirates and swashbuckling romance?
This brief excerpt reveals one captain’s relationship with the sea:
For Oliver Quintrell, the sea was his comfort and companion and, when licking the salt from his lips, he had no doubt she was his mistress. Despite her foibles and fickleness, moods and mysteries, she was soft and sensuous – beguiling in her calms and tantalising in her tantrums. She was the force that heaved beneath him every day and lulled him to sleep every night. By constantly challenging him, the sea made him fearless (not reckless), and it was the sea that would receive him into her arms on the final day of reckoning.
(Floating Gold 2006 – M.C. Muir)