Thursday, 19 March 2015

Scenes from The Guinea Boat (and a rather spooky connection...)

The Guinea Boat was launched at the end of January, and has been well received – something of a relief to me as I was aware its storyline differed from the usual cut and thrust of a Fighting Sail. Since then, work on the next FS – due in May –  and a close family loss meant I had not been back to the historic Rock-a-Nore area of Hastings. But yesterday the pull of excellent fish and chips became too much and we bundled back down to the narrow streets and quaint buildings of the fisherman's quarter that first inspired me. However it wasn't to be the simple walk in one of my favourite places I had anticipated; there was something strange waiting to surprise me...

ALL SAINTS STREET TODAY, in the Fishermen's quarter of Hastings Old Town
I've mentioned before that naming characters is an important part of the writing process. The title should reflect their persona in some way, enhancing it and allowing the reader to register them in their mind.  It should also be of the era; it's no good having a swashbuckling, alpha male called Barbie, unless it is intended ironically, of course. Tilly Medcalf is a prominent force in the Guinea Boat story. A lass, gullible in some ways, worldly in others – not quite the “I'm a good girl, I am,” type, but I think you get the picture. I knew her name must be right and, after much thought, finally took it from a landmark local to me. Tilly fitted perfectly – individual and slightly quirky, (I have only ever come across one other before, and she was totally different). My Tilly was born on the Rock-a-Nore where her parents kept a pot house, but later moved to All Saints Street, which is literally round the corner. She, and her presence in what was then commonly known as “Fish Street,” is integral to the book.

And so it was that I found myself breathing in the atmosphere, and boring my companions to death by endless references to the plot, that, half way along All Saints Street, I came across... Tilly's Cottage.
THE HOUSE IN QUESTION Did a real Tilly Medcalf live here?

I went slightly cold on seeing the name. Despite some time spent in the area, the house had not been noticed before, and I could not help but think someone was playing some sort of trick. Complaints from the others combined with an offer to alert the police finally persuaded me to move on but, even now, the coincidence seems extraordinary.

They say that truth can be stranger than fiction, and this mixture of both has set my mind racing.

Where Alex ran in with the Luck brothers
(The gentry worshiped at St Clements)

 frequently sliced in two.
But could still be used for other purposes.

MINE FOR A FIVER a period pewter tankard bought in the lanes nearby
ABOARD THE ENTERPRISE A later lugger that is preserved and on display at the Hastings Fisherman's Museum (once the fisherman's church) on the Rock-a-Nore


  1. A fascinating post. I do believe you could lead Guinea Boat tours. The story behind the story, strange coincidences and all.

  2. Guinea Boat tours are a great idea (but I don't think I could handle so much fish and chips...).

  3. Wonderful photos and descriptions of historic Hastings. Nothing like this in California! Though we have good maritime museums in San Diego and San Francisco.

  4. I remember seeing over an elderly merchant ship in San Francisco harbour; to a young mind it was totally fascinating. (That was in the mid 'sixties, so I guess she is even more elderly now.)


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