A little bit about Innocence, a little bit about boats, and quite a lot about me.
Growing up I remember being told to write what you know, to write about things relative to your own life experiences, otherwise your writing was not going to be authentic. But I discovered early on it’s not about writing what you know as such, it’s about writing what you feel, writing what moves you. Emotions are universal–man,woman, child, adult. We all feel something. We’re all scared, we all love, we all get hurt–it’s the language of our hearts.
And yet, I kinda did write what I know with this story. I did grow up on a boat, as does my main character, Christopher.
Funnily enough Christopher is the name of a very close relative of mine, so this story was going to be close to me from the start.
I grew up on an old fishing boat, not a canal boat like the one Christopher lives on. My mum called us sea gypsies, but I have no Romani blood.The pictures here look about a hundred years old (they’re not), it’s only the 1980’s, but we lost most of our possessions when we were shipwrecked in the Bay of Biscay when I was three and a half, and those things that weren’t lost, like these photographs, were damaged (mostly irreparably) by sea water.
I remember being ship wrecked vividly. We hit rocks. It was night and I had been sleeping. My mum had moved me to the front cabin earlier in the evening. She doesn’t know why she did that, but if she hadn’t I would have drowned. I wasn’t scared. I was only three and a half and my parents must have done a good job with being calm. I held onto the side of the boat as it sank into the water. My my dad dived into the sea to rescue our dingy that had floated off. Our boat went down pretty fast. I’m guessing minutes. She was a beautiful boat, all warm wood and brass. She was called Cruban.
(Cruban on the rocks-you can just about see the masts tilted into the rock.)
It took six hours of floating at sea (about twenty miles off the coast of France) in our dingy and setting off flares I had to cover my eyes for, before we were picked up by a large French fishing boat on its way home. I slept in a bunk with my mum, I remember it being like a cubby hole with a curtain across.
So that was how we lost our home.
While the French authorities tried to un-sink our boat, we lived first (I think) on a tiny French island, in a tent. We were the only inhabitants as far as I can remember, apart from the rats I used to chase thinking they were rabbits. And at one point I had a goat. After that I’m not sure where we lived but I remember a square white house in the middle of the field, with a mezzanine all around the inside. I remember a fishing village called Concarneau. I had a puppy. I called him Noisette (Hazelnut) and I gave him tea to drink.
We moved around so much a lot of my memories are disjointed. I’m not sure what happened first or last, only that things happened. I remember the sea on good days, I remember dolphins racing alongside us when we had a different, much faster boat–a yacht this time. I remember storms with fifty foot waves and trapping my fingers in the door as it swung shut on them in the middle of one. I remember travelling down French canals, the Camargue and playing in a dingy with an itchy seat. I remember sunshine and friends who couldn’t speak the same language as me. I remember playing on their long, narrow boats with their dark interiors and being fascinated by everything.
When I was small, I don’t remember being sad. We drifted and I loved the changes. Even now I find it hard to stay in one place. I make friends easily but I’ve also been bullied and rejected as an outsider more times that I can remember. I’ve never fitted into the groups of friends people make, because I was never anywhere long enough to know a group of people. And I’ve never felt that any one place was home. It’s these experiences that echo in Christopher’s story. Because these experiences echo on within me.
My dad still lives on a boat to this day.
Buy links for Innocence: