Something fishy. A historical and personal look at Hull, along with an eclectic marine related reading list – with a few red herrings! #Hull #ReadingList

Before embarking on my recent holiday with my mum I spent a few days in my home town of Hull. As we went into town for Sunday lunch we passed the Maritime Museum and I realised I’d never actually visited the museum. In my defence it only moved to its current, central location in 1974 when I was 16, so not the natural choice of venue for a teenage girl. As I left Hull in 1980 I’ve never really had the opportunity since. So with free time after lunch we decided to visit the museum.

The museum is housed in the Victorian Dock Offices, Queen Victoria Square. The offices were designed by Christopher G Wray and opened in 1871. Now they display Hull’s maritime activities from the late 18th century to present. It houses documents, ship models, paintings, illustrations and artefacts from Hull’s whaling, fishing and merchant trade including a full sized whale skeleton.


Hull Maritime Museum - Galleries.jpg
Copyright Hull City Council


Hull’s maritime history is a long and prestigious one dating back to the 13th century.  Originally known as  Wyke on Hull, the port was founded by the monks of Meaux Abbey as a place from which to export the wool from their estates. Their chosen place was conveniently located at the junction of the rivers Hull and Humber. The exact date that Wyke was founded is unknown but its first mention was in 1193. In 1296 King Edward I bought Wyke, and the neighbouring settlement of Myton, from the monks of Meaux. This purchase enabled him to benefit from the customs revenues of the port and gain a base for sending supplies to his troops in Scotland.

By a Charter, dated 1 April 1299, King Edward conferred a new name on the town, namely Kingston upon Hull, (now commonly just called Hull). It also received the status of a borough and was to become a self governing community, with its own court, coroner, market and taxation.


Hull charter
Copyright Hull History Centre


As the port grew it’s exports continued to be mainly wool, cloth and corn while it imported wood, leather, furs, salt and fish. The growth of overseas trade in the 16th century made Hull the leading trading centre in the North of England and England’s third largest port.

In the 17th century it was one of the pioneering whaling ports, but it became more important after the early 19th century. Whales were caught for their oil, whalebone and other by products. During its peak between c1815-1825 it employed some 2000 men in what was a dangerous occupation. Of the whalers who left Hull for the hunting grounds in Greenland between 1772 to 1852 some 4% were lost at sea.

The switch in prominence from whaling to trawling took place in the mid 18th century. The first trawlers came to Hull from Ramsgate and Brixham c1845. Records from 1857 record 313 men employed in fishing and nearly all were from Ramsgate. The emergence of the railways and the discovery of the ‘Silver Pits’ fishing grounds, some 70 miles from Spurn Point in the North Sea, boosted Hull’s growth as a trawling centre. With less than 30 fishing smacks in 1845, the fleet had grown to to 270 by 1863. Most of these boats were individually owned by men owning one or two boats. In 1885 the first steam trawler The Magenta was launched and this saw the decline of the traditional fishing smacks. By 1903 only steam trawlers left Hull.  This change saw the fleet increasingly transferred into corporate hands, with fewer, but larger companies fishing in the North Sea, Iceland and the Baltic for cod and haddock. In 1913 some 230 out of a fleet of nearly 400 trawlers were owned by just 4 firms.

1906 map of hull

The fishing industry created more jobs onshore than off and the majority of those employed in the fishing industry lived in the Hessle Road area, near the fish docks. The census of 1831 showed 15,000 inhabitants in the area, this had grown to 54,000 by 1871. It was an area with a distinctive way of life and community spirit. Women played a crucial role in supporting the industry working in the filleting sheds, smoking and packing kippers, brining fillets and making the trawl nets. With the seamen away for three weeks at a time and only three days at home, the area developed a unique matriarchal society.

(The bulk of the detail in this post is taken from The Story of Hull and its People by Elizabeth Frostick published by Hull City Museums & Art Galleries, 1990)

The trawling industry declined during the mid 20th century. As the trawlers grew in size and mechanisation increased, fewer hands were needed on board.  Restrictions in fishing areas highlighted by the Cod Wars with Iceland between 1958 and 1976 accelerated the decline. By 1981 Hull had a fleet of only 22 trawlers, by 1989 there were less than a dozen. In Sept 2018 Hull saw its first trawler The Kirkella (owned by UK Fisheries) land the first catch of around 700 tonnes of cod and haddock from the North Atlantic in over a decade.

I enjoyed my visit to the museum, though I’ll admit my perusal of the whaling exhibits was fairly brief. I appreciate whaling played an important part in the city’s growth, but I guess with more modern sensibilities I didn’t really want to know the finer details. The trawling history was something that meant more to me as it was something I grew up with more of an understanding of. However the pièce de résistance for me was the fabulous Court Room. 

Maritime Court Room.jpg
Copyright the AA



While technically born in East Hull at the Hedon Road Maternity Hospital, I spent the first six years of my life living on Hessle Road, first in St. Barnabas Terrace, Walcott Street and then down Rugby Street. It was a no frills existence, an outside loo, no central heating and a tin bath in front of the fire on a Saturday night. My dad did go to sea, but he was in the Royal Navy so usually away for much longer than three weeks at a time. Consequently I did grow up with largely female role models namely my mum and my Nanna, who we’d lived with when I was first born.


Even when we’d moved a whole six streets away, I used to love going to stay with my Nanna at the weekend, not least because she had a telly and we’d watch Rawhide together. Nanna did work on the docks, not directly in the fishing industry but at Stanton’s canteen, a St. Andrews Dock institution. When younger, my mum would walk me up to see her and she always had a Kit-Kat waiting for me. When I started primary school it was at West Dock Avenue School, the old alma mater of Sir Tom Courtenay no less, another proud Hessle Roader.  My mum took great umbrage with our Tom when he wrote in Dear Tom; Letters from Home:-

Nobody from West Dock Avenue School had ever been to a University. I was the first, and I think the last

Just as well she couldn’t contact him as he’d have had another letter informing him he wasn’t!

I’m sure growing up in area steeped in fishing lore is also the reason I still uphold certain superstitions that I cannot break. The weirdest being that I always break the bottom of the egg shell once I’ve finished a boiled egg otherwise a witch could use the egg as a boat and cause havoc at sea.  Yes, I know this is 2019, but old habits die hard and you can never be too careful.

The Hessle Road years (photo’s)


I left Hessle Road c1964/5 and moved to Clifton Street, still in the West of the city (the River Hull being the dividing line – it also dictated which Ruby League team you supported). I was nearly 10 when Hull was plunged into what I still remember as a black cloud of misery. The Triple Trawler tragedy of 1968 saw the loss of 58 men when 3 Hull trawlers, the St Romanus, the Kingston Peridot and the Ross Cleveland were lost in the space of 10 days. It was like a pall hung over the city. In an era of no internet and social media everyone was tuned into the radio, tv news and eager for updates via The Hull Daily Mail. Sadly as tragic as these losses were, it was not uncommon. What made this so traumatic was the fact they were lost so closely together.

Hull historian Alec Gill calculated that between the 1840s and 1970s at least 10,000 Hull men were lost in the Arctic deep-fishing industry. Though the real figure was probably much higher because official records only reflect the lost trawler and not the lost deckhands! In this day and age of what often feels like over over obsessive Health and Safety Regulations it’s hard to realise that there was little due care afforded the trawlermen. The Triple Trawler tragedy prompted Lilian Biloca a Hull fishwife to  demand better safety on the ships. Big Lil’ along with Christine Jensen, Mary Denness and Yvonne Blenkinsop formed the Hessle Road Women’s Committee at a meeting of concerned family members. This culminated in hundreds of women, led by Lil’,  storming the offices of trawler owners. This army of fishwives was christened the ‘Headscarf Revolutionaries’ but the safety changes they called for were long overdue and not unreasonable. One such demand was all trawlers had a radio operator on board, it seems unbelievable considering the conditions they worked in, that this was not a basic requirement.


Headscarf 1
Image taken from Hull Daily Mail


Sadly, the changes they fought for did not solve all problems and the city was stunned again in 1974 when the Gaul was lost with all hands. By the mid 70’s the industry was severely in decline, largely due to the effects of the Cod Wars which after nearly 20 years came to an end (too late) in 1976. 

The Maritime Museum had an interesting video interview with Mary Denness about the ‘Revolutionaries’ and that was very interesting for mum as she hadn’t seen it before. Mary had been mum’s friend growing up on Hessle Road, they went to dances together before they were married and though Mary got married and moved away, letters and card were always exchanged at Christmas. Mum last saw Mary when she attended her 70th birthday so it was a bittersweet video as sadly Mary died aged 79, in 2017.

Headscarf 2
Yvonne Blenkinsop, Mary Denness, Lilian Biloca and Christine Jensen


The Cod Wars played a part in the demise of my career before it had even started. As a politically naive and shy 18 year old I headed off to Leeds in early 1976 for an interview with the Civil Service. This was a big thing for me, my first train journey on my own and my first job interview. After the niceties, the first question – what would I do to end the Cod Wars? What indeed, as people more informed than me had failed to do anything since 1958 I was flummoxed – end of a promising career. As it happened it was probably a blessing. My 18 year old, uninformed self left school after ‘A’ levels and drifted into accountancy. By the age of 22 I had a much better idea of what I wanted from life and decided to go to University (take note Tom) to start on a totally different journey.  


Something Fishy : A Reading List


Headscarf RevolutionariesThe Headscarf Revolutionaries by Brian W Lavery

In the harsh seas of 1968, three trawlers from Hull sank in just three weeks. 58 men died. That broke the heart of many in the city. One fishwife put down her filleting knife, picked up some sheets of paper, and stormed into action. Lilian Bilocca started with a petition, took her battle to the docks at dawn, and then led a raid on Parliament. Lilian and her team of women changed the Shipping Laws. In just a few days of action, the lives of thousands of seamen were made much safer. She became a TV star and an international celebrity. It is hard to live down fame like that in the back streets of Hull. It was harder still for the one man who battled the storms as the trawlers sank to be the lone survivor. The Headscarf Revolutionaries thrills with the dangers of the high seas; inspires with the passion of women who changed their world; and reveals the vivid life inside one of the most vital communities of recent history.



Dear TomDear Tom : Letters From Home by Tom Courtenay

Tom Courtenay was born in Hull in 1937 and brought up near the fish dock where his father worked. When he left home for university, his mother, Annie, wrote to him every week and when her letters became more searching and more intimate in response to Tom’s unhappiness he kept every one, not knowing that after her early death they were to become his most treasured possession.

Tom has selected the best of them to go in this book and interwoven with them a portrait of what was going on in his life at the time, in the heady days of the early Sixties when successful young working-class actors were coming to the fore for the first time. Annie’s letters are astonishing – wise, funny, with a natural instinct for words, but also deeply painful. She knows she’s worthy of a better, more creative life, but she hasn’t been given the chance.

Partly a memoir of a working-class way of life that has gone for ever, partly a powerfully moving record of the love between mother and son, partly a portrait of the artist as a young actor, Dear Tom is sure to excite admiration and delight in equal measure.



Empty Nets and PromisesEmpty Nets and Promises (Novella) by Denzil Meyrick

It’s July 1968, and redoubtable fishing-boat skipper Sandy Hoynes has his daughter’s wedding to pay for – but where are all the fish? He and the crew of the Girl Maggie come to the conclusion that a new-fangled supersonic jet which is being tested in the skies over Kinloch is scaring off the herring.

First mate Hamish, who we first met in the D.C.I. Daley novels, comes up with a cunning plan to bring the laws of nature back into balance. But as the wily crew go about their work, little do they know that they face the forces of law and order in the shape of a vindictive Fishery Officer, an Exciseman who suspects Hoynes of smuggling illicit whisky, and the local police sergeant who is about to become Hoynes’ new son-in-law.



North WaterThe North Water by Ian McGuire

A ship sets sail with a killer on board . . .
1859. A man joins a whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. Having left the British Army with his reputation in tatters, Patrick Sumner has little option but to accept the position of ship’s surgeon on this ill-fated voyage. But when, deep into the journey, a cabin boy is discovered brutally killed, Sumner finds himself forced to act. Soon he will face an evil even greater than he had encountered at the siege of Delhi, in the shape of Henry Drax: harpooner, murderer, monster . . .



ShallowsShallows by Tim Winton

One hundred and fifty years after the establishment of land-based whaling in Australia, its last outpost is Angelus, a small town already struggling for survival. Long-dormant passions are awakened by the arrival of the conservationists, who threaten the town’s livelihood and disturb the fragile peace under which its inhabitants live.




Song of the SeaSong of the sea by Jane Dolby

Jane Dolby fell in love with a fisherman – the most dangerous peacetime occupation that exists – leading her to find a place in a traditional British world that many have forgotten.

Jane was not expecting to fall in love, but she did with Colin, a local fisherman in her hometown. Then one day she faces the loss every fisherman’s wife fears: the disappearance of her husband when his boat overturns at sea. Three days later, the boat is finally dredged up, without Colin. At the same time as Jane struggles with her grief, she must fight to keep a roof over her family’s heads. With the help and kindness of friends and strangers, the fishing world rallies around one of their own and in time, Jane forms a plan to give something back to the community that has helped her. Jane brings together 40 women from fishing communities up and down the country to release a charity single, founding The Fishwives Choir, and gives a voice to women previously unheard.



The Fishing FleetThe Fishing Fleet by Anne De Courcy

The adventurous young women who sailed to India during the Raj in search of husbands.

From the late 19th century, when the Raj was at its height, many of Britain’s best and brightest young men went out to India to work as administrators, soldiers and businessmen. With the advent of steam travel and the opening of the Suez Canal, countless young women, suffering at the lack of eligible men in Britain, followed in their wake. This amorphous band was composed of daughters returning after their English education, girls invited to stay with married sisters or friends, and yet others whose declared or undeclared goal was simply to find a husband. They were known as the Fishing Fleet, and this book is their story, hitherto untold.

For these young women, often away from home for the first time, one thing they could be sure of was a rollicking good time. By the early 20th century, a hectic social scene was in place, with dances, parties, amateur theatricals, picnics, tennis tournaments, cinemas and gymkhanas, with perhaps a tiger shoot and a glittering dinner at a raja’s palace thrown in. And, with men outnumbering women by roughly four to one, romances were conducted at alarming speed and marriages were frequent. But after the honeymoon, life often changed dramatically: whisked off to a remote outpost with few other Europeans for company, and where constant vigilance was required to guard against disease, they found it a far cry from the social whirlwind of their first arrival.



Children Of The TideChildren of the Tide by Val Wood

It is the late 1850s and a tired woman holding a baby walks from Hull to one of the big houses in Anlaby – the home of the wealthy Rayners. She knocks at the door, and shoves the baby at young James Rayner. The father was ‘young Mr Rayner’, and the mother is dead. Then she vanishes.

The respectable shipping family of Hull are shattered. No one wants to take responsibility for the baby and it is about to be put into an orphanage when Sammi, James’s cousin, decides to take the baby back to her parents’ home on the Holderness coast. James is banished to London, and disaster begins to beset the three branches of the Rayners.

The third novel in The Hungry Tide sequence, this epic, many-faceted story of three related families tells the triumphs and tragedies of their lives, as the whaling industry of Hull begins to decline, and the farmlands and homes continue to slip into the sea.



cruel-tideCruel Tide by Ruth Sutton

Barrow, 1969

The gruesome discovery of fingers pointing skywards out of a quicksand in Morecambe Bay gives local journalist Judith Pharaoh her first real chance to impress her Editor.

But soon she is dragged into a dangerous mire of deceit with only young Detective Constable Sam Tognarelli to help her.

Sam has troubles of his own and he and Judith struggle with each other, their bosses, and a conspiracy that is determined to hide the dreadful truth.

And as the mystery deepens Judith’s own life is put in danger.

Can Judith and Sam expose the dark secrets behind the conspiracy? Or will the cruel tide turn against them…?



Shoreline and the SeaThe Shoreline and the Sea by John Porter

The novel centres around Walker, an English photographer who arrives in a small Italian village one morning. His girlfriend has gone missing – abducted? or has she abandoned him? – and the village seems a good a place as any to begin looking for answers. This place has its own secrets, however, throwing up many more mysteries, and providing only more questions when all Walker craves are answers. As Walker becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the village’s strange characters, events threaten to overpower him…



LarkinlandLarkinland by Jonathan Tullock

Arriving in 1950s Hull, Arthur Merryweather finds himself lodging with the landlady from hell, and falling in love with fellow librarian Niamh O Leary. But just as their love threatens to bloom, the mystery of Mr Bleaney, the enigmatic insurance salesman who rented his room before him, threatens to pull the poet into disaster and cast him into the criminal hinterland of fish town , that sublimely banal Larkinland beached on the mudflats at the end of the railway line, like a brick seal with a woodbine in its gob .



We Were the Salt of the SeaWe Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

Truth lingers in murky waters…

As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation.
On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters. It’s enough to make DS Moralès reach straight for a large whisky…
Both a dark and consuming crime thriller and a lyrical, poetic ode to the sea, We Were the Salt of the Sea is a stunning, page-turning novel, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.



High TideHigh Tide by Veronica Henry

Pennfleet might be a small town, but there’s never a dull moment in its narrow winding streets …

Kate has only planned a flying visit to clear out the family home after the death of her mother. When she finds an anonymous letter, she is drawn back into her own past.

Single dad Sam is juggling his deli and two lively teenagers, so romance is the last thing on his mind. Then Cupid fires an unexpected arrow – but what will his children think?

Nathan Fisher is happy with his lot, running picnic cruises up and down the river, but kissing the widow of the richest man in Pennfleet has disastrous consequences.

Vanessa knows what she has done is unseemly for a widow, but it’s the most fun she’s had for years. Must she always be on her best behaviour?

As autumn draws in and the nights grow longer, there are sure to be fireworks.



sealskinSeal Skin by Su Bristow

What happens when magic collides with reality?

Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous … and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?

Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice.

Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set. And it is, quite simply, unforgettable.



Writing HullWriting Hull edited by Martin Goodman

Sixteen writers bring Hull and its surrounds to vivid life in a collection of bright writing. Hull Fair, the mean streets of Barton, wartime memories, raw stories from the Humber and the seas, tales from Spurn Point to Scarborough, history from the medieval to yesterday, this books holds a great city at its heart.

All writers are graduates of the Creative Writing Masters programme at the University of Hull.




Cod - A Biography of the Fish That Changed the WorldCod by Mark Kurlansky

The Cod. Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been triggered by it, national diets have been based on it, economies and livelihoods have depended on it. To the millions it has sustained, it has been a treasure more precious that gold. This book spans 1,000 years and four continents. From the Vikings to Clarence Birdseye, Mark Kurlansky introduces the explorers, merchants, writers, chefs and fisherman, whose lives have been interwoven with this prolific fish. He chronicles the cod wars of the 16th and 20th centuries. He blends in recipes and lore from the Middle Ages to the present. In a story that brings world history and human passions into captivating focus, he shows how the most profitable fish in history is today faced with extinction.



The Herring Seller's ApprenticeThe Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L C Tyler

Ethelred Tressider is a writer with problems. His latest novel is going nowhere, a mid-life crisis is looming and he’s burdened by the literary agent he probably deserves: Elsie Thirkettle, who claims to enjoy neither the company of writers nor literature of any kind. And as if things weren’t bad enough for Ethelred, his ex-wife, Geraldine, is reported missing when her Fiat is found deserted near Ethelred’s Sussex home. The disappearance soon becomes a murder investigation and there is no shortage of suspects. Soon the nosy, chocolate-chomping Elsie has bullied Ethelred into embarking upon his own investigation, but as their enquiries proceed, she begins to suspect that her client’s own alibi is not as solid as he claims.



Not Forgetting The WhaleNot Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger

If you were looking for the perfect escape, where would you go? This is the heartwarming story of one man who has given up hope and the village that gives it back to him.

When a young man washes up, naked, on the sands of St Piran in Cornwall, he is quickly rescued by the villagers. From the retired village doctor and the beachcomber, to the priest’s flirtatious wife and the romantic novelist, they take this lost soul into their midst. But what the villagers don’t know is that Joe Haak is a city analyst who has fled London, fearing he may – inadvertently – have caused a global financial collapse.

But is the end of the world really nigh? And what of the whale that lurks in the bay? Intimate, funny and heart-warming, Not Forgetting the Whale is a story about community, the best and worst in our nature, and the search for a place to call home.



harbour-masterThe Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey

Henk van der Pol is a 30-year-term policeman, a few months off retirement. When he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Harbour, his detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his jurisdiction. Warned off investigating the case, Henk soon realises he can trust nobody, as his search for the killer leads him to discover the involvement of senior police officers, government corruption in the highest places, Hungarian people traffickers, and a deadly threat to his own family…



The Fisher LassThe Fisher Lass by Margaret Dickinson

Flame-haired Jeannie Buchanan has spent all her life in the shadow of the dark North Sea. Working with freezing fingers to gut the precious herring, she follows the fleet south, travelling far away from her Scottish home.

When her beloved father’s trawler goes missing, Jeannie must face up to life on her own. But her fiery temper and fierce independence attract powerful and devious enemies.

By standing up to the Hayes-Gorton family, she could be threatening the future of those she cares for most. By denying a man prepared to sacrifice all his privileges for a chance to offer his devotion, she could be facing years of unhappiness. Amidst the great social upheaval of the inter-war years, Jeannie must search again for the real love she has always denied herself.



secrets-of-the-sea-houseSecrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

Scotland, 1860. Reverend Alexander Ferguson, naïve and newly-ordained, takes up his new parish, a poor, isolated patch on the Hebridean island of Harris. His time on the island will irrevocably change the course of his life, but the white house on the edge of the dunes keeps its silence long after Alexander departs.

It will be more than a century before the Sea House reluctantly gives up its secrets. Ruth and Michael buy the grand but dilapidated building and begin to turn it into a home for the family they hope to have. But their dreams are marred by a shocking discovery. The tiny bones of a baby are buried beneath the house; the child’s fragile legs are fused together – a mermaid child. Who buried the bones? And why? Ruth needs to solve the mystery of her new home – but the answers to her questions may lie in her own past.

Based on a real nineteenth-century letter to The Times in which a Scottish clergyman claimed to have seen a mermaid, Secrets of the Sea House is an epic, sweeping tale of loss and love, hope and redemption, and how we heal ourselves with the stories we tell.



Sea CreaturesSea Creatures by Val Harris

In Talland Bay, on the Cornish coast, a mother vanishes without trace, leaving behind her husband and three young children. The mystery that surrounds her disappearance lingers in the psyche of each one of them, shaping the people they are and their experiences in life, and it forces them apart. Then, without warning, almost half a century later, the family receive some extraordinary news. Their mother has resurfaced. Linked together again, the estranged siblings struggle to come to terms with a return to painful ground and the resurfacing of memories they would rather forget. Their futures are unsettled and full of emotional turmoil.



The Old Man and His SonsThe Old Man and his Sons by Heðin Brú

These are the Faroe Islands as they were some fifty years ago: sea-washed and remote, with one generation still tied to the sea for sustenance, and a younger generation turning towards commerce and clerical work in the towns. At the post-hunt whale-meat auction, the normally cautious Ketil enthusiastically bids for more meat than he can afford. Thus in his seventieth year, Ketil and his wife, along with their youngest son, struggle to repay their debt. They scavenge for driftwood and stranded seals, and knit up a storm of jumpers to sell in town. A touching novel that deftly captures a vanishing way of life.



dark-waterDark Water by Sara Bailey

Friendship doesn’t die, it waits…

“I couldn’t help but be fascinated by this book. It uses the Orkney setting beautifully, and the islands are intertwined with the story of a woman facing the past she’d evaded for years: both in the clarity of the light and the roughness of the sea. It uses suspense and structure with skill …The final scene was brilliantly described. Suspense, sex and selkie girls: irresistible!” – Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun, Winner of the Wainwright Prize 2016

A haunting and lyrical novel, ‘Dark Water’ is a psychologically intense portrait of adolescent yearning and obsession, set in the beautiful Orkney Islands.

When Helena returns to her childhood home in Orkney to care for her father after a heart attack, she is forced to face memories that she has spent half a lifetime running from.

Still haunted by the disappearance of her best friend, the charismatic Anastasia – who vanished during a daredevil swimming incident – Helena must navigate her way though the prisms of memory and encounter not only her ghosts but also her first love, Dylan, the only one who can help her unravel the past and find her way back to the truth of what really happened that night.



Bllod Salt WaterBlood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina

Salt water lifts blood. Only salt water.

Loch Lomond is a mile deep but the woman’s body surfaced anyway. Found bludgeoned and dumped in the water, she now haunts Iain Fraser, the man who put her there. She trusted him and now that misplaced trust is gnawing through Iain’s chest. He thinks it will kill him.

Nearby Helensburgh is an idyllic Victorian town. One-time home to a quarter of all the millionaires in Britain, it is quaint, sleepy and chocolate-box pretty. But the real town is shot through with deception, lies and vested interests.

As tensions rise and the police seek a killer, the conflicts that lurk beneath Helensburgh’s calm waters threaten to explode. All Iain Fraser has to do is keep on lying.



Dandy Gilver and the Reek of Red HerringsDandy Gilver & the Reek of Red Herrings by Catriona McPherson

On the rain-drenched, wave-lashed, wind-battered Banffshire coast, tiny fishing villages perch on ledges which would make a seagull think twice and crumbly mansions cling to crumblier cliff tops while, out in the bay, the herring drifters brave the storms to catch their silver darlings. It’s nowhere for a child of gentle Northamptonshire to spend Christmas.

But when odd things start to turn up in barrels of fish – with a strong whiff of murder most foul – that’s exactly where Dandy Gilver finds herself. Enlisted to investigate, she and her trusty cohort Alec Osborne are soon swept up in the fisherfolk’s wedding season as well as the mystery. Between age-old traditions and brand-new horrors, Dandy must think the unthinkable to solve her grisliest case yet.



cold cold seaThe Cold, Cold Sea by Linda Huber

Maggie stared across the beach. The tide was coming in. But where was her daughter?

When three-year-old Olivia disappears from the beach, a happy family holiday comes to an abrupt end. Maggie is plunged into the darkest nightmare imaginable – what happened to her little girl?

Further along the coast, another mother is having problems too. Jennifer’s daughter Hailey is starting school, and it should be such a happy time, but the child has become moody and silent. Family life has never seemed so awkward, and Jennifer struggles to maintain control.

The tide ebbs and flows, and summer dies, but there is no comfort for Maggie, alone now at the cottage, or for Jennifer, still swamped by doubts.






  1. Great post Jill. The broken egg shell is a new one to me! One book which may also have fitted your water based reading list is How to be Brave by Hull based author Louise Beech.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Karen. I did think about including that one but I’ve got another feature planned for Hull author’s so was saving it. I also didn’t want to muddy the waters (excuse the pun) by including one Hull based author and not including others – though I appreciate this one had a specific sea theme, the others also feature Hull so there was an argument for including them given I’m writing about Hull.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sharon, you’d only have to listen to me, to have a fairly good guess as to where I came from 🙂 Glad you liked the book list too, I tried to make it varied with sea themed titles as much as content as I didn’t think books totally based around fishing would have been too popular!


  2. Fascinating post Jill – I still break the bottom of my eggs too! I was brought up on that witch theory, though no idea where it came from. My Dad was in the Navy during the 2WW but I’m sure the superstition came from my Mum’s side. Centuries ago they were pirates in the Outer Isles – so perhaps still a seafaring origin to it?!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such an interesting article, Jill. My great grandfather joined a whaling ship in Hull in1856 but he hated it so much that he left & joined the police force in London. His son joined a whaler in Grimsby & died falling from the mast.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems wrong to like this comment. Whaling seems like a hellish job to me, though going to sea generally in the days of scant regard for safety was fraught with danger as your family story bears out. I guess in those days, the choices and opportunities were fewer and you took the jobs that were available.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I thought it might be a bit left field, but I enjoyed writing it which is the main thing. If people read and enjoy it’s a bonus. Hull is no longer the port it was, but its past glories helped put it on the map.


  4. A fascinating post, Jill. I love the sound of Big Lil and The Headscarf Revolutionaries – sounds like it would make a great film. I enjoyed seeing the early photos of you, too. Right, going back to look over the list of other books – have a feeling I’ll be adding to the pile.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gosh what an incredible collection. I don’t know Hull well but was very impressed by everything I read about the Capital of Culture. Is Winifred Holtby’s “Land of Green Ginger” also based on s fictional version – dates but very readable.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You really took us on a journey with this fabulous post, Jill! I loved the info on Hull especially as my grandfather wrote a book he called the Sons of the Sea – A Tale of the Old Grimsby Fishermen. He fished out of there for a year in the North Sea. Later, he was shanghaied out of San Francisco and put on a whaler where he ended up in the Bering Sea. But he wrote about the Humber Estuary and dedicated his book (written in the late 1920s) to his Grimsby shipmates.

    Liked by 1 person

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