Something about Neil’s eyes said he’d seen more, too much more, sailing out of the harbor in the misty coastal Cornwall morning and while he wasn’t old and his tour boat was modern and sharp, the craggy rocks and tiny islands carved from mineral shorelines and high tide harbors, filled with fishing boats and harbor rats, (not rats at all but the children diving from ancient stone walls,) walls that protected them from fifty-foot waves and hundred mile winds, like the one that came just before Christmas in 1981, one that foundered the good ship Union Star, whose captain waited too long, fearful of salvage, to ask for help until eight of the finest watermen Cornwall ever grew would slip the lifeboat Solomon Browne, tight and yare, into the thrashing, would try to save the souls on board, would try to find their way back to their families and their Saturday night in the Ship’s Inn Pub, to tell tales of giant fish and singing sailing shanties, to remind the youngsters that Father Christmas rode such storms to deliver his goods to the good, but the briny sea, the sea from which they made their living, the sea that woke them in the morning with gentle surf lifting their fishing boats on the tide, the sea that set the boats back down in the evening to rest in the soft mud, the sea on which they’d courted their first loves, the sea into which they’d dived, as rats themselves, from ancient stone harbor walls, the sea that had rocked them to sleep as babes, the sea that held their hearts and minds and all their respect, spit back in anger and swallowed them all, the Union Star, the Solomon Browne, the Skipper and his crew and the eight fine watermen and left them with nothing but Christmas fairy lights and all plaques and monuments and a place in history, and a village of widows and orphans, like Neil.

8 Comments

  1. David O'Connor

    Georgina, this is a painting that sets the scene. I can see it and feel and get the feeling something is about to big happen. It feels like the start of a huge voyage. I’d buy a ticket. Well done!

  2. Len Kuntz

    Hi Georgina,

    This felt like a big gulp of air, filled with so many wonderful details, a sense of adventure and exploration, discovery and yearning. The “rats” bit at the beginning was really clever and shows great author authority. That opening line is really terrific, as is all that follows it. I’d read more, if you have it in you. Really gorgeous writing.

  3. Jonathan Cardew

    Georgiana!

    What a glorious soak in the craggy coastal waters of Cornwall! My family name, and all my ancestors, come from Cornwall, so I was particularly enamoured by this piece.

    And, gosh, what superb application of the breathless sentence! So glad you tried this. There is so much rhythm and momentum in this sentence (a hard trick to get right in the sentence story) and I love the way you mix up the sentence part starters, “would,” “like,” “the sea.” One risk of the sentence story is that it is too smooth, too one-dimensional but you avoid this with those different sentence part starters. I particularly liked the momentum and repetition of “the sea,…the sea…” This comes at just the right time (2/3 of the way in).

    And there is so much wonderful detail in this. The Christmas of 1981, the Union Star, the pub, the rats. I always remember a professor saying that we should strive for richness in our stories (richness of language, richness of minimalism, richness of details or richness of the lack thereof). In this piece, you build a beautiful rich mosaic of moments that stick with the reader.

    I love this bit: “the lifeboat Solomon Browne, tight and yare, into the thrashing, would try to save the souls on board.”

    HOW ABOUTS:

    1. Perspective. I mentioned this in your other piece. I’m a little distracted by Neil in this story–I’m not sure we need him. Can you remove him, and the story will still work? I’m not sure, but I feel like we would be fine “being” Neil ourselves, as in you could remove the character or even just remove the name (and frame it from a first-person perspective).

    2. Rats more? I love the bit with the rats! Can you bring them into the story more? Perhaps there could be a rats’ perspective?

    3. Pare it down? I wouldn’t really want to take much away from this, but it may be worth trying a slightly pared down version to compare and contrast with this original one.

    Since place is at the center of this story, I thought this might be a great fit at Newfound journal! Check them out (if you haven’t already!).

    Thanks for taking me on a trip to Cornwall!

    Cheers,

    Jonathan

  4. Benjamin Niespodziany

    Hell yes! This rules. Feel like I need a cold pint in order to listen along. Outside of the ‘1981’, it feels like it could be 100 years old (or older), and I almost want there to be that timelessness, as I feel there’s an antiquity to the voice. This one is great, especially the numerous ‘sea’s at the end.

  5. Kristin Bonilla

    I love the way Neil frames this story and takes it from being just another seaside memorial plaque (Here lies 8 sailors…) to the personal. Thinking of all that was lost. And yet. Neil still takes that boat out. Still has this relationship with the sea which is always a give and take relationship. (Actually makes me want a separate different story about Neil!)

  6. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Georgina, this is lush, diffused and I felt so riveted throughout with your gorgeous details. Wow, instantly transported to Cornwall! Like Ben, I want a brew to toast this piece! I want to sing along with the sailors! Love the rats bit, and the lulling, mesmerizing aspect of ‘the sea that,’ and ‘the sea that,’ in repetition. Poetic prose. Like the lulling of the sea itself. Just fantastic work!

  7. Wilson Koewing

    Georgina,

    A breathless beauty. I felt like I was almost in Old Cornwall. I love all the sea details. Gorgeous piece.

    Wilson

  8. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Francine, Gorgeously rendered tale of the seas, and the watermen and water life of Cornwall. My eyes watered in response. I love the details of the tide, the fishing boats rising and falling with it, “in the morning with gentle surf lifting their fishing boats on the tide, the sea that set the boats back down in the evening to rest in the soft mud, the sea on which they’d courted their first loves, the sea into which they’d dived, as rats themselves, from ancient stone harbor walls, the sea that had rocked them to sleep as babes, the sea that held their hearts and minds and all their respect,” Such beautiful details even without the Christmas storm of 1981. And then there was that!

    Send this out to the world.

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