A Salt Stained Year – an author insight by Julia Jones

The Strong Winds Trilogy

It’s been a year since The Salt-Stained Book, the first volume in my Strong Winds trilogy, was published. The second instalment A Ravelled Flag came out in November 2011 and was reviewed in this magazine in January 2012. The story will end with Ghosting Home, ready to be published at the beginning of July.

It’s been a year in my characters’ lives as well. 13 year-old-Donny and his mother Skye arrived in Essex early one September after a long slow journey down from Leeds. “They could have walked it faster,” says Donny, who doesn’t know that this is the beginning of his voyage of (self) discovery. It all goes wrong for them in Colchester and they are separated. Donny travels on to the Shotley peninsula in Suffolk, where, for the first time in his life, he encounters water, “blue-grey and glinting like a CD in the sun”. Donny only knows what he has read so he calls it ‘Gitche Gumee’ from the poem Hiawatha. In fact it’s Alton Water near Ipswich.

I consciously began jotting down ideas for these stories long before I began to write them. I was sitting beside Alton Water watching my two youngest children having their first sailing lessons in Optimist dinghies. I should have been studying but it was so much more fun watching these very young children being encouraged to sail independently almost from their first day. Some succeeded better than others. “There was only one dinghy near him now: a very small white dinghy with a florescent striped sail. It appeared to be going nowhere – except backwards, sometimes, or sideways, quite often.” In the supervised context of a water sports centre the child in that dinghy would soon be reassured by a safety boat: for the sake of my fiction I imagined a few long lonely moments and Donny got his first opportunity. “The few hundred metres beat in that tiny beginners’ dinghy was one of the great experiences of Donny’s life.”

Sailing, it seems to me, remains an antidote to our modern tendency to over-protect. The SOLAS regulations become ever more complicated and, in Ghosting Home, my circumnavigating heroine, Great Aunt Ellen, does get caught by the small print. When I was a child, sailing on Arthur Ransome’s former yacht, Peter Duck, my parents’ constant question was “Is that seamanlike?”  I took various RYA courses in 2006 – 2007 while I was writing the first drafts of these stories. Most of them seemed to be putting the same question into more formal language. “If not duffers …”etc. I do lots of my thinking on board Peter Duck. That winter I kept her in Shotley Marina. When, in A Ravelled Flag, Great Aunt Ellen remembers that the waves came down the River Stour “like walls” I can assure readers that’s exactly what they did.

Donny’s adventures have taken him a little further in each volume and Claudia Myatt has drawn the maps to prove it. The children’s experiences have developed their view of the world and I hope they all seem slightly older by the end. One of my personal favourite moments is when five of them stand looking out to sea from Britain’s most easterly point, Lowestoft Ness. “They could go anywhere now,” thinks Donny in the last lines of Ghosting Home.

This has been a memorable, unrepeatable year for me. Now that Ghosting Home is ready to launch I feel as if I’ve reached a navigational safe-water mark – the Woodbridge Haven buoy, perhaps. I know where I am on the chart: I’ll need to decide where to go next.

Julia Jones

(ed comments) Ghosting Home will be reviewed on this site tomorrow. But you can read reviews and get hold of the other parts of the trilogy by clicking the appropriate links below.  

The Salt Stained Book and  A Ravelled Flag are reviewed on this site.

Ghosting Home is reviewed TOMORROW on this site.

These are also available in paperback from booksellers and libraries.