Starboard by Nicola Skinner is a brilliant book that celebrates our theme of Sail Away in A Story perfectly. We are thrilled to welcome Nicola to the blog today to gain some insight into her love for a ship and how it inspired a story.
SAIL AWAY IN A STORY
I have an insatiable desire to travel further than my own skin. Doesn’t everyone? To burst out of yourself once in a while, and see what it’s like to be alive as another human (or thing.) Perhaps it’s wanderlust or perhaps it’s that classic – and annoying – human condition of dissatisfaction, but once in a while, we want to be someone else, instead.
Reading and writing stories is the ultimate expression of travelling far away from ourselves. Sailing away in a story is still one of my favourite ways to get away from my limitations, towards the more exciting lands of imagination. As a writer, my third book, Starboard, gave me – and my readers – a chance to sail away, literally. To break free of our docks and explore the great world outside. I find it very hard to stop using sailing metaphors once I start them, sorry about that.
I wrote STARBOARD because I fell in love with a ship. A real ship, docked in the harbourside of my home city, Bristol. I’d never planned to write a book about a ship, or the sea. But when I first saw this particular ship – the SS Great Britain, designed by the dazzlingly inventive engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, shining away in the sun, I was instantly smitten. I wanted very much to give her one more turn around the world. It was obvious to me that her story wasn’t over, that she wasn’t quite done, and that despite what everyone was telling me, she wasn’t history. She had so much presence, so much life and character – I could practically touch it.
On my next visit, things got a little clearer. As I explored the ship with my daughter, an idea came. What if the ship decided she had one more journey left to make? What if she chose a child as her next captain, instead of an adult? Most importantly – where would they go?
Whenever I had spare time, I’d visit the vast archive within the Brunel Institute, to soak up the details of her history. That was when I came face-to-face with Isambard Brunel’s astonishing mind. I leafed through his diaries and designs, and learnt how much he cared for his constructions, speaking as lovingly of them as if they were his children.
Going further, I discovered more about the SS Great Britain’s astonishing riches-to-rags history; how she started life as a by-word for luxury and cutting edge technology, but grew shabbier, wasn’t invested in, and finally, was mutilated and abandoned, out in Sparrow Cove, after being damaged in a storm near the Falklands.
I was moved beyond words at the length of her abandonment – nearly eighty years, she stayed out there – and finally, I cheered and marvelled when reading about the successful rescue that brought her back home in 1970, to the same dock where she was made. All of which taught me that I wasn’t alone in having such an immediate connection with the SS Great Britain. Almost everyone who came into contact with her seemed to have the same powerful reaction to her, too, from Brunel to Captain Gray, her longest-serving captain, to Ewan Corlett, the naval architect who spearheaded her return home. Finally I knew where the ship in Starboard might be headed for – and why. I had a plot that I hoped could do justice to the ship herself.
I sailed so far into her story, and I made sure that the characters in Starboard too. I hope that, in reading the book, children will be inspired to go further, try more, invent, explore, and – just like the ship – defy their limits, once in a while.
Starboard by Nicola Skinner is published by Harper Collins and is available in paperback now.
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation.