I live on the west coast of Scotland, and my writing room faces directly onto the Clyde estuary. The opportunities to avoid working are endless. I can watch the ferries plying back and forward across the river, follow warships and nuclear submarines as they make their slightly sinister way to and from the naval base at Faslane. I get a birds-eye view of the commercial traffic – tankers, trawlers and tiny lobster creelers, and in the summer months, huge cruise ships and the Waverley, the only surviving sea-going paddle steamer in the world.
But that’s not the only reason why ships and ship building keep cropping up in my books. My maternal grandfather was a captain in the Merchant navy, sunk twice during the same war (that he survived both is no great surprise since I’m here to tell the tale). My maternal grandmother was from the Isle of Lewis, where boat builders, fishermen and herring girls were an essential component of her island heritage.
My paternal grandfather worked in some of the biggest shipyards on the Clyde during the Second World War, and in in the 1960s, was part of the team that built the Queen Elizabeth II.
You could say that the sea is in my blood. So it’s not surprising that it courses through the blood of many of my heroes too.
In His Rags to Riches Contessa (to be released in November this year), Luca del Pietro has ambitions to establish a new, modern shipyard to help restore Venice’s pre-eminence as a trading power, and he’s spent the bulk of the last couple of years in Glasgow, learning from the best.
In Strangers at the Altar, my hero Innes Drummond breathes new life into his Highland home by encouraging well-heeled tourists to travel ‘doon the watter’ (as we say on the Clyde) in the first ever paddle steamers, to enjoy a bracing holiday by the sea far from the smog and grime of industrial Glasgow.
I created a fully-fledged Clyde shipbuilder in Ian Hunter, hero of Unwed and Unrepentant, and even went so far as to set his first (steamy, no pun intended!) encounter with his heroine in the heart of Glasgow’s docks, the Broomielaw.
And I just can’t seem to leave it be. Cameron Dunbar, hero of the last in the Matches Made in Scandal series, A Scandalous Winter Wedding (to be released in December this year) has been fascinated by the sea and trading ships since he was a wee boy. Now a self-made man with a fleet of ships based in Glasgow and a wood watches business in the same city, he’s always on the lookout for new markets and merchandise.
In a key (or should that be quay!) moment of the story, he takes Kirstin, the heroine, on a walk through London’s docklands in the East End to talk about his tragic past. I followed in his footsteps in the name of research, even though Docklands is now synonymous with converted warehouses, posh pubs and upmarket restaurants, a very different place from the one Cameron frequented. Most of the quays and docks have been filled in, but there’s enough left to give you real taste of what it must have been like in its bustling heyday, and I hope that I’ve managed to recreate that ambiance in the book.
I have no plans for another shipbuilding hero in my new series, working title The Convenient Marriage Agency, but I am thinking of setting one of the stories on an island, so the sea will doubtless feature. I am also going to be publishing a re-vamped version of one of my short stories, The Highlander and the Sea Siren, in serial form as a free read on this website, and funnily enough, Lachlan Sinclair just happens to be a boat builder. But that’s another salty tale for another day.