Geraldine McCaughrean’s Sea Views

Who are you?

Geraldine McCaughrean – writer since I was eight, published since I was 28.

What was your first experience of working?

I delivered newspapers very early in the morning, every day. It paid 15 shilling (75p) a week, which meant I could ride a horse for an hour on Sundays. All the other riders were very posh and never spoke to me. But I was on a horse, instead of just imagining it as I walked to school holding the straps of my satchel like reins.

What is your earliest memory of being on or close to the sea?

I remember a rowing boat – Dad rowing. I looked over the side and saw kelp (long streaming seaweed). “There’s a squid!” I yelped. My father (laughing) agreed it probably was. So I spent the rest of the voyage rigid with terror, waiting for tentacles to reach over the side of the boat…

Who or what first attracted you to the sea?/What do you like most about…

Actually, I’m quite scared of its power and how easily it makes me throw up. I can’t look at those films of towering waves on a running sea. Still, I can see it’s both terrible and beautiful. I love all those susurrating, seething, sunlit, shushing, seagull-screeching sounds. Poured into a book it can be a great place for an adventure, stashed full of silvery fish and strange monsters, its deepest trenches less visited than the surface of the moon.

Do you have a favourite sea story or book or poem?

Aged 14, my husband went to school on a training ship, the HMS Conway, to become an officer in the Merchant Navy. Though he is 84 now he still meets up with his Conway mates every year, and every year they sing the Conway Song. It finishes up:

For the love of the ship that sent us forth,
From East and West and South and North,
Till the last tide turns and the last day’s gone,
Carry on, Carry on, Carry on!
Myself, I like John Masefield’s “Cargoes”
Quinquereme of Nineveh from
distant Ophir…

Who do you most admire for what they did at sea?

Apart from the ‘heroes’, Samuel Plimsoll, who saved hundreds of sailors’ lives just by having a line painted on every ship’s hull that would show when it had been overloaded and was not safe to set sail.

What lessons have you learned from the world of work?

That writing is far too much fun to call ‘work’ at all. …But then work doesn’t have to be the opposite of fun if you love what you do.

Why should we care about the sea?

It makes the skies above us blue. The clouds draw up its liquor and water the land. Millions of creatures call it home. It’s not a litter bin for us to throw our rubbish in. No one can stick a flag in it and claim it for their country (though China is trying to.) If it’s poisoned, the dry land will die. And so will we.

If you could be the captain of any ship, which would it be?

HMS Beagle bound for the Galapagos with Charles Darwin aboard.

Where in the world do you most like to be at, on or near the sea?

The Isle of Iona in Scotland where the sands are white, the sea’s turquoise and a velvet peace lies over everything. If you put up a sail, you could probably sail it all the way to Heaven.

What do you know now that …wish you had known before you left primary school?

That the sea is rising, swamping land because it’s too warm: the icecaps are melting at either end of the world… just as if it’s filling up with icy tears at the way we’ve treated it.