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Who was The Skipper’s Child?

April 28, 2018

This post was originally published in December 2015. I’ve updated it because it has new relevance now.

Most people who read my blog and know something of what I write associate me with memoirs about my watery life or about my years in South Africa. Some of you may also know I have written two novels as well, although in some sense both of these are biographical too. My novel with the ridiculously long name (sorry!) about breeding sheep, geese and English eccentrics is strongly rooted in my own pre-South Africa life on a smallholding in Dorset. The storyline is fiction, but the characters and the animals are very much based on my somewhat alternative family although I admit I prefer my book characters to one or two of the real life versions.

The same is true of The Skipper’s Child, a sort of cat and mouse adventure set on Europe’s waterways in December 1962 at the height of the Cold War. 1962/63 was also the longest and coldest winter on record in Europe in the 20th century, even exceeding 1947, I believe. The story is woven around the Kornet family: Hendrik, a commercial barge skipper, his wife Marijke and their three children, Anneke, Arie and Jannie. Essentially, this family is based on my partner Koos’s parents and two sisters.

FernhoutFamily2

When I first met Koos, he told me many stories of what life was like for a skipper’s kind. It was neither glamorous nor exciting and despite travelling all over the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, he felt very restricted as they were always on the move and he could rarely leave the barge. All the same, I was fascinated by the stories of family life on board and the tough conditions they considered quite normal for their way of life.

FernhoutFamily

I knew then I wanted to write about this old and very special way of life. Skippers these days have quite a luxurious lifestyle with all possible mod-cons and even their cars travel with them. In Koos’s time, they had no electricity, no central heating and no interior insulation either, so it was not unusual in the winter for them to wake to ice on the inside of the cabin; and on occasions, they even got frozen in and had to walk across the ice to get to land.

KobieArend

Thinking about all of this sowed the seeds of a fictional story in which I could incorporate both Koos’s memories and also a few of the anecdotes his father told him about earlier times, especially during and after the war. And so Arie, The Skipper’s Child, was born. The outcome is an adventure involving Russian spies, secret service agents and a young stowaway who has failed in a mission that he was not aware he was undertaking until he overhears a conversation where he learns what his fate was to be.

The main target audience for the story was my younger self. It was the sort of book I’d have been reading in my early teens, so I set that as the ‘age’ for the reader. But in truth, most of its readers have been adults: firstly on a blog where I played out the story for a number of followers, and later when people started buying the book. The only real YA (young adult) feedback I’ve had has been from The Wishing Shelf Awards whose panel of judges for all the YA entries were teenage school children. Luckily for me, they liked it and The Skipper’s Child won a Silver Award.

But why am I telling this story now? It’s recently been re-edited and published in its second edition, so I’m really hoping a few more people will give it a try. I am trying to market it towards a more general audience rather than just older children as I feel it can appeal to a wide range of readers. While I am very, very pleased that readers enjoy my memoirs, of course my creative side is much more attached to my fictional stories, and The Skipper’s Child in particular. Funny how the harder you have to work for something, the more it means to you, but that’s how it goes.

So, if you feel like something completely different from the usual action packed adventure, you might like Arie’s story. The link to the book and all the reviews is here (update: and also at Amazon UK). The link to a very nice review can be found below too.

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6 Comments
  1. I enjoyed this book, but it is for a YA reader, I agree.

    • Thanks, Lucinda. There is something in the ‘voice’ of a YA book, I know, and that’s what I wrote it to be, so I’m extra pleased that adults have enjoyed it too.

  2. expatangie permalink

    Fascinating Val, I can imagine a television series being made of your memoirs, you’ve like a guardian angel of precious memories

    • Why thank you! That’s such a lovely image! What a special thing to say 🙂

      • I’ve just twigged which Angie you are!! That explains the lovely comment 🙂 🙂

  3. This is so awesome, Val. And I love “The Skipper’s Child.” It’s stuck with me over the years and reading it again was a joy.

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