Messing About In Boats

Ursula Le Guin once had a conversation with Halderman, which is ostensibly about boats but is actually about writing.

ALISON HALDERMAN: You do invent wonderful landscapes. The Earthsea trilogy creates such a vivid picture of the sea — have you done a lot of sailing?

URSULA LE GUIN: All that sailing is complete fakery. It’s amazing what you can fake. I’ve never sailed anything in my life except a nine-foot catboat, and that was in the Berkeley basin in about three feet of water. And we managed to sink it. The sail got wet and it went down while we sang “Nearer My God to Thee.” We had to wade to shore, and go back to the place we’d rented it and tell them. They couldn’t believe it. “You did what?” You know, it’s interesting, they always tell people to write about what they know about. But you don’t have to know about things, you just have to be able to imagine them really well.

The Last Interview

So there you go. You don’t have to ‘write what you know’. Write what you can imagine, and also what you are able to sufficiently and properly research.

Now for some illustrations of boats. I’ve roughly ordered them from cosy to dark. The boat scene can definitely be both!

For a wider discussion on the symbolism of ships, see here.

A fresh wave of loneliness swept over him. He had lost Flag and he had lost his father, too. The gaunt little man he had last seen crouched in pain in the kitchen doorway, calling for help to stand, was a stranger. He pushed out his dug-out and took up his paddle and headed for the open waters. He was out in the world, and it seemed to him that he was alien here, and alone, and that he was being carried away into a void. He paddled for the location where he had seen the steamer pass. Living was no longer the grief behind him, but the anxiety ahead. Leaving the mouth of the creek behind him, he found the wind freshening. Out from the shelter of the land a brisk breeze was blowing. He ignored the gnawing in his belly and paddled desperately. The wind caught the dug-out and slewed it around. He could not keep it headed. The waves were mounting. Their soft lapping changed to a hissing. They began to break over the bow of the canoe. When it swung sideways, they washed in and it tipped and rolled. There was an inch of water across the bottom. There was no vessel of any sort in sight.

He looked back. The shore had receded alarmingly. Ahead of him, the open water seemed to stretch without an end. He turned about in a panic and paddled madly for the shore. It would be best, after all, to go back up the creek and get help from Mis’ Nellie Ginright. It might be better even to walk to Fort Gates and make his way from there. The wind behind him helped him, and it seemed to him that he could feel the north-bound current of the great river. He headed for an opening that must be the end of the Salt Springs run. When he reached it, it was a blind opening in the shore that led only into swamp. The mouth of the run was nowhere to be found.

The Yearling, 1938

Header illustration: William Henry Knight – On the Thames 1859


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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