And furthermore ...

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010


Snapshots of people in canoes, on boats, ships and a submarine

A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree
Spike Milligan

The wise man crosses the great ocean
A frequent recommendation in I Ching trigrams

If you want to write a great novel but you’re absolutely stuck for inspiration, try this simple, foolproof device; put your characters in a boat and cut them adrift. You can give them whatever you want; a crew, a few supplies, a tiger (though that’s been done, twice) or nothing at all. Now, watch where the boat goes, to a specific destination or nowhere in particular, down river or out to sea; it’s your choice. You have every thing you need, character, plot and narrative structure. All you have to do is make one sentence follow another in a logical way that keeps the reader interested. We love stories set on boats. Anybody who has written a novel set on a boat, and anyone who has read a few, will tell you that the moment the character is on the water the story takes off.

Our fascination has everything to do with our psychic need for freedom. Once we are on a boat we have severed contact with solid earth. The rigours of our daily existence don’t mean so much when we pull the oars up and let the boat drift. The freedom is even more profound when we are on the open sea and have lost sight of land altogether, when we have no real idea of where we are. That’s real liberation. It’s also why some people find it terrifying. Some of us have to see land to feel safe. No surprise that in fiction so many people cast off and end up in hell.

We love taking photographs of people on boats. There are thousands of them out there; snapshots of people in dinghies the size of bathtubs, on yachts and on ocean liners, and wherever there are boats, people with cameras are not far away. Everybody photographed on a boat is going somewhere or coming back. In some cases they are rowing out no more than a few metres but in others they are crossing oceans. All of them are making a journey, which still has atavistic connotations with changing our lives. When we come back we are different, if only for a few minutes.


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