Cyril James MorrisApril 4, 2022
Known locally as the Herring Man, Samuel Evans was a fisherman and sailor. He travelled across the seas, sketching down his experiences and leaving his adventure stories as a legacy. His grandson Gwyn is the only living relative left to tell his tales, but he spends his days in silent isolation, fixing damaged fishing nets with the net-needle Samuel carved from a walrus tusk.
When a lonely young boy becomes intrigued with his boat and offers to help fix it, they form a bond that gives Gwyn hope he’ll be able to speak again. As he starts talking about the past he begins to leave a legacy of his own. A riddle for the young boy to solve.
Thanks to Cyril for answering a few questions for Libraries Wales recently about his new book…
What inspired you to write The Herring Man?
When I left the Royal Navy in the late 1970’s it was a challenging adjustment as I had known nothing else since the age of sixteen. I could find no new employment in Pembrokeshire at that time but wanted to live where I was brought up by the sea. At that time all I wanted to be was a fisherman and my prize possession was a 14ft clinker rowing boat with a seagull outboard motor. My cousin and I fished for herrings at night in the middle of winter in the Cleddau Estuary upstream from Milford Haven. The experience was magical. No profit for months on end, just a few fish to feed the cat, until one night we caught the ‘silver tube’. So many herrings that it almost sank the boat. Two days later a terrible storm did sink the boat and we could fish no more.
Success and tragedy just like ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Coleridge. I stored the memories and knew that one day I would be a writer.
Tell us a little about the story…
The Herring Man is a story of an old man, the last of his generation, who has been burdened with guilt for something terrible that he was responsible for in years gone by. He seeks redemption by carrying out a self-imposed penance which when completed and with God’s help will free him from guilt. In addition to this he can no longer find a way to pass on the stories of his previous families’ generations, a tradition that has always been the duty of the eldest member of the family. A young fatherless boy, curious about his old boat and more than willing to help, manages to strike up a relationship with him and between the two of them the story unfolds.
Where do you draw writing inspiration from?
My writing inspiration is drawn from:
People, true to life characters are to me the most important element of any story.
Places, the setting/location of the story must gel with the characters and of course, excite the reader’s imagination.
Finally, my lifetime experiences on my travels around the world.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
For me, the most difficult part of my writing experience is the continuity or even the non-continuity of the story so that it maintains the reader’s interest. A simple example of this is leaving a question unanswered for explanation in a later chapter of the book, but there are many other ways of doing this. The reader must always be left wondering what comes next and why.
What comes first for you – the plot or the characters – and why?
Definitely the characters. Why, for me they develop the story, they tell me what to write. They are my inspiration. I empathise with them, and I know how each one of them will react to various situations. They speak to me in a way that I understand their mission in the plot.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
What is good writing? Difficult question. It is, like art, a personal choice. For me poetry is the finest form of creative writing. A feeling, a sense of being, a story told in a few words, almost like music, the words and sentences must balance one another and blend together.
If you had to describe yourself in just three words, what would those be?
Like the ocean.
What books inspired you as a young reader?
Enid Blyton’s books, her adventure stories were so absorbing for young people. The best Christmas presents of my early years.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
The Old Man and the Sea. Ernest Hemingway
If you could invite any three people for dinner, whom would you invite?
David Jason, Eric Morecambe, and Ernie Wise.
In what way have libraries influenced you during your lifetime?
As a boy I loved the library and when I lived in the countryside the mobile library was as important to me as to my children.
Do you have suggestions of how to encourage children and young people to read more for pleasure?
Ban mobile phones in classrooms and introduce a lesson programme that encourages each individual to read aloud from famous stories that have stood the test of time.
The Herring Man will be published in April by Parthian Books.