Yorkshire Times
Voice of the North
Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
7:41 AM 15th July 2020

A Tale Of Two Hulls: Writer Chris Speck And The Art Of The Sea

Chris Speck
Chris Speck
Chris Speck is the author of Hull boxing novel, Beast, which was recently reviewed in these pages. Based in Cottingham, Yorkshire, he describes himself as a passionate and simple storyteller. His next book, A North Sea Tale is out in August, and before we sit down to enjoy reading it, we wanted to find out more about the man behind the idea, and discover what inspires and motivates him.

Chris began writing as a teenager, inspired by the passion of the stories of Robert E. Howard, John Steinbeck and legendary British sci-fi writer John Wyndham. A North Sea Tale is a coming of age story set on a 1975 Hull Trawler. The central protagonist is sixteen-year-old Danny Green, working as a deckie learner on a sidewinder for the first time. Along with a grisly crew, Danny is at the mercy of the North Sea, and when he finds a dead body in the wheelhouse, he knows there is a killer aboard. Chris conceived the idea after hearing a tale told by a friend who had lost their uncle in a trawler tragedy in 1974. His friend’s recollections of his uncle prompted Chris to create a story, drawn from his interpretation of the characters of those who worked aboard the trawler ships.

The novel also features cameo appearances from real-life characters: Chris asked people to nominate themselves for a place in the book. Many came forward to play a role, so that is why we see, for example, the bass player from his band, Black Kes, appearing as a deckhand on board the trawler. To research the novel, Chris interviewed many former skippers and trawlermen, conflating a mixture of their personality traits to recreate his fictional characters. He says his protagonists are usually drawn from a range of real people, but rarely a replica of just one individual.

If, having become lost at sea, Chris discovered a desert island, his accompanying book would be Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. A good read, for the Hull writer, is something that is skilfully written, with great characters and a bit on the philosophy of life. The character of Doc (from Cannery Row) is someone Chris thinks he could befriend; he says they would drink whisky together.

Another character from fiction he’d like to befriend would be Billy Casper, from the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. This is a book Chris wishes he had written himself, calling it a “First class Yorkshire fiction, funny, heart breaking and real.”

Through his writing he has learned that he is not a quitter. He writes from his kitchen table, surrounded by the noise of his family, the bark of his dogs, visitors popping by for a cuppa and a chat – he doesn’t have a defined routine; he just writes - no excuse.

But if he does stumble upon writer’s block, he will go for a run. After the first mile, he says, the ideas begin to flow. For his novel Beast he spent a lot of time watching and training to box, but discovered he is no good at fighting. He does, however, do karate with his daughter on a Saturday morning, but again, he says he’s no good!

In addition to writing and teaching English, Chris also plays the washboard and sings in a group, the aforementioned Black Kes. He describes them as a “rowdy skiffle group” and before Covid-19, they would perform a gig on average once a week. They are a group of friends who enjoy writing and playing their own music. They’ve recently released a third album, entitled It Lives (out now on Pure West Records and Spotify). It’s a live recording of one of their gigs, recorded in The Monks Walk, Beverley. They had been booked to play at one of the smaller tents at Glastonbury this year.

Chris says one day he will write a book about Black Kes which is likely to be “a mixture of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments and The Young Ones sitcom”, but this book will wait until the story of Black Kes is over, which for now remains in full swing.

A North Sea Tale is published by Flat City Press and will be released on August 7th.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.