The River and The Sea
A story of love and hate, set in 1918 in an arid and dying enclave of end-of-Empire Britishness on the Thompson River, southern Canada, and in 1920 in a cabin on the frozen wastes of the Thelon River, northern Canada.
Attracted against his better judgement to Englishwoman Mrs Sarah Underhill, Irishman Jack Butler takes the job she offers him in the apple orchards of Footner. As they live and work together they draw closer and, her husband Edward far away at the Western Front, they become lovers. But the war ends, Edward returns and Jack is rejected. Bitter, he agrees to go north with Edward and his cousin Harry Garrard, both to hurt Sarah and in the hope that Edward will die there.
But as the three men starve and freeze together his perspectives change. If he survives and returns to Footner, who will Sarah be waiting for? Or will she be waiting at all?
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Writing The River and The Sea
‘On a roasting September day I was driving through the arid interior of British Columbia with my family when I stopped for a break. As I sipped my coffee in a lay-by between Kamloops and Cache Creek I saw for the first time the great metal Points of Interest sign beside the car. ‘Ghost of Walhachin. Here bloomed a Garden of Eden!’ it read excitedly. ‘The sagebrush desert changed to orchards through the imagination and industry of English settlers during 1907-1914. Then the men left to fight – and die – for king and country. A storm ripped out the vital irrigation flume. Now only ghosts of flume, trees and homes remain to mock this once thriving settlement.’ My wife June photographed me and my daughter at the sign, me still holding my Starbucks mug, and drove on. But the seed had been sown.
On my return to Norwich I went back to work on a love story set on a British troopship of the 1850s. But another story kept hammering at me. There would be an ostensibly well-off English middle class lady. There would be a dubious Irishman… For the book set on HMS Birkenhead I had already researched the British Empire and its culmination in the Great War. I had spent part of each summer in BC and winters reading about it. I’d studied the North of Canada, that frozen world of hunters and trappers. The ingredients were in place.
There were more and more detours away from those poor drowning Irish soldiers to the arid interior of BC, to Sarah Underhill and her lying, thieving lover, Jack Butler. I’d go to the collapsing cabin on the Thelon River and spend time with the dying hunters, one of them Jack, another Sarah’s more honourable husband Edward.
The file on the troopship was temporarily closed. It will be re-opened shortly: those young soldiers, the American first woman doctor of medicine and her married Irish lover must not be left to suffer too long.
On completion The River and The Sea won the prestigious Rethink Press New Novel Competition and was published soon after.’
Links for The River and The Sea
Walhachin, the original town and settlement on which Footner is based.
The great Michael Kluckner writing on Walhachin.
Walhachin as seen in BC Ghost Towns, on YouTube.
The Okanagan, BC, the area envied and emulated by the residents of Footner.
The Thompson River, British Columbia
The Thelon River, northern Canada
The battle of Vimy Ridge, considered by many Canadians to have been when Canada grew up and into its own.
The original of the Victoria Cross-winning Gordon Weir. His sister Eleanor was indeed the manager of the Walhachin Hotel.
Wire fox terriers, of which Sarah’s beloved Hector is one.
Dungannon, County Tyrone, the original of Dunmaddy, Jack Butler’s home town. Well, my home town anyway.
To buy the book: The River and The Sea