Excerpt from Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Dark, Salt, Clear

The Life of a Fishing Town

by Lamorna Ash

Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash X
Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash
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  • Published:
    Dec 2020, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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Print Excerpt

Dropped things

By Friday morning on the Filadelfia, my ties to home have begun to unloosen, and I let the boat be the only place left in the world. From here on in, I learn not to count the days, not to think of my bed or my parents or my unbounded cross-coastal walks, or the reassuring sound of the surf coming into contact with the land. Instead, I start to think of our fishing boat as the centre of the universe, all life reduced to the single disc of sea surrounding us, like she is the attraction trapped in a snow globe. I imagine each boat in this way, solitary baubles floating over the seas, thirty miles out from the land.

I wake early and tear myself straight away out of my sleeping bag. My dreams have been coloured with yesterday's grey and I am keen to greet this new morning with as much energy as I can muster, casting from my mind the anxious thoughts I wake with: I cannot believe we still have three more days of fishing left... I wonder if mum knew I would be gone this long... How long would it take me to find out if something had happened back on the land?

It is still dark enough to make out the stars through the bathroom porthole. Each time I find myself out at sea overnight, my eyes are always drawn to a small, faint constellation low in the sky. The dim points of its stars draw out the two loops of an eight, but the lines do not quite cross over to finish the number and the upper loop is slightly distended. Perhaps it is because of light pollution, but I don't think I've ever seen this lasso-shaped cluster of stars from the land. I begin to associate it with the sea: a guiding constellation for fishermen. Back home, I scour endless star charts of the Northern hemisphere on the internet to find my fisherman's constellation, but none of them seem quite to resemble it. Perhaps it was the Pleiades or Seven Sisters to the south, or was it Cassiopia or Cepheus or even Ursa Minor to the north? I am almost glad not to find it. That way it remains a secret of the sea, one that is inaccessible to those on land.

I head out onto the wheelhouse balcony. Where we were alone at sea for the first few days, there has joined us now the dotted lights of Cornish trawlers at every compass point along the horizon line, adding grammar to its otherwise uninterrupted perimeter. Every skipper I have ever spoken to, including both Don and David, is perennially convinced that all the other boats nearby are stalking them. They tell me that since they themselves are one of the best skippers in Cornwall and know where the big shoals of money-making fish are (which, in truth, no one can absolutely know), the other boats follow them. Whenever they set off, the area will inevitably be congested with local fishing vessels a few days later.

The wind is not as harsh as it usually is this morning. There is a touch of warmth, an almost balminess to its breath. I look up. The figure of eight and all other traces of stars have already fled in preparation for the unfurling of the day. A pink haze, emanating from the east, spreads out in both directions until it has stained the canopy of the sky. Then, the lowest streaks of cloud begin to glow from below. The clouds grow hotter until they appear gilded all over like burnished metal. At last, from under the sea, there comes a sliver of blazing light. And then the round ball of the sun appears in a way I have never seen before. It is not yellow or gold, but arrives in a bright, lime-green instant.

A few days earlier, the crew had told me about the elusive green flash. They occur when sunlight separates out into different colours as it meets the atmosphere, working like a natural prism. As the sun slips into or out of the sea, the spectrum of colours that make up its light disappear or appear one at a time; at sunrise, green is the first colour to materialise, at sunset, the last.

On a perfectly clear afternoon, the ideal conditions for a green flash, Kyle stood with the crew of the Joy of Ladram waiting in anticipation for the sun to turn green as it hit the horizon. But it never happened, the sun disappearing behind the world without so much as a glimmer of colour. After that, Kyle lost faith in the validity of the story, relegating the green flash to mythical status. Don says he has seen it just once in over thirty years of fishing.

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Excerpted from Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash. Copyright © 2020 by Lamorna Ash. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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