Today I am delighted to welcome author Ron Neish, to Tales Before Bedtime as he chats about shipbuilding, writing books about the ships built at Leith in Edinburgh, and how this inspired his fictional trilogy, the Davy Stuart stories, with the first one under the name “Fight or Flight”. Read on dear readers as Ron considers…
Would you go down with your ship?
What is it when the bond between man and ship is formed as to be so strong that one would forfeit one’s own life as the steel or wooden ship below the feet was sinking slowly or quickly under the sea to certain extinction for the human life on board?
I have often wondered this same question, yet I have no answer, although I can relate to the love formed of ships and the sea, as I too have fallen under this spell.
This bond is one that I cannot explain, ever since I was a child brought up in the port town of Leith, Edinburgh, I have never been far from the sea, and even to this day when I have lived far inland I have still gravitated towards the water, be that river or lake. Although I have to say that even I get a wee bit bored if nothing is happening on the water, we need ships and boats to complete the scene from the water. As I started out in the shipyard, I found it natural and just took to shipbuilding. I was selected to go into the mold Loft to serve my apprenticeship as a Loftsman. The Loftsman, to the layman, brings a look of complete vagueness at best to a smattering of what the work entailed, The Black Art of the Loftsman
was an extremely high, complex set of work closely guarded as all the old crafts where through the generations. So, what was/is a Loftsman? I am often asked this, we were the men responsible for the smooth, faired shape of the vessel. Then responsible for the ability of this faired shape to be flattened out and templated, so the form could be made by the platers on the shop floor. We, in other words took
the dimensions, scantlings, and details from rough drawings and translated this information into full size and ten scale drawings of all the steel parts that made up the ship.
As the author G. O’Hara describes in his excellent book Ironfighters, Outfitters and Bowler Hatters.
“The skills required for this job encompassed a high threshold of interest, a three dimensional ‘seeing eye’ virtually a total comprehension of the subsequent fabrication, erection and launching operations. Quite a large range of skills one would have to say, with work carried out to the highest standards we set
out layouts from the mundane of the simple superstructure to the brain-racking traumas of comprehending a stern frame with twin-screw propeller boss, or a bulbous bow, to the long sheered upper deck with a flared foc’sle. All in all, a remarkably interesting job, which would be impossible to carry out without such interest.”
We were the human computers, used before the Computer Aided drafting machine was even thought about. Eventually replaced by the electronic machine, very few shipbuilders who know about the business would agree that the discarding of such high skills was a good thing as we progressed in the industry.
So, with such an interest, it was only natural that even when not working in the industry and being lucky enough to live and work around the world, my thoughts would turn to ships and the sea. As I looked around in the early internet world, I would find snippets about the ships built at the shipyard I started out in. Nothing I saw appeared to be in any kind of order and much of what I read was not produced by shipbuilders, so much of it was incorrect. I had to do something about this, as you could find out much about the ships built elsewhere in the U.K. but little about my hometown.
So, one thing led to another and once I had the list of ships it was a case of tracking them all down on the internet and through books. Once done, it was time to collate some of the fine history and maritime heritage and put it into a book form. I spent a few years writing training manuals for the maritime industry which I looked upon as a sort of apprenticeship. I produced more than 20 such manuals along
with writing some articles for maritime magazines on both sides of the Atlantic.
Finding a publisher who believed in this project was more difficult, but Keith Whittles believed in this and my writing really took off. My first two volumes on the Ships built at Leith have now been published.
While collating the non-fiction history of the ships I started to formulate a tale that had been running around my head for more years than I could remember. This tale had been based on land at first, then the light bulb went on and my fiction writing began. Drawing on the great many experiences and people I had met over time at home and abroad, some good and some not so good it made for some good mixed characters. These form my completely imaginary characters who bear no resemblance to anyone living or dead (said the writer somewhat mischievously). I found fiction had no boundaries and unlike the non-fiction fact-based books, I could really allow my imagination to run wild. I could weave my stories around the real-life ships built in the past, helping to keep alive the maritime heritage my non-
fiction books identify.
Hence the resulting trilogy of the Davy Stuart stories, with the first one under the name “Fight or Flight” with the second book also completed and the third book underway. I find that my writing fills a vacuum left when I gave up the booze almost 23 years past. I have so many more projects still to complete, I just
hope that whoever, grants me the time to get them all done. After all Davy Stuart has not finished his journey!
Fight or Flight Synopsis
Leith, Scotland, 1880. Davy Stuart is an apprentice shipwright down in the docks. He’s from the poorest of the tenements and it’s a tough existence. Davy spends his free time drinking and day-dreaming with his pals.
He then wakes up wounded on a ship, told he has to flee from home, his family and Scotland.
He is like a rudderless ship stumbling from one fight to another, is his best friend really a friend or his worst enemy.
Davy travels on going from adventure to battle, never really knowing who he really is, his encounter with Voodoo leaves him even more confused.
His adventure take him halfway around the world, then he lands in post Civil war America, in the South with his black Friend. He owes his life to Sol.
As he continues his quest to find the woman he intends to marry, things are never how they seem.
Having spent a lifetime designing parts for ships, aircraft and cars now back working as an active shipbuilder, I have travelled the world working and living amongst different cultures always observing, noticing that people are basically the same the world over. I have always had a natural passion for ships and the sea.
I love writing about the subject with both fiction and non-fiction books being
I have written a four volume history of the ships built at Leith, with the first Volume
published by Whittles Publishing in November 2019.
Volume II, published May 2021 https://www.whittlespublishing.com/Leith-Built_Ships
I am on linkedin with over 5,200 connections as my shipbuilder brand “The
Loftsman”, also have the beginnings of a facebook and instagram set up. I have another 4 books underway, all non-fiction. I have contributed articles to maritime magazines worldwide. I have my own website and Blog. https://www.theloftsman.com/
This trilogy is my first series of novels; book 1 and book 2 are complete, with book 3 approx 30% complete, start, middle, with two different endings.
Maritime history and adventure with a twist, set amongst actual ships built, incorporating events in history. As a shipbuilder who witnessed many adventures or
stories in the shipyards and other industry worldwide, over time, this story is a mix of experiences adapted to a mix of actual ships that were built at Leith, Scotland. This was the shipyard where I started out my own working life in the 1970’s. Born and bred in a town that was full of maritime heritage and characters, all of which lends itself to my story.