The women clung to each other as they looked out to sea. Time and again the crews cast their grappling hooks into the blackness of the water, but to no avail.
'Here, lads, over here!' The men heaved together and a dark shape rose from the gloom. 'Oh, dear God...' Kate sank to her knees in the wet sand. Holding her head in her hands, she began to cry.
Cullercoats Bay, 1895 Titian-haired Kate Lawson is eighteen when the sea claims her beloved and leaves her with a broken heart - and a shameful secret. Banished from home by her violent father, Kate relies on the kindness of her aunt until she too is cruelly taken from her.
When Kate meets Richard Adamson, the owner of a fleet of steam trawlers, she knows she should despise the man who's stealing the livlihood of hardworking fisherfolk - yet she finds herself falling in love with him. Has Kate found her safe harbour at last, or will the sins of the past destroy her chance for happiness?
This is a book that I particularly loved writing. The setting for the story is the tiny fishing village of Cullercoats on the North East of England coast as it was in 1895.
I know modern Cullercoats well. Our first married home was a two roomed fisherman's cottage on the clifftop overlooking Cullercoats Bay. It can just about be seen in the photograph on the book cover.
The village is now much changed. In the 19th century just about everyone in Cullercoats, men, women and children, was involved with fishing. Now where once there were dozens of fishing cobles using the harbour only a handful remain. Someone living in the village now is more likely to commute to an office in Newcastle than head off into a cold stormy sea to catch enough fish to sell, eat, and support a family. It was a hard life and as the local graveyards will witness not a season went by without the tragedy of a drowning at sea.
This photograph taken in Cullercoats in 1910 shows my father-in-law Billy as a small boy; he's the boy on the right. His brother Tommy is in the middle. The boys are watching Henry their grandfather mending the nets. Because so many villagers had the same surnames, all the men were given lifelong nicknames. And Henry was known as 'Rough-it Brown'.
One night Henry's father and three of his brothers set off fishing in their coble. During the night a fierce storm blew up, their boat was overwhelmed and all four of them were drowned.When they didn't return Henry's mother Jane went down to the beach and refused to go home until all four bodies had been washed ashore. They were buried together in the same grave in the local graveyard.
It was this photograph together with the many stories I heard about the people of Cullercoats and their way of life that inspired me to write 'A Safe Harbour'.