Friday, 26 January 2018

Story of a Novel: The Charter by Gillian E. Hamer

By Gillian E. Hamer

I’ve told the story of the birth - or maybe that should be the inception - of The Charter a few times now, and it means as much to me today as it did at the start of my writing career. This novel sums up everything I am passionate about. It stems from my love of history, adventure and tales told by local folks that fire up my imagination.

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I first learned of the wreck of The Royal Charter off the coast of Anglesey in the great storm of 1859 claiming the loss of over eight hundred lives. But I think I was around eleven years old when the press were full of stories of gold bullion being recovered from the wreck by local divers after a winter storm, and an influx over several months the following summer of modern day treasure hunters.

One weekend, armed with a second hand metal detector, our family headed to a local beach, Red Wharf Bay and I can still remember the burst of excitement each time I found a penny in the sand – only to find out later that a relative had buried them for me to find!
The small Welsh island of Anglesey has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and even now it still often surprises me with its beauty or stories of the past. I find Neolithic burial mounds I’ve not known existed, or, as happened on this latest New Year holiday, discovered a new beach I’ve never previously visited.

There are hundreds of shipwrecks around the Anglesey coast, some you can see at low tide or even visit in estuary mud banks. But there was something about the story of The Royal Charter that touched my soul. It could have been the mystery around the missing Australian gold, or the fact Charles Dickens was so moved by the disaster he visited and wrote about it in his novel The Uncommercial Traveller. Or it could have been the visits I made as a child to the old churchyard in Llanallgo Church, where many of the dead are buried, and there now stands the anchor from the wreck along with a memorial to the missing.

But when I sat down and started to write novels, there was always one story I would want to retell in my own style. And to this day I’m so proud to say that the prologue of this book managed to secure me two literary agents.

And so The Charter became, if not the first novel I wrote, the first I published in June 2012. The audio version has become one of my best sellers, and even today sales of the book remain steady and more popular than others in the U.S.

All my novels are set on and around Anglesey and the North Wales coast and I have notebooks of stories, ideas, local tales and research that I hope one day will make their way in books in their own right – but I doubt any will mean quite as much to me as The Charter.


October 26 1859

How can it be?

I stand on the edge of a high cliff. Holding back hair that whips across my face, I shield my eyes and squint through the stinging wind. Lifeless bodies dash against the rocks beneath me.

The ship disappears beneath the surface, battered by one huge wave after another. Rain mixes with tears that burn my eyes, and I feel as if I have woken from a nightmare of such terror my whole world has become horribly distorted. I know the sea. I have lived with the ocean all my life. I have been raised to respect Mother Nature, and to underestimate at my peril the power of the ocean. But I have never witnessed such a storm as this.

How can it be?
I have no memory of reaching this cliff. The last thing I remember is being wrapped in mother’s arms on the rolling deck as my da strapped a belt around my waist.

“Women and children first,” he said. “Now, hush! You keep your hand on this belt; it’s all we own in the world, my angel. My precious angel. You keep it safe for Da. And you take good care of your mam. I’ll see you on the other side.”
Cold lips press into my cheek. Calloused palms cup my face for the merest of seconds. The other side of where? I want to ask. But he’s gone and the ship is lurching violently beneath my feet.

“Da! Help … help me!”

A sound like a gunshot rips through the air.

“Port anchor’s let go!” someone shouts. “Sweet Lord! Brace the yeards, lads, starboard won’t take the strain, else!”

I bury my head in my mother’s bosom; she wraps her shawl around me. The shrieking wind carries away the sounds of crying children, sobbing women, men barking orders. I cover my ears as strong hands lift me, push me towards the lifeboat. I grasp my mother’s hand tighter.


"Starboard anchor’s gone! We’re heading for the rocks! Get Captain Taylor!”

Seconds later, a ripping noise shakes the whole ship. The wooden deck shudders, and the bow gives out a loud moan. The ship tilts and I lose my footing, screaming as I slide towards the inky blackness, pulled by the weight of the leather pockets about my waist.

Water engulfs me.
Coldness engulfs me.
Darkness engulfs me.

How can it be?
I watch from the cliff edge as a pale dawn breaks. No golden rising sun, no blue skies, no welcoming warmth – just a gradual fading of blackness into misty grey.

The Royal Charter – the steamship that has carried my family from Hobson’s Bay, Australia to a ‘better life’ in England – is still being pounded by the storm. With every massive wave that crashes over her, I expect the ship to disappear, but after each surge of the tide she reappears as if trapped by the jagged rocks and unable to find release.

Bodies pulled and tossed by the furious tide, pushed inland one minute and dragged back into the white foam the next. Men I’d seen issuing orders; women I’d spoken to; children I’d spent many hours with over the past weeks. I close my ears to the screams and cries that circle my head like squawking gulls.

I stand there for seconds, minutes, hours, days … I know not.

The spray of the ocean is on my face. I hear the roar in my ears. I taste the salt on my lips.

But I know it cannot be. I know this cannot be real.

The truth hits me. Bile fills my mouth; I double over and retch.

When I straighten, I stand in silence and calmness. The storm still rages all around me, but I am protected. As if in the eye of the hurricane, my own space is quiet and still.

The answer is suddenly clear.

My name is Angelina Stewart.

I am eleven years old.

And I am dead.

The legend of The Royal Charter is almost as famous as the story of the dead girl who wanders the cliffs at Point Lynas – a victim of the 1859 shipwreck.
After more than a decade away, Sarah Morton must return to her childhood home in Anglesey to bury her father. It’s her chance to say goodbye, and good riddance, to her past.
Yet her father leaves her a legacy. A letter. And a safe full of documents about the ancient shipwreck.
The Royal Charter had been carrying gold. Huge amounts of it. And her father’s death suddenly looks like murder.
Determined to discover the truth, Sarah is dragged into a dangerous journey, discovering she and the girl on the cliffs have more in common than she could ever believe.
Set along the dramatic and dangerous Anglesey coastline, The Charter is a story of greed and forgiveness – when the treasures of the past evoke the crimes of today.

Amazon Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars Story telling at it's best, 11 Jun 2012
By pigginhell
… If I was one of these obsessive types who orders my library in genre order, I would not know where to put this one. Crime novel? Ghost Story? Historic Account? Adventure Story? It doesn't matter. It all works beautifully together. The elements, as diverse as they seem, sometimes just fit, which of course is down to old fashioned, damn good story telling.

5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it..., 23 Sep 2012
By jaffareadstoo (England)
… It's not often that a book comes along which covers all your favourite genres in one fell swoop, but… The Charter is definitely one such book. Gillian Hamer writes with the passion of one who knows Anglesey well, and with great skill and imagination has turned this passion into a cracking good story.

 5.0 out of 5 stars Wild and spooky Wales, 19 July 2012
By Cathy "cathyagain"
… A GOOD story well told is always great to read, and this one cracks along with atmosphere. The setting is wild Wales, the coast of Anglesey.
Author Gillian Hamer has a way of gripping readers that goes beyond the twists of her plot. Her writing is superb. This is five-star stuff.

5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Book With A Wonderful Blend Of Genres, 18 July 2012
By M. Stork (North Yorkshire, England)  
… the drama and beauty of the writer's descriptions of the rugged Welsh coast. The descriptions were so breathtakingly beautiful I felt I was there, and could hear the waves crashing against the shore. The characters are wonderful … the pace was perfect

If you'd like to read The Charter for yourself please CLICK HERE.

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