1980s & 1990s Fiction

noimage Apprentice (1983)
Tom Gallacher

Story of Bill Thompson a middle class English boy who is sent by his father to do his engineering apprenticeship in the Greenock shipyards in the 1950s. Stories of people in shipyard, such as Lord Sweatrag, and of tenement life. Apprentice rituals, pilfering, etc. Rather grating and annoying narrator who come across as snobbish and looks on his fellow workers with noble savage type of sentiment. First of trilogy. In Journeyman Thompson goes to Canada, in Survivor he is chief engineer of a ship in the Baltic.

Tom Gallacher, Apprentice, (London, 1983).
noimage Give Us This Day (1983)
Janusz Glowacki

Novel set in the Gdansk Shipyards in Poland at the time of the rise of the Solidarity movement. The hapless narrator at first sides with the management, but gets caught up in the strike movement and ends up being seen as one of the heros. Very good on the poor working conditions and the relations between workers and management.

‘I went on a two-day training course and emerged a fully-fledged hull welder. And so I began spending my days crouching precariously on the scaffolding. I preferred to work lower down, nearer the keel, which was better in case you felf drowsy and fell, but worse because you you got bits of molten metal dripping on you from above’.

Janusz Glowacki, Give Us This Day, (London, 1983).
noimage The Running Tide (1986)
Agnes Short

The second book in a family saga trilogy set in Aberdeen in the 19th century. The first book The First Fair Wind (1984) sees the Christie family fishing, but James, the eldest son dreams of building a ship to carry him to the ports of the world. The Running Tide (later published in paperback as The Flowing Tide) sees the Christie boys running a shipyard. In the final book The Dragon Seas (1989) the family turn to the china tea trade.

Agnes Short, The Running Tide, (London, 1986).
noimage Square Peg (1988)
Joseph McKeown

As a boy growing up in Liverpool’s depression years, Liam had been grateful for any job at all, but after seven years in the army he wanted something better – something more than just earning enough to keep the family together. Restless, frustrated, he returned to a Liverpool totally changed by war. The shipyards were riven by petty feuds adn rivalries, the old gang had dispersed, and within his own family the war had left its tragic aftermath. Liam had a tough and bitter time ahead before he could settle into civvy street again.

Joseph McKeown, Square Peg, (London, 1988).
noimage Slipways (1989)
Robert Else

A shipyard on contemporary Tyneside is the backdrop for Robert Else’s first novel. Faced with the imminent loss of work, the characters attempt to devise their own techniques for survival amidst the daily degradations.

Robert Else, Slipways, (Edinburgh, 1989).
noimage Passing Glory (1989)
Reay Tannahill

Matt, returning a war hero in 1918, rejects both his family and it traditions for a risky future in flying, just as Jenny Jardine, his brother’s shy, pretty young widow, turns fr om the great country house of Provcost Charters to the triumphs and traumas of the Clyde shipyard on which the family’s fortunes depend.

Reay Tannahill, Passing Glory, (London, 1989).
noimage Tenements as Tall as Ships (1992)
Jimmy Miller

Collection of stories of shipbuilding, boxing and drinking by an ex-shipyard worker. Includes:

The Passenger (1957): An old man gets a start, but is useless and only lasts a week.
The Voice of the Bull (1962): An old worker is promoted to manager, but gets stroke.
Bingy’s Leg (1957): A worker gets his leg cut off.
The Big Repair Job (1956): Workers discussing a marriage breakdown.
Money for Dirt (1962): A shipyard cleaner gets laid off, but gets his job back.
The Dunny Money (1989): A Trade Unionist takes redundancy money.
Before the Time (1967): An old worker gets caught fiddling his time and decides to retire.

Jimmy Miller, Tenements as Tall as Ships: A collection of short stories, (Glasgow, 1992)
noimage Junk (1995)
Neil Williamson

A science fiction story about a Clyde shipyard that is now building space ships.

Neil Williamson, ‘Junk’, in Shipbuilding: New SF from Scotland, (Glasgow, 1995), 7-19.
noimage The Holy City: A tale of Clydebank (1997)
Meg Henderson

Marion Katie McLeod recalls her family history in Clydebank. Menfolk worked in shipyard, story of Golden Rivet and other amusing tales of shipyard life. Whole family killed in Blitz. Afterwards she marries her husband in a loveless marriage. He is a ‘white mouse’ asbestos lagger and gets ill and dies. Meanwhile Marion gets a job as a polisher in yard. Mix of social history and nostalgia.

Meg Henderson, The Holy City: A tale of Clydebank, (London, 1997).
noimage The River Flows On (1998)
Maggie Craig

It’s 1925 and Kate Cameron is just sixteen when she’s taken on as a tracer at a shipyard on the Clyde. When she starts attending art classes at weekends, she meets the dapper Jack Drummond, and promptly gets pregnant. She then turns to the boy next door, Robbie Baxter, who has loved her as long as she can remember. But she daren’t tell him the truth. Set in the days when the majestic liners were launched on the Clyde, moving from the years of the Depression to the devastation of the Clydebank Blitz, The River Flows On shows how love can blossom in adversity, and how laughing at life’s troubles can draw a community together.

Maggie Craig, The River Flows On, (London, 1998).
noimage From This Day Forth (1998)
Lyn Andrews

This novel is set among the families of Cammell Lairds shipyard workers, divided by tradition and religion.

Lyn Andrews, From This Day Forth, (London, 1998).
noimage Tyro (1999)
David McRobbie

This novel details sixteen-year-old Andrew Kinnear’s first months as an apprentice in the Dalrossan Dockyard, and is set in Scotland in 1953. Andrew is a capable, well-accepted boy, determined to succeed. He quietly gains the confidence of his supervisors, Gavin Carlyle and Tom Gilchrist, and quickly begins to learn his trade in the diesel-engine squad. However he soon learns that there are unwritten rules and practices governing success in this workplace. The Tigers, a gang led by the vicious Coultree, threaten and eventually subject him to the painful and humiliating initiation practice of daubing his private parts with grease mixed with carbon. Andrew survives, and then watches as a new worker, Oliver, is threatened by the same fate. Author was apprentice marine-fitter, a ship’s engineer.

David McRobbie, Tyro, (Victoria, 1999).
noimage The Piper’s Tune (1999)
Jessica Stirling

Set in late Victorian era. Lyndsay Franklin is daughter of wealthy shipyard owner. But her life takes an unexpected turn her Irish cousin Forbes arrives in Glasgow to join the family business. Her grandfather, founder of the yard, decides to hand over control to the younger generation. She gains a stake in the yard. As the mysteries of shipbuilding open to her, and the puzzle of male behaviour becomes both more fascinating and more dangerous, Lindsay will have to take decisions that will make or mar her whole future.

Jessica Stirling, The Piper’s Tune, (London, 1999).