Background to Coot Club
As a young man Ransome had enjoyed a visit to the Norfolk Broads, living aboard a wherry whilst fishing for pike. It may have been this memory that inspired the Swallows and Amazons background story to Peter Duck. But it isn’t so clear as to when his interest was renewed. Ernest Altounyan was a keen Norfolk Broads sailor, so it’s possible that he either introduced Ransome to the Broads, or at least inspired him to visit and discover them for himself.
In April, 1931 Arthur and Evgenia Ransome enjoyed a Broads cruise with his friend Ted Scott (Ransome’s Manchester Guardian editor) and his son Richard, in two small yachts. The Ransome’s returned in 1933, this time with their neighbours the Kelsalls. A few months later Ransome wrote to his mother to say that his next novel would take place in Norfolk.
Swallows and Amazons itself had poured out of him, but thereafter Ransome struggled increasingly with self-doubt as he wrote each of his novels. Coot Club was no exception. At first he wasn’t sure whether to include Dick and Dorothea Callum, whom he’d introduced in Winter Holiday, or whether to separate Coot Club entirely from the Swallows and Amazons’ world. In the end he brought them in, using their desire to learn to sail – inspired by the Swallows and Amazons – as a major plot device.
Dick and Dorothea go to stay with their mother’s friend, Mrs Barrable, on a Norfolk Broads yacht. They hope to learn to sail. But their dreams are soon complicated when they meet Tom Dudgeon, leader of the Coot Club, who has himself just become entangled with a motor cruiser full of holidaying Hullabaloos.
Published by Jonathan Cape November, 1934.
…as usual, though I have five youthful characters and one old lady, I haven’t a glimmering of a plot.