Background to Great Northern?
After The Picts and the Martyrs, Ransome began work on two books. The first would have brought members of the Coot Club to the Lake District, the second was a completely separate novel set in the nineteenth century (see Coots in the North). He gave up on both after only limited progress and, in late 1944 began work on Great Northern? which eventually became the last completed Swallows and Amazons novel.
The original idea for Great Northern? was suggested by a correspondant, Major M E W (Myles) North, who was both an ornithologist and very fond of Ransome’s books. He wrote a six page synopsis for a Swallows and Amazons story, which he sent to Ransome in June, 1944. Ransome was attracted by North’s ideas, but turning them into a novel proved to be a slow process, interrupted by illness, house-moves and Ransome’s decision to commission the design and building of a new yacht. He also visited the Hebrides twice, to research his location and to fish.
Dick thinks he’s made an ornithological discovery whilst the Swallows, Amazons, D’s and Captain Flint are on a cruise in the Outer Hebrides. But is he right and, if so, can he prove it without placing both the birds and their eggs in danger?
Published by Jonathan Cape in August, 1947.
“It’s a Great Northern,” he said to himself, and had added it to his list before he remembered that Great Northern Divers did not nest in Great Britain.