A review by Graham Higson
Our Walmsley collection is a typical hotchpotch - I suppose it's much like you'd find in any Society member's library. There's the odd 1940s Penguin Classic, its dog-eared and twisted binding nestling alongside the shiny new Smith Settle editions. Then there are the hardbacks, some with their spines falling apart. And there's one book in particular that's in perfect nick, despite its missing dust cover; this one is the neck-end of forty years old, but it smells like new.
I have only to hold this book in my hands and close my eyes to hear the haunting cry of the seagulls and the waves crashing savagely against the landing scaur. A solitary figure makes his way across the rock, armed with fishing rod and - more important - the anticipation of catching fish. Sometimes the sun shines on a calm sea and I watch an old man steadying his wooden boat as a small boy gets in. It is, of course, Captain Bunny, young Leo, and the Lydia.
Written in 1965, "Angler's Moon" was Leo's last book and, if his fans tend to choose their favourites from his earlier titles, this is possibly because there are many more copies of those in existence. To me this is by far his best in terms of writing quality. Here, Leo is perfectly at ease with the stories he wants to tell. But it would be unfair to describe this as merely a collection of fishing anecdotes; it's more than that. "Angler's Moon" is a superb pot-pourri of yarns that not only evokes memories of his past books, buts adds to those excellent tales in Sound of the Sea, So Many Loves, Three Fevers and Phantom Lobster.
Before we go any further, let me establish that I have no interest in fishing or angling. None at all. So it's not that I'm in any way delirious about this book because it's about my favourite subject. Let's say if I were stranded on a desert island, I'd starve. But it's okay because with "Angler's Moon" you don't need the slightest interest in fishing to be captivated by the content.
This is because with writing of this quality, Leo Walmsley holds the reader firmly in his hands. His adroitness not only enables him to manipulate the narrative, but also guides you to be there with him. For example, when describing how he was almost pulled off Gunny Hole Nab, I felt myself reaching out to stop him going over the edge. I've never gripped the chair arm so tightly. And I wanted to be a part of that idyllic beach picnic with Leo and Captain Bunny whilst the other 'Bay kids were at Whitby Regatta. I'm not particularly fond of eating fish, but on that day I'd have been eager to join the feast.
Of course, he was only too aware about his fixation with catching fish –
"Angling may be an obsession with a man. Indeed there have been periods in my life when, domestically unattached for reasons which need not be dwelt upon, it has dominated my mind and activities so as to approach the condition of a vice, like drug taking and alcoholism."
– but his ability to draw the reader into the pages and make anyone not only an expert, but also an insider, is part of the book's charm.
Then there's the imagery that helps the reader glide effortlessly through the pages, as shown in the following extract:
"The offshore sea, no longer torn by the gale was deep purple, its waves glinting only as they rolled in towards the scaur ends to curl over and shatter into foam as white as snow."
In "Angler's Moon" Leo has sneaked in many details that were omitted from his earlier books, such as the back-ground, the inside story, on how he became friendly with the Lunns. And the fact that he personally renovated the very cottage where his friend, Daphne du Maurier, wrote her novel, "Rebecca". You won't find a question about that in a game of Trivial Pursuit.
Fresh anecdotes a-plenty, including more recent tales relating to his life in Fowey, and all linked so effortlessly between his present and the distant past that he is able to describe with such detail. It's like seeing through a window. In fact he explains, "I can transport myself into the past so that the past becomes the present". All the better for us.
Of course, there's no plot, merely an underlying interest in the man and his abiding fascination. There's plenty to keep you going back. Every story is complete in itself and there are some amazing gems in there, including the actual account of the lobster pot. In fact one of B. S. Biro's marvellous illustrations shows Leo struggling to make the prototype pot in that tiny building across from Waverley Cottage. Another one shows the "Turn of the Tide" film crew outside the Laurel Inn. More windows, more insights into a time gone by.
Just like the Lunns and the Fosdycks were masters of their craft, Leo was master of his, a maestro amongst writers. With his free and easy style the anecdotes flow one into another like the waves themselves lapping against the sand, transporting the reader back and forth in time. It's a Fisherman's delight and, to the piscatorially unenlightened – such as myself – the ultimate bonus: a treasure trove of new stories.
Copies are in short supply, so if ever a book cried out to be reprinted, it's Angler's Moon by Leo Walmsley.
He begins it with these words: "It is a well-known saying that the biggest fish always gets away!" Well this one didn't. I think I'll start reading it again right now.
Angler's Moon has been republished since this
article first appeared in the Society Journal
Vol. XXXVI, Autumn 2002.
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