Gap-year experiences recalled in Burgess Hill author's new book

Gap-year experiences lie behind The Uganda Sails Wednesday, published by Red Door Press at £8.99 (available from www.reddoorpress.co.uk, www.chalkcircle.org.uk and Amazon for Kindle).

Tuesday, 19th January 2021, 1:00 pm
Stuart Condie
Stuart Condie

Burgess Hill-based author Stuart Condie, aged 64, said: “The genesis of the book is from when I worked on the SS Uganda for two months in 1975 as a school office assistant – a kind of gap-year job between school and university.”

SS Uganda was a British steamship.

She was built in 1952 as a passenger liner, and successively served as a cruise ship, hospital ship, troop ship and stores ship.

She was laid up in 1985 and scrapped in 1992.

“There is a very direct appeal to people who sailed on the ship as a student. It did about 350 educational cruises with around 1,000 students per trip and another 300 cabin passengers, making over half a million people who have sailed with the Uganda. When I come across anyone who was a student on this ship, they immediately buy the book.

“My time working on the ship inspired a short story, The Uganda Epilogue, a kind of stream of consciousness with a touch of magical realism which won two competition prizes. It also pointed me towards writing a novel based around the ship and gave me the confidence to start this journey.

“However, when I came to write the book based on my personal experiences of 1975, I realised that there was a back story from 1960 which needed to be written first and this has become The Uganda Sails Wednesday.

“As well as those who sailed on the ship the book will also appeal to anyone interested in historical fiction and who look for a strong and authentic sense of place (in this case Britain and Kenya in 1960).

“ The main protagonist Heather Fontwell is a London suburbs housewife who is panicked into taking the ship, together with her five-year-old son Johnny, to meet her husband William, a tea plantation manager in the hills of Kenya. The journey starts a chain of challenges which Heather struggles to overcome.

“The writing of a 120,000-word first draft was relatively straightforward as I had most of the research material easily to hand. The structural edits, quest to find an agent and struggles to get the novel into the right structure and plot was much more time consuming and trying of my patience.

“This is the first of a trilogy. I’m about halfway through writing book two which is partially set on the SS Uganda in 1975.

“Book three will have many chapters from when the SS Uganda was a hospital ship during the Falklands conflict. Running through all the books is the history of the Fontwell family as well as some of the crew.

“This is my first novel, but I have several published and prize-winning short stories, one of which led to the idea for the novel.

“I started fiction writing as part of the creative writing course I did at Sussex University in 2010.

“The desire to write fiction had been with me for some years but with a busy and time-consuming career and young family, it was impossible to embark upon it until I took an early retirement package in 2009.

“I’ve always read a lot of novels since the age of 14-15 and wanting to tell a story seemed a natural extension of that.”