Book Release: Freddie Lee by Frankie Wilky
‘… The Bermuda Triangle where ships disappeared without trace;
The China Sea with its pirates;
The Antarctic with tales of whales and mermaids;
The Suez and Panama Canals where, according to him, cannibals ate little boys!’
Highly evocative and sharply-written, Freddie Lee details a childhood and adolescence spent in the shadow of Sunderland’s shipyards during the 1940s and ’50s, as the shipbuilding industry that had kept the city going began to diminish and die. Freddie grows up in the Sunderland suburb of Monkwearmouth, popularly known as The Barbary Coast, where fighting and criminality go hand-in-hand with family feeling and neighborliness.
With a remarkable talent for vivid description and salty dialogue, the author has crafted a tale that is both moving and uproarious, with more than its fair share of outlandish characters - not least Freddie’s roguish grandfather Granda Lee, so often accused by the rest of the family of “filling that bairn’s head full of rubbish.”
Interview with Author
What inspired you to write your book Freddie Lee?
I was taken away from Monkwearmouth in the early fifties and did not return or see the place again until I was in my sixties, over sixty years later. I have no idea why I went back to Monkwearmouth to look at the place, nostalgia I suppose, but when I did go back in 2013 I not only found that the place had changed, it had disappeared altogether, gone, streets and everything, gone.
The shipyards no longer existed, and their demise I presume had meant the demise of the community. Put it this way, what the Germans missed the council and Mad Maggie had got.
So, I wrote to the Sunderland Echo and asked for anyone who had lived in Monkwearmouth in the years just before and just after the war who could tell me anything about the place. The mail I received was heart-warming and within a few weeks I knew the street names the shops and shop keepers names and the names of so many families and where they lived. I even knew some of the names of dogs in the streets.
It was wrong that it should all be forgotten, and so I used all facts to write a fictional story. I invented one family, the family who are the principal characters in the book, and when it had all written itself, because it did, I let my main contributor, Colin Wasey, read it. He swore he could remember incidents that I had made up.
Could you tell us about yourself?
I was born in Sunderland at 4 Pretoria Square, Plains Farm, in December of 1946, the coldest winter of the century. So cold in fact that parts of the North Sea froze over. On the night I was born, December 28 my uncles were up at Silksworth pit heap scratching for coal to keep the house warm. I was taken to live in Monkwearmouth when I was five or six and lived there for about a year. I ran around and played in those dirty, mean streets and on the stocking grounds for the shipyards that lined the river. All very important at that time, ships, and nobody made more. In fact, the River Wear produced so many vessels that they had a saying. "We mack the ships and tack them to see." To this very day Sunderland folk are referred to as "Mackems"
Could you tell us more about the fighting and criminality that was happening in Sunderland at the time?
There was crime, crime is and always has been with us, everywhere, London has no priority claim to Barrow Boys or Spivs, Bookies and Fagins, but Monkwearmouth was no worse than anywhere else. The country had just fought a bitter and violent war and at the end had released violent meant back into civilian life, so there was violence, it would be stupid to deny it.
Freddie Lee by Frankie Wilky is published by Austin Macauley Publishers and is available on Austinmacauley.com and Amazon and all good booksellers.
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