Spall, S. (2012) The Voyages of the Princess Matilda Shane Press ISBN 978 0 091 941802

The story of Shane and Timothy Spall and their exploits on their modern Dutch barge The Princess Matilda will be familiar to anyone who’s followed their exploits coasting around the British Isles via the BBC 4 series Somewhere at Sea.

The book is something more than simply a spin-off from the TV series, as in 350 pages it vividly captures the heart and the desire behind the motivation that led two inexperienced, middle aged people to head out to sea.

Fifteen years ago, as the actor Timothy Spall lay in a hospital bed dying from acute myeloid leukaemia, Shane, his wife, would sit beside him, writing, in pursuit of a catharsis that wouldn’t come. On her laptop, she would rail about certain nurses on the ward, her occasional over-reliance on gin and the illness that was trying to claim the life of her husband.

Tim Spall’s recovery was torturously slow, but he vowed to reward them, if he got better, with a Rolls-Royce and a boat. He kept both promises.

It is, perhaps, strange that after all they’d been through, the Spalls should have chosen so strenuous – and potentially hazardous – a pastime as coasting around Britain. There is, they say, a reason for that.

There’s an absolute connection between my illness and our late-blooming spirit of adventure. It’s like fate has already had a go trying to kill me once. Now it’s our turn!

This book should be a must, not just those who have been following their trials and tribulations on the small screen, but because it is well written, witty, moving, gripping in places and from the heart, I truly did not want to put it down once I’d started.

The motivation for the Princess Matilda’s travels gives you a personal insight into how fragile life can be and the journeys triumphs should give us all hope that despite huge trials and tribulations, some of our dreams do come good in the end.

The book veers to the right side of sentimentality as Shane Spall manages to convey just how much two people can mean to each other.

I suspect many readers will love this book, this couple and will want a boat by the end of it – though perhaps not the stress of actually turning out to sea!

This book is a thoroughly recommended read. Particular if we continue to have one of our summers; under grey skies and inundated by pouring rain, this book would be a welcome tonic for anyone. If Shane Spall takes it upon herself to write another book I wouldn’t hesitate in purchasing it sight unseen.


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