Today I’m welcoming Jo Thomas onto the blog to tell us about her fascinating new book, The Oyster Catcher. Just off to download this one – it looks great!
Blurb for The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas
According to a champion shell shucker, when learning how to open an oyster you first have to understand what’s keeping it closed.
When runaway bride Fiona Clutterbuck crashes the honeymoon camper van, she doesn’t know what to do or where to go.
Embarrassed and humiliated Fiona knows one thing for sure, she can’t go home. Being thrown a life line, a job on an oyster farm seems to be the answer to her prayers. But nothing could prepare her for the choppy ride ahead or her new boss the wild and unpredictable Sean Thornton.
Will Fiona ever be able to come out of her shell?
As the oyster season approaches, will there be love amongst the oyster beds of Galway bay? Or will the circling sharks finally close in?
Bio for Jo Thomas – The Oyster Catcher.
Jo Thomas started her broadcasting career as a reporter and co-presenter with Rob Brydon on BBC Radio 5, reported for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and went on to produce at BBC Radio 2 working on The Steve Wright Show. She now lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her writer and producer husband, three children, three cats and a black lab Murray. She writes light hearted romances about food, family, friendships and love; and believes every story should have a happy ending.
Once I started to think about a story about oysters I began to read more and more about them.
Oysters have existed since pre-historic times.
According to champion shucker Patrick McMurray in his book ‘Consider the oyster’, shells have long been viewed as a symbol of womanhood and fertility. It was Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, to whom we owe the word ‘aphrodisiac’. She was carried to shore on a giant shell after rising naked from the foam in the sea. Some say it’s an oyster shell, some say it’s a scallop.
The Romans couldn’t get enough of oysters. Roman emperors calculated their weight in gold and sent thousands of slaves to the shores of the English Channel to gather them, says McMurray. The Romans set up one of the first marine farms to keep a supply of oysters for grand feasts.
But at the beginning of the 19th century they were over fished and prices were so low they became the food of the poor. They were the pigeons of the sea, according to Jamie Oliver, peasant food and used as pie fillings. In Ireland during the famine those by the sea survived on them it says on Morans Oyster Cottage website.
There are two basic types of oysters eaten in Britain and Europe, according to Colin Presdee, a Welshman born in Oystermouth and author of London Oyster Guide. The native oysters which mates and breeds in the summer months and explains the saying ‘only eat oysters when there’s an ‘r’ in month’, when they’re not breeding. The Pacific oysters are reared in hatcheries and brought on in the sea, in mesh bags on trestles where they grow taking nutrients from the sea. But the waters don’t get warm enough for them to breed, so are available to eat all the year round.
The thing everyone wants to know about oysters is ‘are they an aphrodisiac’?
Casanova, the 18th century Italian lover obviously thought so and reportedly ate 50 oysters every morning.
The truth is oysters are full of zinc, more than any other natural food source according to McMurray. Zinc helps to release testosterone in the body, which in turn drives libido.
‘Between ingestion and chemical reaction, we have a stimulant – or aphrodisiac, if that’s what you’d like to call it.’ (Patrick McMurray – Consider the Oyster).
‘Eating an oyster can be sublimely sensual’ Patrick McMurray says. ‘Bring the half shell to your slightly parted lips and tilt it back, allowing the soft flesh and liquid of this salty ocean treat to slide into your mouth.’
Oysters also are low in calories, only 7 calories each according to Morans Oyster Cottage. They are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and low in cholesterol. They are a great source of calcium and vitamins A and D.
They are also environmentally friendly. Oyster farmers don’t add any chemicals to their crops. They’re fed by Mother Nature.
They feed by pumping 1-6 litres of water through their gills every day – the equivalent of a human drinking a large public swimming pool every day, according to Morans.
Oysters have two hearts and they change sex frequently. The native oysters reproduce in the summer months and change sex every time they do so. They can be mother and father to separate litters in the same year.
‘As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.’ Ernest Hemingway.
As I did, I began to plan The Oyster Catcher…..
Excerpt from The Oyster Catcher
The sea air hits me like mouthwash for the head. It’s clean, fresh, and smells of salt. I’m standing on the steps of the Garda station; or Portakabin really. The wind blows my hair and I hold my face up to it, letting any tears that may have escaped mingle with the damp air. With my eyes shut and my face held up to the wind I realise two things. One, I’m in a place called Dooleybridge and two; I am absolutely stranded wearing the only dress I have – the one I’d got married in.
I open my eyes, shiver and walk back towards the harbour wall where the camper van had been. There are some scuff marks on the wall and a headlight that had fallen off, but other than that there’s no real trace that it was ever there at all. I bend down and pick up the light. Oh, that’s the other thing I realised while being cautioned. There’s absolutely no way I can go home, no way at all.
I turn round and walk back towards the road; when I say walk, it’s more a hobble. My shoes are killing me and are splashing water up the back of my feet and calves. But then it isn’t really gold mule weather. It’s cold and wet and I couldn’t feel any more miserable than I already do. I head back up the hill and cross the road just below the Garda station and step down into a tiled doorway. I take a deep breath that hurts my chest and makes me cough. I have no other choice. I put my head down. I touch the cold brass panel on the door and with all the determination I can muster, push it open.
The door crashes against the wall as I fall in, making me and everyone else jump. As I land I realise it’s not so much the throng I was expecting but a handful of people. All eyes are on me. A hot rash travels up my chest and into my cheeks making them burn and inside I cringe. I feel like I’ve walked on to the set of a spaghetti western and the piano player has stopped playing. ‘Sorry,’ I mouth and shut the door very gently behind me. My stomach’s churning like a washing machine on spin cycle. I look round the open-plan pub. At one end is a small fireplace and despite it supposedly being summer there’s a fire in the grate giving out a brave, cheery, orange glow against the chilly atmosphere. There’s an unfamiliar smell in the air, earthy yet sweet. In the grate there are lumps of what look like earth burning on the fire. Back home I’d just flick on the central heating but home is a very long way away right now. There’s wood panelling all across the front of the bar, above it, below it and round the walls. When I say wood panelling, it’s tongue and groove pine that’s been stained dark. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to be full of cigarette smoke but isn’t. In the corner by the fire there’s a small group of people, all of them as old as Betty from Betty’s Buns. Or as it’s now known The Coffee House. Betty’s my employer, or should that be ex-employer?
Betty refuses to take retirement and sits on a stall at the end of the counter, looking like Buddha. She’s never been able to give up the reins on the till. She did once ask me to take over as manager but I turned it down. I’m not one for the limelight. I’m happy back in the kitchen. Kimberly, who works the counter, tried for the job but Sandra from TGI Friday’s got it and Kimberly took up jogging and eating fruit. The group by the fire is still staring at me, just like Betty keeping her beady eye on her till.
There are two drinkers at the bar, one in an old tweed cap and jacket with holes in the elbows, the other in a thin zip-up shell suit and a baseball cap. They’ve turned to stare at me too. With burning cheeks and the rash still creeping up my chest, I take a step forward and then another. It feels like a game of grandmother’s footsteps as their eyes follow me too. The barmaid’s wiping glasses and smiles at me. I feel ridiculously grateful to see a friendly face. It’s not her short dyed white hair that makes her stand out or the large white daisy tucked behind one ear. It’s the fact she’s probably in her early twenties I’d say, not like any of her customers.
A couple of dogs come barking at me from behind the bar. I step back. One is black with stubby legs, a long body and a white stripe down its front. The other is fat and looks a bit like a husky crossed with a pot-bellied pig.
I’m not what you’d call brave really. I’ve always thought it was better to try and skirt conflict rather than face it head on. I look for someone or something to hide behind but the barmaid steps in.
‘Hey, settle down,’ she snaps. She might be small but she’s got a mighty bark. Unsurprisingly the dogs return behind the bar, tails between their legs. I think I’d’ve done the same if she told me to.
‘Now then, what can I get you?’ she wipes her hands on a tea towel and smiles again.
‘Um …’ I go to speak but nothing comes out. I clear my dry throat and try again.
‘I’m looking for …’ I look down at the piece of paper in my hand, the back of a parking ticket. ‘Sean Thornton?’ I look back at the barmaid.