Paul Gilson

Author of Sole Searching.

PTW_2454Born in the Thames fishing town of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, I left school at 15, as this was what was expected of a fisherman’s son. My family’s fishing heritage spans back 300 years and so there was no question I would be anything other than a fisherman. Even before I could walk, I was being trained to fish, starting with a sprat in a bucket and a net in hand, then rod fishing as a kid at the end of Southend Pier, where I would watch my father, who was the coxswain, launch the Southend lifeboat, before joining both the RNLI and the family firm in my early teens.

I only began writing in my forties when I realised that the trade I was in was dying, as was a way of life that had existed for centuries. And because people said they loved to hear my stories, so I started to write them down.

My short stories and poems are about the landscape, nature, travel and people I meet, and about the transformation of the Thames both in the past and present. I like to make readers laugh and sometimes cry with the reality of a life at sea. Occasionally, I write about catching fish too.

Sole Searching, Tales of a Thames Fisherman was my first book (published in 2011 by Estuary Publishing) and it was a record seller at the local branch of Waterstone’s, outstripping sales of Call for the Midwife, which was on the TV at the time and on sale at half price! Urged on by readers of the book and my publishers, I am now writing a second book, which I am contemplating calling Sole Survivor, as this is what I often feel about my business. I am one of the few remaining fisherman on the Thames.

But writing has become a real passion, and over the years I have had many features and photographs published in titles such as Motorboat & Yachting Magazine, Fishing News, Essex Life, and I am a columnist for Talk of the Thames, published by the Thames Estuary Partnership.

I have plenty of radio experience, as a regular guest on BBC Essex radio and local stations, and I’ve done some work for TV too, taking part in a BBC programme about the working of fishermen in the UK, and a Yesterday Channel documentary about the sacrificial role of fishermen in the war.

The fishermen of Leigh-on-Sea played a vital role in the Second World War rescuing stranded troops in northern France in their ‘little ships’. Six fishing boats left, five returned, and only one, the Endeavour, remains in the town. I am Vice-Chairman of the Endeavour Trust, and helmsman of Endeavour, the restored cockle boat. As part of the 70th anniversary in 2010, I took Endeavour back to Dunkirk, joined by members of the Osborne family who had lost their relatives when their fishing boat Renown was blown up by a mine.

I’m very passionate about conservation of the Thames and North Sea marine life and have been invited into the Houses of Parliament to brief MPs and MEPs about the concerns of the fishing community. I was previously a member of the Kent & Essex Sea Fisheries Committee, the Crouch Harbour Authority Committee, the East Coast Dredging Liaison Committee, the Thames Estuary Partnership and Fisheries Group, and am a founder member of the Leigh Port Partnership. I was also a former Commodore of the Essex Yacht Club.

In 2000, I was made a Freeman of the Borough of Southend. I have been decorated with the Royal Humane Society Award and two vellums from the RNLI, for acts of bravery during my 30 years of service.

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