Photo by Gerry Atkinson
How Whitstable RNLI partnered me to launch My new novel
On the evening of Thursday 25th August, I arrived in the cavernous space of Whitstable’s Lifeboat Station ready to launch, not the famous RNLI lifeboat, but a new book in my Whitstable Pearl series of crime novels.
The lifeboat itself was moored outside on the beach while rows of chairs had been set in its place ahead of an event which Whitstable RNLI had kindly invited me to stage in their conspicuous premises near the harbour.
Every author lives in fear that perhaps no-one will turn up to their events and book launches but I was heartened by the news that tickets had sold out for this event over a week before, that rain was holding off and the stifling temperatures of the recent heatwaves were finally abating. With the lifeboat station’s massive doors open for the evening, all there was to do was welcome the guests.
Kellie Gray, the Chair of Fundraising for Whitstable RNLI, and Sheila Wyver, its Treasurer, were stationed at the door to check tickets while Thelma Duke—an RNLI shop volunteer for at least 30 years—kindly offered to make me a nice cup of tea. Another RNLI shop volunteer, John Hill, and Ray Page, the lifeboat station’s Maintenance Manager and a former helm for a decade or more, together with first aider and crew member, Will Smith, were all on hand to make sure everything went smoothly during the evening—a clear example of the kind of close teamwork the RNLI always relies upon.
It was Kellie who had first suggested I could use the lifeboat station as a venue for my event after she had contacted me almost a year ago to ask for help with gathering prizes for an exclusive fundraising raffle she was organising. I was happy to donate a collection of my books and to rustle up more donations, including from Acorn TV, the makers of the TV series based on my books, Whitstable Pearl, who kindly gave 10 prizes of a year’s free subscription to their streaming service. Local restaurants, jewellers, local shops and businesses all responded to requests for contributions with the result that £1,000 was raised in raffle ticket sales—a sum matched by Barclays Bank, which doubled the final total to £2,000.
It wasn’t until several months later that my new book, Murder at Mount Ephraim, was due to be published but I told Kellie I’d be very pleased to take up her kind invitation of the lifeboat station for the book’s launch event and suggested that if we ticketed the event, all ticket proceeds could then go to Whitstable RNLI. It was for that reason that I was doubly pleased the tickets sold like hotcakes and I joked at the event that as the RNLI are such a highly-valued and well-loved institution, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the tickets had sold so well simply to support them.
I had always recognised this special evening to be a partnership and so I had also suggested to Kellie that a speaker from the RNLI should come along to explain about the important work the charity undertakes. RNLI Community Presenter, Gerry Skinner, duly arrived and gave an enlightening talk, clarifying how the RNLI is funded wholly by public donations, receiving no funds at all from the government, and explaining that the charity wishes to remain independent of the government so that it remains under no pressure to change the way it operates.
As a publicly funded charity, volunteers make up 95% of the RNLI which has been saving lives at sea for almost 2 centuries—regardless of whose lives they are or how they came to be in danger. Gerry gave his talk while standing beside one of his “Stormy Stans”—the wooden nautical characters who offer RNLI collection buckets to the public for much-needed donations.
As well as partnering the RNLI for the evening, this event was a welcome opportunity for me to make contact with my readers following a long separation caused by the Covid pandemic. Many of my readers are local people as my crime novels are all set (for the most part) in Whitstable and Canterbury, though the new book travels to Swale—to the striking manor house Mount Ephraim, which has been owned by the Dawes family for 3 centuries and nestles in 10 acres of beautiful gardens—the perfect setting for a “closed circle” murder mystery in the tradition of the classic “Golden Age of Detective Fiction” of which Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers remain queens.
It was lovely to welcome Lucy Dawes to the event and her former Accommodation Manager, Amy Baxter, both of whom had made me so welcome during my research stays at the house; firstly in Mount Ephraim’s Garden Wing, which is featured in the book and comprises 6 bedrooms, 2 sitting rooms, an enormous kitchen/diner and a games room including a full sized snooker table—and later, once I had almost finished writing the book and Mount Ephraim’s B & B wing had been allowed to open after lockdown restrictions were eased, I returned for 2 more very enjoyable research stays which led me to change the timing of the book from spring to late summer.
Answering questions from the audience about the TV series, Whitstable Pearl, starring Kerry Godliman as my private eye, Pearl Nolan, and Howard Charles as the London Met police DI who finds himself stranded on this piece of north east Kent coast with Pearl as his partner in crime, I found my attention was becoming increasingly transfixed by the sight of one of Whistable’s beautiful sunsets transforming the huge rectangle of sky beyond the station into a stunning backdrop for the whole event.
The lifeboat was there too, waiting patiently to find its home once more, and as that same sky turned from a cloudless bright blue to pale pink and finally a dusky coral, all that was left to do was to sign books for readers and open the cases of Prosecco I had taken along.
Liz Waller and Katey Pugh of Whitstable’s independent bookshop, Harbour Books, were then kept incredibly busy racking up sales while keeping me on track with the signing and away from too much Prosecco.
Over the next hour, Liz and Katey opened numerous boxes of stock and issued a huge satisfied sigh once sales were finally over. Hic…
As darkness finally began to fall, we hurriedly packed up our things, taking some last photos that featured RNLI tractor driver, Ray Davis, whose job it was to make sure the lifeboat went back in place.
My thanks go to Kellie Gray and everyone at Whitstable RNLI, to all at Harbour Books and Gerry Atkinson for her gallery of photos (see below) and to everyone who came along to make it such an enjoyable and memorable evening, not just for me as an author but for our local Whitstable RNLI—a beloved organisation made up of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. As such, it deserves all the support we can give.
If you would like to HELP the RNLI you can:
DONATE ONLINE via this Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/RNLI-Whitstable-Branch-2021-Lifesavers
Donate at the Whitstable RNLI Shop (next to the Lifeboat Station): https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/shops/whitstable-rnli-shop
(NB When the shop is closed you can donate via a touchscreen on the window near the shop’s door.)
Find out more about the TV series, Whitstable Pearl, a second season of which is on its way, by going to: https://uk.acorn.tv/search/whitstable%20pearl/
If you would like to know more about Murder at Mount Ephraim and my books – go to: www.juliewassmer.com
Photos by Gerry Atkinson:
(Click on images to enlarge)
Photos by Katey Pugh from Harbour Books
(Click on images to enlarge)
Julie Wassmer is a Whitstable-based author, TV writer and environmental campaigner.
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