Having worked in the maritime field for more than 40 years, Walter Curran knows a thing or two about the marine industry.
“It was a life that I loved,” said Curran. “It’s been my life. It really has.”
As a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1966, he was licensed as a third mate and was also commissioned as an ensign in the Navy Reserve. Curran spent four years at sea.
“At that point in time, being a city kid who never had two nickels to rub together prior to that, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. They were paying me to travel around the world and have a vacation. That’s literally the way I looked at it,” he said.
Curran, now retired and an Ocean View resident who also serves as the town’s mayor, recently published his first novel, “Young Mariner,” which follows the life of William Connolly, a street kid from South Boston as he embarks on his first job as a third mate on the cargo ship the MorMacPride.
“It’s based on fact, but it is fiction,” he said.
The novel is loosely based on Curran’s own life at sea, as well as the stories of some of his friends and fellow sailors.
“In the four years that I sailed, I’d been to many, many parts of the world, and I’ve had a lot of adventures. But even better than that, I’ve listened to a lot of stories from my shipmates… Some of them had the most unbelievable stories. So I mentally saved all of those. As the plot and character evolves, I simply attribute a whole bunch of these stories to the character. And I think it makes for a fairly exciting adventure story.”
Curran, who finished sailing in 1970 after fulfilling his military obligation, went on to work for General Dynamics as a test engineer and has also worked as a stevedore. He would later work as the deputy executive director of the Maryland Port Administration before moving on to Holt Logistics Corp. in Philadelphia. Although he’s retired, he still works as an expert witness in maritime affairs.
“The maritime schools — everybody had an opportunity to get a commission in the Navy Reserve, but when Vietnam was at its height, they actually wanted us to ship out in the Merchant Marine because they had plenty of Navy guys and there was a shortage of Merchant Marines,” he said.
“They did us a huge favor, because we had the Navy commission. We had to sail for nine months out of 12 for three consecutive years to keep that commission, which, as I say, was a no-brainer, because they were paying me to go on vacation.”
“Young Mariner” is the first of a planned trilogy, which starts and ends in New York, with visits to South America and the Great Lakes
“The second one will be trips to Africa — South Africa, East Africa and Southwest Africa. Some of the countries have totally different names these days, but it will be true to its time, which was the ’60s,” explained Curran. “The third and final, of this series anyway, will be to the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, at a time when things weren’t so nice.
“This is really based on facts that occurred on the trips. There are more adventures and more excitement for each trip. It’s a coming-of-age novel, if you will.”
Curran said he knew he wanted to tell the story for a long time.
“I knew I wanted to do the book. I didn’t have an ending in sight, other than I knew it was going to begin and end in New York. I didn’t have any idea what plot there would be. I just simply sat down to write, and it evolved.”
William’s adventures in the novel are taken from Curran’s own experiences at sea, along with those of his friends.
“This wasn’t me, but when I heard the story, I thought, ‘I know this was true. This is a story William is going to love,’” said Curran. “They were down in Recife, Brazil, on the way back north… Went out drinking with a guy at an infamous bar down there…
“William tells his other buddy, ‘I’m not interested in these women. This place is awful. I’m just going to drink,’ but ends up drinking himself senseless and ends up waking up essentially in the middle of the jungle in a tin-roof grass hut, sleeping naked next to a rather large naked native woman, with no idea where he was or how he got there… He managed to get back to the ship. He was a good 15 miles out.”
Curran said the real-life sailor, whose experience the mishap is based upon, truly had no idea what had happened.
“I sailed with him, and even after a year, he could never recollect leaving the bar, even.”
Curran said much of the novel was based on memories of his time at sea, coupled with notes.
“The more I write about it, the more memories come back,” he said, adding, “and, of course, you put a little flare in here or there to enhance things — a little murder, mayhem, a tinge of sex here or there, just to shake people up.”
“Young Mariner” is a very realistic look at life onboard a Merchant Marine cargo freighter in the 1960s, said Curran.
“Container ships today, they’re massive. They’re three times the size of what our ships were then. But when they come in now, they’re like a bus. They’ll dock at 7 a.m., and they want to be done by midnight or 7 a.m. the next day, to the minute. Because the ships are so much bigger and so much more expensive to run, they have to do it that way.
“We were never in a port less than two, three days, because everything was handled by hand or with forklifts and pallets. The longest I was ever in a port, I think was 10 days, down in Durban, South Africa.”
Writing the novel was a fun experience and “not at all a chore” for Curran.
“I looked at it initially as a travel log, in terms of sequence. Then I just tried to spice it up as much as possible, and, hopefully, I accomplished that…
“I found the writing to be very easy. I have never had what they call ‘writer’s block,’ not once in my life. I developed a style. After talking to some very accomplished writers, I realized I had luckily fallen into the right path. Once I get on a story and start writing, I just go until the brain stops. Forget about punctuation and all that. Just blurt it all out and then go back and do a rough edit and things like that.”
In 2011, Curran wrote “an extremely rough draft” of the novel and then set it aside.
“I completed it and then did absolutely nothing until probably sometime in 2014, when I got interested in the Rehoboth Beach Writers’ Guild and found out, to my amazement, that I didn’t know a heck of a lot about writing. I had never taken any classes or anything like that. I took some classes and I loved them, and found it was extremely helpful… and then started to edit the book, with the hope that I would publish it.”
Maribeth Fischer, the founder and executive director of the writers’ guild, suggested Curran join with other members — author Frank Hopkins, Billy Kennedy and Jackson Coppley — and put together a critique group.
“We call ourselves ‘the Gray-Haired Group,’ because we’re all gray,” joked Curran. “It was an interesting process. It was a feeling-out of egos. We discovered that we really like each other, that we can be politely brutal when it comes to the critique, and nobody gets upset or angry. They take it for what it is — an effort to help you improve. I think we all four collectively have improved quite a bit.”
One aspect of the book he said he loves is the cover and back cover, which feature actual photos of the MorMacPride, the ship he and William both sailed on.
“One of the nicest things for me at this point is that the photos on the front and back cover are photos of the actual ship I sailed on,” said Curran. “I worked with Mike McGowan, who designed the cover, and he did just a fantastic job.”
Curran said he did a great deal of research to ensure accuracy within the book, and even added a glossary for those who may not be as familiar with maritime terminology.
“I put a glossary in the book because all three of the fellas critiquing it said, ‘Well, we don’t know what that means.’ And I think back to some of the really good writers that did that when they got into technical things, and I thought, ‘I ought to aim in that direction.’”
Curran’s love of writing got its start in 1996, after visiting Ireland for the first time with his wife, Marie.
“That’s where I discovered I really didn’t need to kiss the Blarney Stone — I was already full of blarney,” he joked. “I really kind of discovered my heritage there. When we came back, I thought about it a lot and started writing poetry.”
Curran, who grew up in south Boston, like his character William, said that, as a young man in school, an affinity for poetry was not something to advertise.
“When I was a young kid and they had poetry classes, nobody growing up in the city that was male ever admitted that he either liked poetry or understood it. You’d get beat up by your friends. So I never admitted it, but I did actually understand a lot of it, and I liked it. Then life intervened, and you kind of get away from it.”
Most of Curran’s writings were inspired by people-watching during his early morning rail commutes to Philadelphia from Washington, D.C.
“I got to be a people-watcher, and I found them to be great topics for writing poems. So I let loose a softer, kinder side of me that I didn’t know or didn’t want to admit exists, and I just enjoyed it,” he said, adding that the span of his subjects continued to grow.
His first book of poems, “Slices of Life: Cerebral spasms of the soul” was published in December 2014 and are “slices of life” as lived and experienced by Curran.
“I’ve written poems about all of my kids and most of my relatives; foolishly, they all said they really liked them. So I put together a book, with the expectation that I wouldn’t sell one. I signed them out and gave them out to friends and family. They are just as much to blame as anybody else, for saying they liked the poems.”
Not wasting any time, Curran is now working on the second book in the William Connolly trilogy.
“I’m into the first chapter already,” he said. “This next novel, I got to see the apartheid system head on and what it does to a country, and things like that. I have some pretty interesting adventures in the next one.”
Curran’s books are currently for sale at Bethany Beach Books and available online in print and for Kindle on Amazon.com.
Currently, Curran does not have any signings scheduled, but he does plan to hold some later in the year.
As for who “Young Mariner” may appeal to, Curran said that could be anyone who enjoys W.E.B. Griffin, and possibly Tom Clancy fans.
“It’s an adventure. The friends that I have now who have just had a preview are all fans of David Baldacci and Dan Brown. They hinted people who read those books will like this kind of adventure. I don’t put myself in that category, but it’s nice to have those aspirations.”
Curran said he hopes those who read “Young Mariner” enjoy the novel and get a taste of adventure and the sea.
“It was a wonderful period in my life. I got to see the world, and certainly broaden my horizons, as they say.”
Curran’s books may be found on Amazon by visiting www.amazon.com/Young-Mariner-Walter-F-Curran/dp/1530488419 and www.amazon.com/Slices-Life-Collection-emotional-memorialized/dp/15054346....