Chatto & Windus has scored The Captain’s Apprentice: Biography of a Song by Caroline Davison, to publish for the 150th anniversary of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ birth.
Becky Hardie, deputy publishing director, bought UK & Commonwealth rights, excluding Canada, from Joanna Swainson at the Hardman & Swainson Literary Agency. Chatto will publish in August 2022, just before the anniversary on 12th October 2022.
In 1905 Ralph Vaughan Williams collected a folk song, “The Captain’s Apprentice”, from a fisherman in King’s Lynn. It was said that the song told the true story of a poor local boy, Robert Eastick, who was killed at sea. The Captain’s Apprentice tells the story of how the brutal murder of the cabin boy was transformed into a musical evocation of rural Norfolk by one of England’s most famous composers.
Chatto said: “The book will contrast the life stories of the two main protagonists – the well-to-do Vaughan Williams and the forgotten boy from the workhouse – and explore the impact of folk-song collecting on musical culture in 20th-century England. It will bring fresh perspectives on the lives of folk-song collectors, singers and the subjects of their songs, how they were recorded, who was commemorated and who remained unrecognised. Also interwoven will be the author’s own personal connection with folk song, through the story of a Hebridean ancestor visited by an eminent collector, and a Scottish folk song taught to her as a child through the oral tradition. The author’s story will cast light on how Vaughan Williams, along with Cecil Sharp, succeeded in bringing folk songs into every schoolchild’s life up until the 1970s, including hers.”
Davison is a historian, published author and musician with an interest in folk songs. She has lived and worked in East Anglia all her life, and knows intimately its landscape and places familiar to Vaughan Williams.
Hardie said: “The way Caroline has spotted this long-buried tale, and has been able to tell it by means of a series of interconnections with one of our most beloved cultural icons and her own family’s folk song past, marks her out as a true storyteller. We feel very lucky to be welcoming The Captain’s Apprentice and Caroline to Chatto & Windus.”
Davison added: “I’m thrilled that The Captain’s Apprentice has found a home with Becky and the team at Chatto. They have really understood what I’m trying to do with the book, and I can’t imagine a better place for it.”