While working on his book The Life of Arthur Ransome, Hugh Brogan chanced upon the unfinished scrip of a thirteenth ‘Swallows and Amazons’ story in Ransome’s desk in the Abbot Hall Museum in Cumbria, where it had lain unknown except to a few. It had no title (‘Coots in the North’ is Brogan’s invention) but there were a few preliminary drawings which Ransome might have included had this gem been brought to life in book form. Why he abandoned it is not know, for he left a clear outline of how he intended to go on once the three young Coots – Joe, Bill and Pete – had completed their hair-raising journey as stowaways from Norfolk to the lakes in the North. There, on a salvage mission, they encounter for the first time the intrepid Nancy Blackett.
‘Coots in the North’ is introduced by Brogan’s lively account of how Arthur Ransome found fame and fortune through the Swallows and Amazons, and is accompanied in this collection by other delights which turned up among Ransome’s papres in the Brotherton Library at Leeds University. An unfinished Victorian ‘Bevis’-style novel yielded two superb stories, complete in themselves – ‘The Cloudburst’ and a fishing tale called ‘The River Comes First’. The Baltic sailing mysteries originally published in Pall Mall Magazine in 1929, ‘Two Shorts and a Long’ and ‘The Unofficial Side’; the Breton ghost story ‘Ankou’, which first appeared in English review in1914; and an eerie cautionary tale of old Russia called ‘The Shepherd’s Pipe’ complete this testament to Ransome’s storytelling genius, which should not be missed by enthusiasts young or old.