gill shaw

featured author of the season - winter 2023

gill shaw

Gill Shaw has been a professional and highly successful photographer of people for more than 25 years. She is an Associate of the Master Photographers Association and Royal Photographic Association, and she has photographed people from all walks of life from the royal family to islanders on a remote island in Africa.

Now Gill has outstepped her comfort zone, and published a book which looks into the lives of some of the people who live or work on a canal boat. 'Canal Boat Lives' is primarily a book of photographs, and is presented in  conjunction with a National Touring Exhibition. The book follows on from the success of another book of photographs and individual comments entitled 'The hero inside'.

canal boat lives

the hero inside

gill shaw - slightly offstage

Canal Boat Lives

Gill's book, Canal Boat Lives, is in landscape format - in keeping with the Pearson Canal Guides, and with a cover in keeping with the traditional green and red of canal boats.

The book is primarily a collection of photographs, and the text inside consists very largely of the words of the boaters who are photographed. Most of these boaters seem to be based in the South East, more specifically in and around London. But in fairness to the author, there was never any intention to spread the coverage nationwide.

In the volume, there are gathered several musicians, a graphic designer, a writer, a psychotherapist, a foreign correspondent, a pair of DJs, an archaeologist, boat builders, a theatre company and a delightful young boy with autism. The boats photographed include a variety of steel narrowboats including one which has been turned into Del Boy's Robin Reliant. There are also a couple of widebeams - unashamably being described (and indeed shown) as floating luxury apartments.

The photographs are, of course, quite stunning, and those photographs which reveal the inside of boats show that each boat has its own individual style and personality, reflecting the boaters who dwell in them. It is good to see those who not only live aboard, but work aboard to keep themselves afloat.

It would have been easy for Gill Shaw to present a rather romanticised view of life on canal boats, but she does not shirk away from those who mention toilets, the cold and the mud, although these seem to be rather incidental to this wonderful way of life. She doesn't dwell on boaters who struggle to keep going; who cannot afford moorings, and cannot maintain their boats satisfactorily. But she does give us some insight into the lives of people who work hard to keep themselves afloat - such as the young man who repairs, and apparently lives and breathes bicycles which he has rescued from the canal.

The aim of the book is to give us a glimpse of the variety of life on our inland waterways, and the author does a stunning job in presenting the lives behind the colourful boats in Little Venice, Regent's Park and other collection points in and around London. The impact of the book would not be so great if the viewpoint looked at the less colourful boats on the system.

What Gill Shaw does show is that, contrary to the beliefs of many, all boaters are not wasters on benefits or little more than water gypsies. In fact there is as much of a cross section of people as you would find on land. But on boats, well it seems, people do have something a bit special.

This book is a must for anyone interested in boating life. You can view it from many different angles. From the coal merchant who lives in a tiny cabin, to the floating palacial rooms of the wide beam. From those who live in a house, but holiday on their boat, to those who have no home mooring but drift around the countryside from one place to the next. Then those that move sweetly from one marina to the next, living nowhere in particular, but always having the benefits of water and electric - and showers.

Life on a boat is the same as life on land. You live within your means, and in keeping with your dreams. And the ultimate success of Gill's book must lie in the fact that the nature of humans is to be ever curious, and to enjoy glimpses, however brief, into the lives of others. You cannot help browse through the pages, read little snippets, put the book down, and pick it up immediately to read a little more...

You can buy a copy of Gill Shaw's book 'Canal Boat Lives' from Amberley Publishing,
The Hill, Merrywalks, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 4EP.

Copies of Gill Shaw's books are also available on Amazon.