Thursday, January 16, 2014

Guest Post & Excerpt ~*~ The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas

Oyster season, festivals and competitions.

Once I had decided I wanted to write about oysters I began to delve into the oyster world.
September marks the start of the native oyster season and in Galway they really know how to mark an occasion. In fact, Galway is known as the festival capital of Ireland.  

The Galway international oyster and food festival is the oldest oyster festival in the world. It was started in 1954 by Brian Collins the manager of the Great Southern Hotel (now the Hotel Meyrick). As the summer season tailed off and the tourists left, what better way to keep the visitors coming than to celebrate the oyster harvest.  

Just around the coast on the sheltered shores of Clarenbridge, where the oysters are grown and harvested, they too hold a festival to celebrate their greatest export, the native Clarenbridge oyster.  Their sheltered bay has the perfect ratio of fresh and salt water to produce oysters and have been doing so since Roman times. It’s a festival of food, entertainment, music and dancing.  Paddy Burkes, The Oyster Inn is a thatched pub in ‘the heart of oyster country’ where ‘Oyster and Guinness is the call of the day’ particularly during the festival, according to Canadian champion shell shucker Patrick McMurray. They have oyster opening and eating contests, brush dancing competitions and a best dressed person prize. They have a motto ‘The world is your oyster and Clarenbridge is its home.’
At the end of September Galway city comes alive with street parades and seafood trails and it’s here that the Irish and World Oyster Opening or shucking Championships are held. Shuckers, I came to realise, are an international community coming from all over the world for the event.

‘Oyster shuckers are the rock stars of the shellfish industry.’

The more I started to discover about oysters and their celebrations the more intrigued with the shuckers I became.

Patrick McMurray, owner of Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill and The Ceili Cottage in Toronto spends part of each year travelling to oyster competitions and food festivals all over the world. Patrick is one of the fastest shuckers in the world and according to his twitter page @shuckerpaddy, still holds the Guinness record for shucking the most oysters,38 of them in a minute. 

Galway though, has its own star in Micheal Moran. He was born on the day of the national oyster opening championship in 1983. Morans Oyster Cottage is his family business going back 250 years, seven generations and Micheal’s father before him was also a champion shucker.  Micheal is five time Irish oyster opening champion, twice European champion and World Champion 2006.  ‘Oysters and restaurants,’ he told Patrick McMurray ‘it’s in your blood.’

I was beginning to see it was and knew that I wanted to write about shuckers and the thrill of the shucking contests where speed, consistency and focus are what make winners and perfect oysters. As for my own shucking skills, I’m still practising…..

Blurb for The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas
According to a champion shell shucker, in order to open an oyster you first have to understand what’s keeping it closed.

When runaway bride Fiona Clutterbuck crashes the honeymoon camper van, she doesn’t know what to do or where to go.

Embarrassed and humiliated Fiona knows one thing for sure, she can’t go home. Being thrown a life line, a job on an oyster farm seems to be the answer to her prayers.  But nothing could prepare her for the choppy ride ahead or her new boss the wild and unpredictable Sean Thornton.
Will Fiona ever be able to come out of her shell?

As the oyster season approaches, will there be love amongst the oyster beds of Galway bay? Or will the circling sharks finally close in?

~ Buy Links ~ 
Amazon UK   ~   Amazon  ~  Accent Press

Excerpt from The Oyster Catcher
Chapter One
The sea air hits me like mouthwash for the head. It’s clean, fresh, and smells of salt. I’m standing on the steps of the Garda station; or Portakabin really. The wind blows my hair and I hold my face up to it, letting any tears that may have escaped mingle with the damp air. With my eyes shut and my face held up to the wind I realise two things. One, I’m in a place called Dooleybridge and two; I am absolutely stranded wearing the only dress I have – the one I’d got married in.
I open my eyes, shiver and walk back towards the harbour wall where the camper van had been. There are some scuff marks on the wall and a headlight that had fallen off, but other than that there’s no real trace that it was ever there at all. I bend down and pick up the light. Oh, that’s the other thing I realised while being cautioned. There’s absolutely no way I can go home, no way at all.
I turn round and walk back towards the road; when I say walk, it’s more a hobble. My shoes are killing me and are splashing water up the back of my feet and calves. But then it isn’t really gold mule weather. It’s cold and wet and I couldn’t feel any more miserable than I already do. I head back up the hill and cross the road just below the Garda station and step down into a tiled doorway. I take a deep breath that hurts my chest and makes me cough. I have no other choice. I put my head down. I touch the cold brass panel on the door and with all the determination I can muster, push it open.
The door crashes against the wall as I fall in, making me and everyone else jump. As I land I realise it’s not so much the throng I was expecting but a handful of people. All eyes are on me. A hot rash travels up my chest and into my cheeks making them burn and inside I cringe. I feel like I’ve walked on to the set of a spaghetti western and the piano player has stopped playing. ‘Sorry,’ I mouth and shut the door very gently behind me. My stomach’s churning like a washing machine on spin cycle. I look round the open-plan pub. At one end is a small fireplace and despite it supposedly being summer there’s a fire in the grate giving out a brave, cheery, orange glow against the chilly atmosphere. There’s an unfamiliar smell in the air, earthy yet sweet. In the grate there are lumps of what look like earth burning on the fire. Back home I’d just flick on the central heating but home is a very long way away right now. There’s wood panelling all across the front of the bar, above it, below it and round the walls. When I say wood panelling, it’s tongue and groove pine that’s been stained dark. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to be full of cigarette smoke but isn’t. In the corner by the fire there’s a small group of people, all of them as old as Betty from Betty’s Buns. Or as it’s now known The Coffee House. Betty’s my employer, or should that be ex-employer?
Betty refuses to take retirement and sits on a stall at the end of the counter, looking like Buddha. She’s never been able to give up the reins on the till. She did once ask me to take over as manager but I turned it down. I’m not one for the limelight. I’m happy back in the kitchen. Kimberly, who works the counter, tried for the job but Sandra from TGI Friday’s got it and Kimberly took up jogging and eating fruit. The group by the fire is still staring at me, just like Betty keeping her beady eye on her till.
There are two drinkers at the bar, one in an old tweed cap and jacket with holes in the elbows, the other in a thin zip-up shell suit and a baseball cap. They’ve turned to stare at me too. With burning cheeks and the rash still creeping up my chest, I take a step forward and then another. It feels like a game of grandmother’s footsteps as their eyes follow me too. The barmaid’s wiping glasses and smiles at me. I feel ridiculously grateful to see a friendly face. It’s not her short dyed white hair that makes her stand out or the large white daisy tucked behind one ear. It’s the fact she’s probably in her early twenties I’d say, not like any of her customers.
A couple of dogs come barking at me from behind the bar. I step back. One is black with stubby legs, a long body and a white stripe down its front. The other is fat and looks a bit like a husky crossed with a pot-bellied pig.
I’m not what you’d call brave really. I’ve always thought it was better to try and skirt conflict rather than face it head on. I look for someone or something to hide behind but the barmaid steps in.
‘Hey, settle down,’ she snaps. She might be small but she’s got a mighty bark. Unsurprisingly the dogs return behind the bar, tails between their legs. I think I’d’ve done the same if she told me to.
‘Now then, what can I get you?’ she wipes her hands on a tea towel and smiles again.
‘Um …’ I go to speak but nothing comes out. I clear my dry throat and try again.
‘I’m looking for …’ I look down at the piece of paper in my hand, the back of a parking ticket. ‘Sean Thornton?’ I look back at the barmaid.

~ Buy Links ~ 
Amazon UK   ~   Amazon  ~  Accent Press

Bio for Jo Thomas – The Oyster Catcher.
Jo Thomas started her broadcasting career as a reporter and co-presenter with Rob Brydon on BBC Radio 5, reported for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and went on to produce at BBC Radio 2 working on The Steve Wright Show.  She now lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her writer and producer husband, three children, three cats and a black lab Murray.  She writes light hearted romances about food, family, friendships and love; and believes every story should have a happy ending.
Twitter: @jo_thomas01

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