Song of the Sea is as compelling a novel of love, loss, and regeneration carved out of tragedy, as you could hope to read. Only, wait, this is no novel, but a first-hand memoir, a memoir with the sort of narrative grip that most romantic novelists can only dream theymight achieve.

Jane Dolby endured the ultimate nightmare of every fishing family when her husband Colin was lost at sea in the Thames Estuary. The waves almost closed over her as well, but in the end, music gave her a grasp on life again.

The setting-up of the Fishwives Choir gave a voice to hers and other fishing communities in the UK.

The story has become a familiar one through the pages of this newspaper, and national media, but it acquires a new power when told in the words of the person at the centre of the Fishwives’ tale.

It makes a difference that Jane Dolby is a natural writer and storyteller.

In the book she recalls how, as a child, she loved to play with her mother’s huge old Imperial typewriter. “By the time I was six or seven I could type and change the ribbons, and spent huge amounts of time writing stories and turning them into ‘library books’.” Now, with the benefit of a powerful story to tell, all that early writing experience has paid off.

Jane was in a low state when she moved back to her home town of Westcliff after a failed marriage and after her dreams of being an actress and pop star had gone nowhere fast. It was then that she met Colin, a shy fisherman, “about as far from what I thought of as my world as I could have imagined.”

But Colin used the sea to court her, taking her out in his boat on an extended fishing trip, and Jane found herself turning into a fisherman’s girl.

The daughter of an Inland Revenue official, she had not been born to the sea, but she came to understand it. Her descriptions of coastal waters and the fisherman’s life show the brine has entered her bloodstream.

Colin and Jane were married in 2002, and enjoyed six years of happymarried life with their four children.

In the run-up to Christmas 2008, Colin set out on a routine fishing expedition, and ran into a violent gale.

The Thames Estuary, which had supported her husband’s family for 300 years, turned in fury against Colin’s boat.

Although built to withstand the most violent conditions, it was sunk by the sheer force of waves.

Along with the agony of loss, Jane had to endure long months of waiting before, first the boat, and then Colin’s body, were recovered.

She spares readers nothing in her description of the racking effect of grief. “I’d compare it to when a woman’s in labour,” writes Jane. “It’s impossible to remember being free of pain. In fact it’s impossible to focus on anything other than enduring the agony.”

Yet there was a tiny silver lining to Jane’s plight, since it introduced her to the Fishermen’s Mission, the charity which had been looking after storm-tossed families since Victorian times.

It took four years, but in the end, Jane did find a way out of the agony.

In 2012 the failed “pop star”

started to take singing lessons, training the voice that had screamed in pain at Colin’s death intoamore harmonious path. Music was back in her life, and she deployed it as a way of showing her gratitude to the Fishermen’s Mission.

Inspired by the success of the MilitaryWives Choir, the Fishwives Choir was created on a single day, April 17, 2012, using the power of Facebook.

By May, the choir was already famous.

  • Song of the Sea by Jane Dolby is published by Orion at £7.99