Major influences in my writing include Nicholas Monsarrat, C. S. Forester and John Wyndham.
My novels in the 'Fighting Sail' series are set during the Revolutionary wars but differ from the normal Hornblower/Aubrey sagas in that there is no "hero who becomes an admiral", rather characters from all divisions of the ship are featured, some to prosper, while others fail; many will continue in future books.
My latest novel in the 'Fighting Sail' series, Sea Trials, sees King facing an apparently unbeatable enemy force while he is trying to get back and resume command of HMS Mistral.. My most recent stand alone work, The Guinea Boat, is about smuggling on the South Coast.
I'm delighted to confirm that the Fighting Sail series is starting to appear in audio format with The Torrid Zone, narrated by my son, actor Timothy Bond, and The Scent of Corruption, narrated by Michael Troughton (actor son of the second Dr Who), now available from Audible. Other titles will follow and I understand Fireship Press are also considering the first five books for audio distribution.
In early 2020 I will be releasing Hellfire Corner, the first book in the 'Coastal Forces' series which will be set during WWII and is about an MGB flotilla based at Dover, an English town that suffered more than most from intensive air raids and was also subject to long-range artillery bombardment from the nearby French coast.
An excerpt from The Patriot's Fate :-
"King could hardly keep himself from smiling. He was dressed in seaman's duck trousers and a plain cotton shirt, doing work that could not by the widest stretch of credibility be called enjoyable; yet, once more, he was a lieutenant in His Majesty’s Navy. More than that, he had been appointed to one of the best frigates the old boy possessed and was serving with men he knew, liked and respected.
They had been hard at it since first light: seven hours with just a brief break for breakfast, and there was a wealth of tasks to finish before any of them slept. But still the feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment was all but overpowering. With every hoy or lighter that came alongside, another important commodity was taken on board, be it beef, spirit, powder or men; and, as the ship settled deeper into the water, a new life seemed to develop within her.
She was coming alive; more than that, due to the input in so many quarters, she was almost being born again. Whatever had been before would be forgotten, and a new HMS Scylla was appearing to start an unspoiled life under a fresh command. And King was part of that process – an important part. With every decision or order a piece of himself was being given to the ship and, in return, a portion of Scylla passed back for him to keep for always."
"Alaric Bond writes with a lively flair, weaving engaging, historically correct events into an entertaining tale cast with true-to-life characters – heroes and villains alike." Quarterdeck Magazine
Ahead of the release of my novel 'His Majesty's Ship' I was pleased to give an interview to Astrodene's Historic Naval Fiction which is reproduced below. For 'The Patriot's Fate' I recorded an interview with Seymour Hamilton which you can listen to here:-
When did you begin writing?
Not until my early twenties. It had always been an interest, but I was hampered with dyslexia which affected my handwriting and spelling. It wasn't until this was identified that things started to improve. I was one of the first to attend Clayhill Centre, a specialist school that carried out a lot of pioneering work treating the condition.
Do you regard Dyslexia as a major disadvantage?
No; the very reverse. Most people know how to spell; dyslexics have to remember and the discipline improves the memory. I find facts, dates and details very easy to recall. Moreover I think dyslexia encourages a lateral slant, certainly as far as solving problems is concerned, but also when writing creatively. A lot of my fellow comedy writers were dyslexic.
Describe your writing path to naval fiction.
Rather bumpy. I began long before word processors were freely available, and most of my work was poorly presented. I bought one of the new Amstrad PCWs and, for the first time, had control over presentation. I was published almost immediately afterwards.
My first work was for boys' adventure titles (comics!), writing battle stories and later M.A.S.K., a science fiction based concept that was heavily franchised. Since then I have worked for various periodicals, as well as a three year spell at BBC radio. I've also written for the stage and television.
Where did your interest in the sea originate?
I am English; it's in our blood!
What is the appeal of the Georgian period?
It was a fascinating time. Conditions changed greatly over a relatively short period and, on more than one occasion, Britain really was on its knees. A major factor in our survival was the personalities of the period. Obviously I'm thinking of naval commanders (and Nelson was only one of many really great leaders), but also politicians, engineers, scientists; figures from almost every field made a dramatic impact on our history.
How do you undertake your research?
The internet is a useful tool, although I tend to prefer good old fashioned books. I have favourites amongst historians, such as Michael Lewis, Christopher Lloyd, Colin White and Brian Lavery, but I also search out contemporary accounts whenever possible. News sheets from the period give an excellent insight, and there is something about touching the paper and reading the words printed at the time that almost takes you back there.
Your descriptions of life on board a Georgian warship are very vivid, how do you achieve this?
I believe that projection is the basis for all creative writing; if you have not actually been there you have to project: there is no other option. When I had just started writing historical naval fiction I attended an event hosted by the Historical Maritime Society. This is a group of enthusiasts who re-enact the period. Far more than dressing up in uniforms, they take great pains to truly understand and convey what it was like to serve in the navy at that time. I found myself talking to a purser who took me to meet their lieutenant in command; on the way we passed two ordinary seamen, who knuckled their foreheads. I was then introduced to the lieutenant, who wished me joy. After many months of imagining the uniforms and men, to actually see and meet them was oddly moving.
In the two books published to date you have no major hero, such as Hornblower; was that intentional?
Oh yes. I am a great fan of Forester, and many other nautical fiction writers, but they do tend to tread the same path. When you pick up a book about "Mr Midshipman Whatever" you have a strong inkling that he will survive to the end. More than that, there is more than an even chance he will be back as a lieutenant, a commander and on until the writer runs out of energy, or ranks. In the 'Fighting Sail' series I am focusing on a group of officers and men; some will prosper, while others fail, and there are some who will inevitably die. Each book centres on a few of these men, some may re-appear in other stories; a few will be featured prominently, while others will fade away. I feel this is an honest approach; one that truly represents the navy at that time, and I am also excited by the greater range of dramatic possibilities that this format allows
How important is history to your stories?
Very; I try to include as many actual events, and real people as I possibly can.
Do you plan your storylines before starting to write?
Yes, although sometimes characters and events can take over and surprise you.
You have recently moved to a new publisher; do you envisage any changes to your work?
Only for the better; Pen were friendly to deal with but they are a small press (and extremely slow at paying royalties!). Fireship are far more dynamic and their senior editor, Tom Grundner, is an expert in matters historical and nautical. We speak the same language, and I find his comments stimulating and encouraging. He also has a good eye for detail. You might notice that the original name for the 64, as quoted in Jackass, was HMS Proteus. I'd chosen that as there wasn't a ship by that name in the Georgian Navy. It was Tom who noticed that Proteus had already been used by another nautical fiction writer, so it was changed to Vigilant.
What are your future plans?
To write more books, continuing with the characters I have established, and following the history of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Fireship are releasing His Majesty's Ship in May 2009, and following up with a revised edition of The Jackass Frigate towards the end of 2009. I hope to have the next, which will concentrate on the mutinies, and Admiral Duncan's North Sea Fleet, ready for the spring of 2010.
Do you ever get bored with writing?
C S Forester Society Article
For the June 2012 issue of their magazine, Reflections, the C S Forester Society asked me to write an article on what influence he had on my writing. The article is reproduced below with their permission.
An Unlikely Sea Daddy
For me it all started with a slightly gruff and remote frigate captain. He was a man who lived his life bitterly aware of his own inadequacies, and in constant fear that one of his real, or imagined, weaknesses would expose him as the fraud he supposed himself to be. It was a wonderfully complex, yet understandable character and the fact that he shared a world that I then considered Nelson's was an added bonus, although if Hornblower had appeared in any other time or genre he would probably have been almost as compelling.
As I progressed through the series I realised there was more to the central role than just a well defined personality: Hornblower changed. This happened both in the long term, with age and maturity, and the short, as when his throat clearing tactic for avoiding conversation was identified by Lady Barbara. I had yet to start writing myself, but the subtleties of character, and the way Forester's creation developed, still fascinated me.
Comparisons will always be made with Patrick O'Brian, whose books are rich with an intricate and credible cast, but few are allowed to grow old, to mellow or harden with time, or even allow single events and experiences to alter them. Hornblower develops. The same traits may be apparent when a midshipman and an admiral, and there can be no doubt that the basic germ of character remains constant, but through the course of the series the anxious recklessness of youth merges beautifully into more dignified maturity and finally an accomplished, and slightly pompous, retirement. And it is a credit to his skill that Forester did not opt for the easy route and start the series with an adolescent soul; one that could age and ripen as years and experiences are gathered. In one of the later stories we have an aspiring, but socially naïve naval officer being blithely led into an unwanted marriage by a mixture of awkwardness and a dominating mother-in-law; contrast indeed to the successful but mildly crusty Commander-in-Chief heading for retirement that Forester had written about in his previous book.
So there we have it, a totally absorbing central character whose military career, personal history, and dynamic personality is finely mapped: the archetypical nautical fiction series that was one of the first, and arguably remains the best. Many have come along since of course, in fact today Historical Nautical Fiction is among the faster growing literary genres, and often the same general lines are followed. But the “midshipman who becomes an admiral” can only really be written once, and as it has already been done so well, what else can a new writer do to make his mark?
That was the dilemma I faced about twelve years ago. The Georgian period and specifically the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars had intrigued me for as long as I could remember, and I wanted to write a fiction series set in that time. Hornblower's presence was both an encouragement and an obstacle; I loved the books, but knew I could never hope to emulate Forester's characterisation, yet still felt that the fictional world of frigates and hard tack; close blockades and landing parties was large enough to take one more contributor.
My background to that point had been mixed, I had written in many fields with some success, but was principally known as a broadcast comedy writer. Consequently I didn't imagine that any prospective publisher would consider me worthy of the investment necessary to launch a new name, and the knowledge that the ultimate naval hero had already been created was always with me. So, rather than try to emulate or compete, I decided to have no central character at all and, steering even further away from the Hornblower series, set as many stories as possible during actual historical events. I'd also write about the entire crew, rather than a single man, or group of men. The action would be seen from all angles, from the lower deck seamen, to commissioned officers; marine privates, warrant officers, even doxies.
By then I had read quite a bit of other writers' Historical Fiction and recognised that often it could be an ill used term, with the emphasis falling firmly on the latter. I'd make mine as accurate as possible — anything else being an insult to those who had originally served — and tell an actual story using real figures from the period, combined with my own characters. And if a truly riveting fictional personality did appear, one who might even take over the show and dominate to the point where the series could be considered about that one person alone, well then they would just have to go.
I began to work on the first book and soon discovered that history is filled with opinions and beliefs; hard facts can be incredibly difficult to identify or pin down, and new research is constantly bringing up fresh little gems to contradict and confuse. Hollywood is responsible for many misconceptions while others have grown from folk tales and, I have to say it, historical fiction writers. Maintaining a credible story whilst avoiding such hazards was difficult, especially as new readers would require a good deal of explanation, and here again I benefited from reading Forester. The Happy Return is set almost in isolation, just two ships, and an otherwise empty ocean: effectively a blank canvas. Although Britain was at war with most of Europe, Hornblower was fighting his own private battle and only when the news that Spain had become an ally was he actually affected by the major conflict. This gave far more room for subtle explanation of shipboard life and terms, and a closer understanding of the characters, without becoming embroiled in the minor points of political or military history. I decided to follow a similar scenario with His Majesty's Ship, and, although I did give a little more attention to shore based life, and the current political situation, most of the action takes place aboard a ship involved in one single incident, with a crew I could properly introduce and really get to know.
And so my “crazy gang” of characters gradually emerged. From senior officers, to volunteers third class, I began with a fair representation of a ship's complement, concentrating on one or two individuals in each department. Some have since featured strongly throughout the series, while others make more spasmodic appearances, and many more give just a fleeting glimpse. With so many men in the Royal Navy it was, at once, both a small and a large world; certain officers would attract followers, enabling me to move entire groups from ship to ship, but there was also the anonymity that such a disparate force can give, and plenty of scope for describing service life during the French wars. And it was then, and only then, that I fully appreciated a somewhat macabre advantage to avoiding the course that Forester has set and so many have since followed: I could kill people.
It sounds harsh, but from a writer's point of view a central character can be very restrictive. From Ian Fleming to Arthur Conan Doyle the problem has been present; both writers grew tired of their hero and arranged his departure, only to be forced to rather shamefacedly resurrect them. Forester wrote out several minor and one major character, but I wanted no certainties. Every one of my players are extremely mortal; they may not necessarily fall in battle, some might simply leave the service, or transfer to another ship or station, but no one is safe. All are transient: everyone is expendable.
This angle gave me unexpected freedom and the second book, The Jackass Frigate, was allowed to delve a little deeper into the actual history of the period. To date I have included the Bantry Bay invasion, the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore, Duncan's ruse off the Texel, the Battle of Camperdown, the 1798 rebellion and Warren's action off Tory Island. I've also included several notable figures from the period including Jervis, Nelson and my own personal hero, Adam Duncan as well as spending almost an entire book aboard an East Indiaman.
My publishing route proved just as hard as I had expected. None of the established houses would even look at a manuscript and, although several literary agents showed initial curiosity, they could not secure a mainstream publisher willing to support a new writer. Eventually a small local press took book two, The Jackass Frigate, and the series was finally launched, if a little out of order.
Sales were good from the start, surprisingly so, as my promotional budget was very small. Jackass attracted attention worldwide, in fact, and came to the notice of Tom Grundner, a former US Naval officer turned writer. By then Tom had produced the first two books in his series about Sir Sidney Smith and compiled The Ramage Companion for a noted American house. He was also in the process of starting his own publishing company, Fireship Press, primarily to re-release forgotten nautical titles from the nineteenth century. He read His Majesty's Ship over the course of a weekend, and a contract followed on Monday morning, along with a request for rights for Jackass.
There were a few problems from the outset; Tom's skill lay more in distribution and logistics, and the first offerings from Fireship were poorly copy edited. But despite this the series has proved popular, with all the books achieving good steady sales. Other notable nautical writers have joined the fold, including Linda Collison, Steven Maffeo and Christopher Valin, and Fireship is now a significant international publisher specialising in nautical fiction and non fiction, but also with a large general catalogue.
Tom died suddenly in September 2011 and Michael James, a British born writer, now heads the company. Book five in my “Fighting Sail” series, The Patriot's Fate is about to be delivered and I am currently mapping out the scenario for book six. They will never compete with Forester's work, they were never intended to, and there certainly will be no central character as complex and fascinating as his. Hornblower has already been created, and could never be improved upon, but I am thoroughly enjoying writing about his times, and will always be grateful for the interest he first inspired.
About Alaric Bond
I have worked in various fields including television, radio and the stage but now focus on historical nautical fiction with fifteen published novels to date. Twelve are in the acclaimed ‘Fighting Sail’ series that centres on ‘Nelson’s Navy’ of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. These have no central hero but feature characters from all ranks and stations; an innovative approach that gives an exciting and realistic impression of life aboard a warship of the period.
Turn a Blind Eye and The Guinea Boat are set in the same era and mainly at sea, although concentrate more on the private war between smugglers and the revenue men.
Hellfire Corner is the first in a new series and marks a dramatic change in both emphasis and period with the focus being on Britain’s Coastal Forces during World War Two.
Apart from writing and reading I enjoy playing a variety of musical instruments, cycling, sailing and public speaking.
[Updated January 2020]
“A superb storyteller, Bond weaves bits and pieces into suspenseful scenarios, which move like smoke and oakum from one plight to the next.” Quarterdeck Magazine