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?