The Birth of a Book: CARIBBEE

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FIRE Book Review of Caribbee

CARIBBEE is the latest title in my Thomas Kydd series and as it’s officially launched into the world today it’s a pretty special time (as is true for most authors, I guess) – seeing your creation, the work of at least a year – now out there for all to read, to (hopefully) enjoy, to review, to comment on…

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As I’m writing a series I plan a number of my books ahead so that I know in broad terms what will be covered in succeeding titles. This was certainly the case with CARIBBEE as I’d decided that after the ill-fated expedition in South America in BETRAYAL, L’Aurore would be sent to Barbados to plead for reinforcements and thereby enter an entirely more agreeable scene.

The genesis of CARIBBEE actually goes back to 2002, when Kathy and I headed off on location research for SEAFLOWER.

But the big difference of course between these two books is that in CARIBBEE Kydd is a post captain, something he could never have dreamed of on his first visit to these shores as a young seaman.

Oliver Johnson, my editor at Hodder & Stoughton

My working year now revolves around various set events. As soon as I’d delivered the manuscript for BETRAYAL to my editor at Hodder & Stoughton, Oliver Johnson, on January 1, 2012, I moved all the research material, planning notes etc. for that book into an archive file and opened new files in my computer for CARIBBEE. Quite a deal of my earlier work for SEAFLOWER was relevant but there was much new material to research and digest.

The Kydd Series follows the actual historical record so the first stage of my research was a detailed examination of what was going on in Kydd’s world in 1806/7, especially in the Caribbean. The West Indies was hugely important to Britain. At the start of the Napoleonic wars four fifths of all overseas Exchequer receipts came from these parts. There were also some interesting geo-political aspects, Napoleon’s Continental System among them. And slavery was still being practised. Lots of meat and drink for a writer!

But the research is only the first step. Foremost is the imperative to tell a story, a good dit. This means having a strong narrative thread, and several related ones; consolidating the stakes of the book; deciding on viewpoints – all the questions that have to be answered in order to craft a novel.

So once I’d finished my preliminary research – a couple of months – it was time to dust down the White Board and Kathy (who works very closely with me on many aspects) and I sketched out the broad outlines of the story. Among other things this generally throws up areas that need more research.

I find the planning and detailed research stage takes about six months; writing, the other half of the year.

During the course of writing a book there are always things that pop up – plot problems, character niggles, narrative balance. Kathy and I walk and talk these along the bank of the River Erme. Our rule: we can’t return until resolution is arrived at! I think the record is six hours for one particularly knotty problem.

Carole Blake, the literary agent who made it all happen

Carole Blake, the literary agent who made it all happen

After careful editing and checking, CARIBBEE was delivered on January 1 this year. It’s always a bit of a nail-biting time but Editor Oliver Johnson came back pretty swiftly:
‘A beautifully engrossing, often sweet and pulse pounding novel. A very fine addition to the Kydd oeuvre… I couldn’t put it down. I loved the excursion to the west coast of Jamaica and the Tysoe backstory. The hurricane section contained some of the most thrilling sailing scenes I can remember. Hurricane apart, your book made me want to ditch my keyboard and head to warmer climes. Oh, for a draft of Blue Mountain coffee… You are non pareil in the field!’

Champers cracked that night!

I’ve been very fortunate to have had Hazel Orme as my copy editor since book one; she’s probably the best in the business! Hazel spots any inconsistency or grammatical error and prepares the manuscript for typesetting before it’s sent off to the printer.

As this is happening, Hodder’s Sales & Marketing team are thinking about how they are going to present the book to the trade. About this time cover discussions are started – but that’s the subject of my blog post tomorrow…

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