New post on Julian Stockwin
Enjoying a convivial brew at a local tavern, young wigmaker Tom Kydd has no inkling that his life is about to change forever. Until now the momentous events of 1793 have had little impact on the rural township of Guildford, but Britain is at war with the French Revolutionary regime and must hastily man its navy. Throughout the countryside the press-gangs are busy at work, ‘impressing’ men by force into the king’s navy, and the appalled patrons of the Horse and Groom are amongst their haul.
Home for Tom and his fellow captives is now HMS Duke William, a massive ship-of-the-line. It’s a terrifying, alien world. Conditions are grim, discipline harsh, the rigid rules of conduct and even the language incomprehensible. Kydd is fortunate; under the patient tutelage of a kindly old sea hand he discovers an affinity for the sailor’s life. Laughing with exhilaration in the teeth of a gale, he has an epiphany:
‘Something in him reached out and was answered. A fierce joy touched his soul. It didn’t matter that the situation was perilous or the ship doomed. From that moment on Kydd knew in his heart that he would be a seaman.’‘Kydd is the opening salvo in an addictive series of naval adventures, marked by excellent characterisation and fluid, fast-paced prose. Landlubberly readers may initially flounder in the welter of unfamiliar naval jargon. Grab a lifeline and hang on; as Kydd learns the ropes, so do we, experiencing with him the majesty of the ocean in all its moods, exotic destinations, dramatic, bloody battles on land and sea, and the sturdy comradeship of messmates whose lives depend upon each other’s teamwork.
Based on the historical record
As I wrote in the Author’s Note, Kydd is definitely based on real life. I feel that I would devalue what the eighteenth-century seaman really achieved were I to exaggerate or distort facts for the sake of drama – for me, a particularly odious form of betrayal. Therefore, all the major actions and most of the minor are as close as I can make them to the real thing.
In the circumscribed world of eighteenth- century society, there were those fortunate enough to be well-born, and there were the lower orders who knew their place and in the main accepted it. Yet in the twenty-two years of warfare at the end of the century, a total of 120 or so men crossed from the fo’c’sle to the quarterdeck through their own exceptional merit, passing thereby from common seaman to gentleman. And of these, twenty-two went on to become captain of their own ship, and three, possibly five, ended as admiral! Thomas Kydd is based on these.
And imagine my surprise when I came across an eighteenth century portrait of a master’s mate named Thomas Kydd! Is this what my hero might have looked like? He’s quite a handsome chap…
Moon rocket of its day
The mighty ship-of-the-line was as complex in its day as a moon rocket today. Most seamen were proud, self-sufficient and resourceful men sharing a remarkable culture, but they were not articulate. This book is my tribute to those who became masters of the sea in the greatest age of fighting sail.
Minor character spotlight: Ah Wong
I greatly enjoyed creating the cast of characters for Kydd and as the lower deck of a man-o’-war was very varied in terms of race, colour, creed – and life experiences, I had great scope.
Ah Wong first appears in in chapter two of Kydd; he’s the first Chinaman Tom Kydd has ever seen. Born second son of a minor mandarin to a favourite concubine, Ah Wong, real name Wong Hay Chee, seemed destined for a life of cultured ease in Kwangchow (Canton). However the accession of Emperor Chien Lung to the Dragon Throne was accompanied by social upheavals in distant provinces; his father was disgraced and committed suicide. His mother took the lively five-year-old into the safety of the countryside, but the dreary back-breaking labour broke her spirit and she died. Ah Wong was left to a childless rice farmer, where he endured his unhappy circumstances with uncomplaining stoicism. Unusually well-built, ‘Little Buddha’, as he was called, would impress his friends with his raw strength, and when a travelling circus passed through, he joined to become a strongman. After three years, bored with the same routines, Wong was easily tricked into shipping out in an opium trader to India. The clean and settled sea life appealed with its attractions of comradeship and adventure, and when the ship arrived to await the new-season crop, he had no hesitation in signing on in a homeward bound East Indiaman. Cast ashore on arrival in an uncaring London, he was easy meat for the press-gang at the outbreak of war, and quickly found himself with new messmates in the 98-gun Duke William.
Previous blogs on Kydd
My first book
Kydd’s home town
Kydd has been published in the UK/US in English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese and in ebook, large print and audiobook
Buy on Amazon or The Book Depository (free postage worlwide!) Also widely available at independent bookstores
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