One of the elements of writing my Kydd tales that I particularly enjoy is the research, and it’s one of the things I’m most questioned about when I give talks or do author signings. There are many aspects of this – consulting primary and secondary sources, speaking to experts, undertaking location research, visiting museums and archives. I’m often asked about the length of time research for a book takes – that’s a difficult thing to quantify because in some ways I guess I have been doing it subconsciously all my life, during my time at sea absorbing the universals all mariners take to their hearts and ingesting material from countless maritime books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I’ve been drawn to from an early age.
Experts to go!
I’m deeply indebted to the many experts who’ve contributed their time and knowledge over the course of the Kydd Series. Having one whose calling is centrally that which bears on a particular turning point of the developing tale gives a priceless authenticity to the narrative and usuallly spurs me on to deeper work, to the benefit of the emerging plot. There’ve been countless kind souls who’ve steered me true and of course I couldn’t possibly name them all, but to get an idea of the range and quality of these, here’s a random three:
Dr David Green at the USDA Forest Service provided details of the specific gravity of swamp oaks that enabled me to send Kydd on his night-time sabotage mission against the French frigate in Quarterdeck.
Dr Dennis Wheeler of the University of Sutherland shared his analysis of the meteorological conditions during October 1805, providing insights for Victory.
Dr Reg Murphy of the Antigua Dockyard told me the story of a deadly confrontation on the quayside in Kydd’s day. A rusting old anchor marks the spot where a British peer and acting commander – Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Baron Camelford – shot dead another officer in a pistol duel. This incident went on to become the basis for my fatal meeting between Farrell and Powell in Seaflower.
I work very hard to ensure the veracity of my books, and much of this I owe to the many leading authorities across a broad spectrum of specialities whom I’ve consulted over the years who have freely shared their knowledge. And of course my own professional experiences in the British and Australian navies, both on the lower deck as a naval shipwright and on the quarterdeck as an officer, are of immense value in achieving an insight into the motives, fears and satisfactions of life at sea.