SEAFLOWER and CARIBBEE
[To leave a comment go right to the end of the page and just enter it in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box]
More than a decade ago, in SEAFLOWER, Thomas Kydd and Nicholas Renzi were in the Caribbean as sailors before the mast in an old line-of-battle ship. Now, in CARIBBEE, Kydd, a storied hero of Trafalgar, holds the glory of being post-captain of a 32-gun frigate.
Kathy and I had over three weeks in the Caribbean on location research for SEAFLOWER and I knew Kydd would be returning there at some point in his career. We took hundreds of photographs and extensive notes – so I wasn’t short of material for CARIBBEE. I also have a full set of Navy electronic navigation charts of those waters.
I can only speak for myself as a writer, but I feel it’s necessary, wherever possible, to visit the locales I write about to really get a visceral feel of a place and how it would have been two hundred years ago. There are also the small things – the colours, smells and sounds which you just can’t get from travel books.
On our Caribbean location research we studied in depth four countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guadeloupe and Barbados.
In Kydd’s time, the British Navy’s presence was broadly divided into the Leeward Squadron (whose main role was protecting the sugar islands against the French) and the Jamaica Squadron (who concentrated on anti-piracy and countering the Spanish).
The Leeward Island Squadron used the dockyard facilities at Antigua and St. Johns, to the north of the island, as an administrative base. Watering was mainly done in Barbados, which was handily upwind of everywhere.
After a long flight from the UK we landed in Jamaica and first based ourselves at Strawberry Hill in the Blue Mountains, making the 15 mile trip down to various research facilities in Kingston each day (on a very precipitous, narrow road).
Henry Morgan’s Port Royal (reputedly once the wickedest city on earth) slid into the sea a century before Kydd arrived, but the bones of the dockyard still exist near Kingston.
One of the interesting side trips I did was to the mountain hideaway of Ian Fleming, where he wrote “Dr No”.
Then we took a light aircraft to Antigua, and set off for English Harbour, a fascinating Georgian dockyard that Kydd worked in, and an important careenage in the eighteenth century.
Next stop was Guadeloupe, gathering background on the French presence, then it was off to Barbados, a colony they say was more English than England in the eighteenth century!
Many months before we leave on such trips Kathy and I work out, in a general sense, what material we need, what things to see, who to contact. Then she sets about lining up appointments, checking museum opening times and hiring translators if necessary.
Once we arrive in a location, the first stop is always the museums and libraries, plus historical studies departments of the university, and any other local experts we have identified. We also spend some time getting a feel of the place, especially in terms of local food, customs etc.
Quite often, one research lead will point us in the direction of another. As well as being planned, you have to be quite flexible. For example, we tracked down one eminent academic in the middle of an eighteenth century archaeology dig in the field! It is from people such as these that you get the real insights and local colour that you just can’t get any other way.
There were many highlights of the trip. Among the special moments – setting up deckchairs at the edge of the ocean at the end of a long day and just watching the glorious sunset; looking out across the bay at Antigua to the angry, spuming steam of the Montserrat volcano, not more than ten miles away; and being an old Navy man, of course visiting Mount Gay Distilleries, the world’s oldest rum distillery!
The Caribbean islands have an incredible variety of culinary delights. The cuisine was definitely a wake-up call for Kydd’s and Renzi’s tastebuds after their plain ship-board fare. There’s callalloo (a sort of spinach, popular at breakfast with green banana); black crab pepperpot (pepperpot is thought to have arrived from South America with the Amerindians; it’s a delicious, spicy stew) and sangaree (a refreshing long drink made with madeira, sugar, water and grated nutmeg on top). There’s also ackee, really a fruit but eaten as a vegetable and resembling scrambled egg in appearance; bammy (a local bread) and jerk hog.
Rum production was well underway in the Caribbean by 1703, plenty of time to perfect this for rum punch recipe:
One of sour (lemon or lime juice)
Two of sweet (sugar or syrup)
Three of strong (dark rum)
Four of weak (water)
Grated nutmeg to taste
Serve well chilled with plenty of ice! But be warned; they’re quite addictive…
CARIBBEE is published next month, in hardback and ebook format
Pingback: Caribbee: A return to turquoise seas | Julian Stockwin
Pingback: Caribbee: A return to turquoise seas | Julian Stockwin
Pingback: Seaflower: Turquoise Waters, Deadly Perils | Julian Stockwin
Dear Julian, So good to hear of your research technique for your books, which I have enjoyed very much indeed and look forward to you writing many more. You brought back memories of my time in the Caribbean on the Royal Yacht in 1966 with the Queen And the Duke of Edinburough. Thank you very much indeed.
Sent from my iPad Frank Kent
Stayed with friends in the Blue Mountains many yrs ago. I remember the roads!
In the even that you are interested, Dr. Donnie Hamilton of the Anthropology Dept. at Texas A&M University conducted many seasons of excavations at the submerged remains of Port Royal. I’m sure that this work resulted in many papers and theses, but the one of which I am specifically aware is the Ph.D dissertation of a Scots former employee of mine, Dr. Madeline Donachie. Her theses was published in the prestigious British Archaeological Reports (“BAR”) series.
Gee I wish you wouldn’t do this Julian. I was recently gifted with most (all through Conquest) of your Kydd series and had just finished reading Seaflower so opened the newsletter. In one sentence you destroyed the future for my reading.
To date I have enjoyed the detail although I do think that this lad was promoted too soon and too often to be real.
I’ll try to forget, ;-), and continue through the series. I understand that you are promoting your newest books but much prefer your tales of nautical matters without giving away the content of the series.
What volumes will I need to acquire (Conquest is last I have) to complete the series?
Best John Commander, USN (ret)
John – the series is by far from finished! I have quite a few more to write… After CONQUEST, there’s BETRAYAL and CARIBBEE (out next month) By the way, the series is based on the actual historical record and there are certainly cases similar to Kydd’s promotions!
Absolutely fascinating insight into your research and definitely enhance the understanding of how you can immerse your readers so completely. Couple of questions, do you do any workshops or public speaking style events on your work (aspirant, have a go author in me trying to get out!) and is there a date for Caribbee in audio book format? Work means many road miles and your books have been trusted companions for countless hours in this guise.
Tim – I’ll be at a panel event in Bristol next month. “The best Port of Trade in Britain: Bristol’s Maritime History” on 26 October 2013, 2-4 pm . The Studios, M Shed, Princes Wharf, Wapping Road, Bristol BS1 4RN. The event, organised in partnership with Bristol’s M Shed, is part of the Historical Novel Society’s new initiative “Meet the Historians” which aims to bring together members of the public and experts such as historians, archaeologists, genealogists, librarians, archivists and fiction and non-fiction writers.
This is a free event but please book your place by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
And no doubt, other talks during the year. These will be publicised as details come to hand.
As yet no date for CARIBBEE in audio book format, but I’ll also be publicising this when I know.
‘Seaflower’ was the first Kydd novel I read. I purchased it in a airport departure lounge for something to read on the flight. I had never come across Kydd (or Julian Stockwin) although I was an enthusuastic follower of Jack Aubrey, having read the whole P O’B series many times. I was attracted most to buy ‘Seaflower’ by Geoff Hunt’s superb cover but was soon hooked. I still think that Kydd’s (and Renzi’s) early Caribbean adventures are among the most gripping in the series.