KYDD, My First Book
Looking back at this, the debut novel in the Kydd series, it hardly seems that a decade has passed since I very nervously submitted a proposal to write a series about a young man press-ganged into the Royal Navy, who eventually goes on not only to cross the great divide between the lower deck and the quarterdeck, becoming not only an officer, but eventually to make admiral!
The agent to whom I sent my little package (it wasn’t done by email in those days…) was Carole Blake. Kathy and I had made up a long list of agents we planned to approach. Although we both believed in the series with all our hearts we were realistic enough to know that it would be highly unlikely to find an agent willing to take the project on at our first attempt – and we were starting with one of the country’s very top agents…
However, the patron saint of writers must have been looking down on me and Carole came back very positively and suggested a meeting. We liked each other and it went from there – auctions both sides of the Atlantic, foreign translation deals, audiobook contracts…
As it is my first book, KYDD will always hold a special importance for me. My first contract was for four books, which seemed a huge undertaking – even though as a computer systems man I had mapped out outlines and plots for the first twelve titles (that’s now expanded to over 20!). When I decided to see if I could write about the great age of fighting sail I took the big step of giving up full-time work and accepting a half-time position lecturing in computing at a local college. (Kathy was still working full-time.) In stages I gave up the day job and then Kathy joined me so we could work as a full-time creative team.
Favourite scene? Probably Kydd’s first night aboard when he finds solace deep in the bowels of the ship thanks to a kindly boatswain – and a little warm, furry creature…
Why choose a wig-maker for your hero?
I wanted to have someone not at all connected with the sea, taken against his will into His Majesty’s Royal Navy but who grows to love the life and find a natural ability as a seaman. I chose to have him as a wig-maker somewhat on a whim but also as this was an occupation facing many challenges with changes in society at that time and through this I could also reflect the Georgian age ashore.
Where did his name come from?
Ah! I thought long and hard about this, wrote down hundreds of possible names from the period, wandered through numbers of graveyards looking at tombstones. I knew I wanted something manly, of the time, but also with a modern ring. Princess Diana’s mother’s name was Frances Shand Kydd. ‘Kydd’ somehow rang a bell and when I checked I confirmed it would certainly have been found in Georgian times.
What was the hardest thing you encountered in writing this book?
That’s easy – adjusting to having Kathy critique my work! In the early stages she was kind but very firm. I would look at the proverbial blue pencil marks (she is an ex magazine editor-in-chief) all through my lovingly crafted work and resent every change she suggested. But in a fairly short time I realised she has superb editorial judgement, and I trust her unconditionally now.
How much of your own naval career was brought to bear?
For me, it has to be said that having served in the Navy has proved invaluable in my writing. I know the traditions of the sea, many of which have not changed even to this day. And quite a few of the characters in my books are based on actual mariners I have known. I was not pressed but I served both as a common seaman and as an officer.
Why did you kill off Bowyer?
That was very hard and in fact upset me writing it but there were two reasons behind it. First, I wanted to show that the sea is and always will be neither cruel nor malevolent but simply indifferent to we insignificant mortals. Second, I had to make way for the forging of a friendship between Kydd and Renzi.
How much research did you have to do for this book?
Well, location research initially was very little as I lived in Guildford and knew Portsmouth and Sheerness very well from my Navy days. By that stage I had amassed a quite considerable library on the Napoleonic period but I needed to flesh that out with information from museums, libraries and talking to various experts. In all I probably put in about six months’ research time.
Fox: Image: By Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) (worldroots.com/brigitte/royal/royal17a.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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