Seaflower: Turquoise Waters, Deadly Perils
Thank you for all your kind comments on the post about my second book, ARTEMIS. The third book in the series is SEAFLOWER. There’s certainly a shock for Kydd and Renzi at the beginning of the story – the two friends are ‘turned over’; instead of being able to return to loved ones in England they find themselves shipped out in haste to Barbados.
On a cold, grey January morning in 2001 Kathy and I set off from London for the much warmer climes of the Caribbean and our first major location research trip for the Kydd series.
What were some of the highlights of this trip?
I’d done extensive research before we left but there are always things you can only get when you actually visit a place, the chief of these is a mental map of how it would have looked two hundred years ago. There are also the small but so evocative things – the colours, smells, sounds which you just can’t get from travel books. And then there is the serendipity element: quite often on location research I’ve chanced on some small piece of information from a knowledgeable local that I’d not known about before that develops into a sub-plot or adds substance to something I’d only had a tantalising fragment of detail on.
For example, I’d come across references to the Maroons in my preliminary reading but it was only after more research in the Jamaican library that I saw how they could be an interesting sub-plot in the book.
The Maroons had a colourful history. When the British captured Jamaica in 1655 the Spanish colonists fled leaving a large number of African slaves. Rather than be re-enslaved by the British, they escaped into the hilly, mountainous regions of the island, joining those who had previously escaped from the Spanish, to live with the Arawaks. The Maroons intermarried with Arawak natives, establishing independence in the back country. They survived by subsistence farming and by raiding plantations. Over time, they came to control large areas of the Jamaican interior before they were eventually shipped out to Canada!
Any other examples of serendipity?
Well, there was the Camelford incident. Curator 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. I was intrigued and had to find out more… This incident became the basis for my fatal meeting between Farrell and Powell.
Which location did you enjoy most?
We visited four countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guadeloupe and Barbados – and all were fascinating and worthwhile in their own right – but to me English Harbour was the most evocative of Kydd’s day. As a former shipwright trained in traditional wooden ship construction, the facilities there in the eighteenth century for the Royal Navy were of special interest and I took much pleasure in having Kydd learn something about the chippy’s art when he spent some time in that very dockyard under the strict eye of the Master Shipwright.
Today, Nelson’s Dockyard (as it is now known) is the world’s only Georgian-era dockyard still in use.
In 1784, 26-year-old Horatio Nelson arrived there in HMS Boreas to serve as captain and second-in-command of the Leeward Island Station. Under him was the captain of HMS Pegasus, Prince William Henry, duke of Clarence, who was later crowned King William IV. The prince acted as best man when Nelson married Fannie Nisbet on Nevis in 1787.
When the Royal Navy abandoned the station at English Harbour in 1889, it fell into a state of decay, but was restored and re-opened in 1961.
The Dockyard Museum in the original Naval Officer’s House is worth a visit – it has a collection of ship models, mock-ups of English Harbour, maps, prints – and Nelson’s telescope and tea caddy.
What did you find to be the best resources for your research?
The staff of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society in St Michael were very obliging. The National Library of Jamaica in East Street, Kingston, was also particularly helpful in sourcing documents relating to the period I was interested in. The original papers and letter books of two former governors, Roger Hope Ellestson and Sir George Nugent, were invaluable in building up a picture of plantation society.
Do you have a favourite scene in the book?
I enjoyed writing Seaflower immensely and I guess, if pressed, my favourite passage is in chapter 9 in a scene of fellowship and good feeling that I can relate to from my own days at sea, and which fellow Old Salts have told me resonates with them.
The little topsail cutter has successfully completed working up to battle readiness and returns to Port Royal for rest. The passage reads:
Kydd swarmed up the narrow ladderway to the upper deck, where a sizeable gathering was celebrating Seaflower’s prospects. Doggo was leaning on a swivel gun forward of the mast, waving his tankard, with an audience and in full flow…
A friendly hail, and Renzi stepped on deck. ‘Tip us some words, mate,’ Petit called.
Renzi stood still and thoughtful, then declaimed into the velvet night:
‘Majestically slow before the breeze
The tall ship marches on the azure seas;
In silent pomp she cleaves the watery plain
The pride and wonder of the billowy main.’
[Then Ned Doud is persuaded to give a song.]
‘Come, come, m’jolly lads! The winds abaft
Brisk gales our sails shall crowd;
The ship’s unmoor’d, all hands aboard
The barky’s well mann’d and stor’d!’
The Drury Lane ballad, thought confected by a landman, was a great favourite and all joined in the chorus.
‘Then sling the flowing bowl – fond hopes arise
The can, boys, bring; we’ll drink and sing
While foaming billows roll.’
In the warm darkness something told Kydd that he would be lucky to experience an evening quite so pleasurable again.
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