COMMAND: the watershed book

A regular feature looking back on each of the Kydd titles – with story background, research highlights, writing challenges and more.

In this book, newly commissioned Commander Kydd is thrilled at his first command, a little brig sloop called Teazer – but when peace is declared he finds himself on the beach

Watershed book

Geoff Hunt’s original painting commissioned for the cover of the book

Geoff Hunt’s original painting commissioned for the cover of the book

In many ways COMMAND is a watershed in the Thomas Kydd series. My hero has actually achieved the majesty of his own quarterdeck, and his life will never be the same again. It may seem an improbable transformation of a young perruquier of Guildford, press-ganged into His Majesty’s Navy less than ten years before, but the historical record tells us that there were ‘Thomas Kydds’, only a handful admittedly – but enough to be tantalising to a writer’s imagination. Yet we have so few records of their odysseys – how they must have felt, what impelled them to the top…

Was there one particular person on whom Tom Kydd was modelled?

The answer is no. He is a composite, the result of my author’s imagination. But in him there are certainly elements of those like William Mitchell, a seaman who survived being flogged around the fleet for deserting his ship over a woman – 500 lashes – and later became an admiral; Bowen of the Glorious First of June, and others – in Victory at Trafalgar her famous signal lieutenant, Pascoe, hailed from before the mast and the first lieutenant, Quilliam, was a pressed man, who like Kydd was promoted from the lower deck at the Battle of Camperdown.

The great age of fighting sail was a time of huge contrasts and often very hard conditions – but in the Royal Navy then it was conceivable for a young man of talent and ambition to rise far above his station.

I remember my own feelings when I became an officer, having begun my sea career on the lower deck. And sometimes I wonder, had I lived back then, could I have been a Tom Kydd? It’s a pleasant thread to follow in idle moments but I think I enjoy my creature comforts too much. They really were iron men in wooden ships!

Research in Malta

With Captain Reuben Lanfranco in Malta

With Captain Reuben Lanfranco in Malta

Research for this book took me to the island of Malta where I had the pleasure of meeting Joseph Muscat whose encyclopaedic knowledge of Mediterranean craft was invaluable. Joseph presented me with a copy of his magnum opus of sea vessels from 1600 BC to 1900 AD, ‘Sails Round Malta’, which has a special place in my library.

I was also delighted to have the opportunity to spend time with Reuben Lanfranco, director of the prestigious Maritime Institute of Malta.

Remote Van Diemen’s Land

Galah, my first boat –  I sailed many of the same waters Kydd does in COMMAND

Galah, my first boat – I sailed many of the same waters Kydd does in COMMAND

Of course I knew Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land) well, having lived and worked there – and married a local girl! This knowledge was topped up by my Australian researcher Josef Hextall, who provided material on the early days of Sydney Cove. Even today there are parts of Tasmania largely untouched, just as in Kydd’s day. I remember exploring remote parts of the coast in my little boat Galah.

Praise for COMMAND

Readers have been very fulsome in their comments about COMMAND, including some who have experienced the special challenges of command themselves.

One retired colonel in the US airforce emailed:

    I’ve enjoyed watching the development of the character of Tom Kydd as he progressed from the time of his impressment. Having spent almost 35 years in the military, and like Tom rising from the ranks, I felt sure of his direction …but the story is “in the journey” and you continue to chart an adventurous, but believable course for Tom. For me, having walked a somewhat similar road, just in a different age of weaponry, that’s the key…is it believable? Command adds that major factor of “total authority AND total responsibility” to this continuing adventure. From my perspective, your personal insight has provided your readers with a credible picture of the best, and worst features that accompany command.

The book’s cover art

My editor commissioned an original oil painting by Geoff Hunt RSMA for the cover of this book. It’s one of my favourites!

Geoff had painted brig‑sloops before, most notably Patrick O’Brian’s Sophie. As usual, he undertook extensive research before even picking up his brush. This is what Geoff says:

    ‘Teazer is a small, handy, fast vessel, almost yacht‑like, very much a young man’s command. I wanted to get over this feeling of excitement, brio, high performance – reflecting Kydd’s own delight in his first real command.

Geoff’s superb painting is available as a limited edition print.

Royal Reader…

HRH Princess Anne viewing Teazer

HRH Princess Anne viewing Teazer

And I had the great honour of presenting a copy of COMMAND to HRH The Princess Royal when she viewed a model of Teazer at the opening of the Ivybridge Library.

This beautiful craft was presented to me by John Thompson of Merseyside in appreciation of my books – eight hundred and fifty hours in the making and has pride of place in my home.

Hard to top that!

(Here you can read my previous post, on TENACIOUS)

4 Comments on “COMMAND: the watershed book”

  1. Pingback: KyddFest-8: Command | Julian Stockwin

  2. I have just re-read Command (as I am working through the series at the present) and was absolutely thrilled to finish the book whilst sat in the Botanic gardens in Sydney! I t really brought to life how much Australia has progressed since Kydd’s day to see Sydney now, with the harbour bridge (the poem eventually came true!) and the opera house. I even had the pleasure of seeing a ‘tall ship’ leaving the harbour, the Square Rigger, Two-Masted Brigantine Soren Larson. I did get some pictures of this ship passing the opera house and under the bridge – a juxtaposition of the old & new Sydney as it were.

    I am thoroughly enjoying rereading the Kydd story and am looking forward to reading his further adventures in the new novel.

  3. How exciting to present a copy of your book to Princess Anne! When Prince Charles came to Hamilton to see the HMCS Haida, I gave him a copy of a biography of Sir Allan MacNab, an ancestor of the Duchess of Cornwall.
    The story of William Mitchell, a seaman who survived being flogged for deserting his ship over a woman and later became an admiral, is amazing.
    To survive 500 lashes, he must have been one tough seaman!

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