THE ADMIRAL’S DAUGHTER: dangerous waters!
A regular feature looking back on each of the Kydd titles – with story background, research highlights, writing challenges and more.
The eighth book in the Kydd series is THE ADMIRAL’S DAUGHTER. Kydd is back in command of his beloved Teazer but he finds as many challenges ashore as at sea in pursuit of the enemy.
This was the first Kydd book set in home waters – and I found it to be as wild and exotic a location as any, with spectacles such as the incredible complex of the Plymouth naval base and dockyard. In those pre-factory times it was the wonder of the age, employing thousands of men, when most industries counted their workers in tens at most.
No one in England lives far from the sea and a strong and abiding relationship with Neptune’s kingdom is a national characteristic, but it’s perhaps in the West Country where the maritime heritage is strongest. Since time immemorial, the sea has provided food and transport links between isolated communities, and with hundreds of miles of rocky coastline, and winter storms equal to any it’s also been the graveyard of so many fine ships.
I spent many hours exploring the iron-bound coast and shoreline. I chose Whitsand Bay, the scene of many all-too-familiar wrecks on the Cornish coast for a dramatic incident in the book. Kydd’s ship Teazer is making heavy weather of it back to the safety of Plymouth Sound and sights another vessel perilously close inshore. But despite heroic efforts by Kydd and his crew the other ship breaks up and the sailors perish, their strength spent in exhaustion and cold.
The book’s dedication
Given incidents like the one in Whitsand Bay it seemed appropriate to use this verse Martyn Parker wrote, some 200 years ago
- Ye gentlemen of England that live at home at ease
Ah! Little do you think upon the dangers of the seas!
His words still have resonance today.
In the course of location research, as well as taking in the general area of the West Country, I spent some time in the picturesque fishing village of Polperro in Cornwall. Kathy and I stayed in a smugglers cottage dating back to even before Kydd’s day.
When doing location research finding local inhabitants with knowledge and expertise is always invaluable. For THE ADMIRAL’S DAUGHTER there were many I had to thank, including former harbour master Tony White and historian Jeremy Johns – but a special debt is owed to ex-fisherman Bill Cowan who schooled me in the lore and practice of the Cornish fishery, and shipwright Ron Butters, whose wonderfully crafted models of fishing vessels under sail told me all I need to know about these hardy craft.
If you’re ever in Polperro it’s worth visiting the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing which houses a fascinating collection of exhibits. It’s open March to October.
In Plymouth, which is actually not far from my home in Devon, I was privileged to be given a special private tour of Stonehouse Royal Marine Barracks. The Long Room, where Kydd attended the ball, still stands tall within the complex. As well, Kathy and I put in considerable footwork in Old Plymouth pacing out the very streets that Kydd comes to know in the book.
An ancestral link!
Deep into document-based research I discovered that my wife Kathy is related to one of the real-life characters in the story! Did she, I casually asked one day, poring over some arcane document or other, by any chance have an English ancestor by the name of John Stackhouse? Unsure, Kathy emailed her parents in Tasmania, Keith and Cressey Stackhouse, and was amazed to learn that indeed she was related to him. John Stackhouse was born in Cornwall in 1742. After completing his education at Oxford, he spent several years studying marine biology around the Mediterranean; his particular interest was seaweed. He married a Susanna Acton and built Acton Castle above what is now known as Stackhouse Cove. Kathy is a descendant of Alfred Stackhouse who settled in Van Diemen’s Land in the nineteenth century and whose grandfather was John Stackhouse’s brother!
Now why can’t I have some illustrious ancestry…
Perhaps the greatest challenge I encountered when writing this book was how to deal with the two loves in Kydd’s life, Persephone and Rosalynd. I think in some ways I fell in love with both of them, too…
Of all the aspects of Kydd’s life I have written about this is the one that has generated the most comment from readers. Some have told me they thought Kydd mad to give up Persephone and all she would have meant for his career. Others stood firmly with Kydd in his decision to follow his heart and marry sweet Rosalynd. The debate will continue, no doubt!
My thanks to Kydd
Becoming an author has meant that I‘ve met people from many walks of life all over the world – certainly in my previous profession as a computer systems designer it would have been unlikely for our paths to have crossed. There are far too many new friends and acquaintances directly attributable to Thomas Kydd to acknowledge them all, but I know I’m enriched by every one of them. To be able to write for one’s living is a great privilege; I know I’m very fortunate.