KyddFest-1 : KYDD

Over the coming months I’ll be celebrating the earlier titles in the Kydd Series, starting with the first book, Kydd. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book, either as a first-time reader or if you’re a re-reader and have read the book more than once! It’s very gratifying for an author to be told that his work has inspired people to go back an read it again. And some of you have told me you have done this more than twice! Either reply to this blog or email me Every respondent goes into the hat for a thank-you prize.

    ‘Kydd took in the colossal form of a great ship. It seemed all gunports and lines of yellow and black timber, unknown fitments and black ropes. It towered up to the deck-line, and then above to an impossibly complex structure of masts and yards, black and ominous against the sky.’
A painting of a real Thomas Kydd, master’s mate in 1801, actually not far off how I see Kydd at that stage of his life

A painting of a real Thomas Kydd, master’s mate in 1801, actually not far off how I see Kydd at that stage of his life

Enjoying a convivial brew at a local tavern, young wigmaker Tom Kydd has no inkling that his life is about to change forever. Until now the momentous events of 1793 have had little impact on the rural township of Guildford, but Britain is at war with the French Revolutionary regime and must hastily man its navy. Throughout the countryside the press-gangs are busy at work, ‘impressing’ men by force into the king’s navy, and the appalled patrons of the Horse and Groom are amongst their haul.

Home for Tom and his fellow captives is now HMS Duke William, a massive ship-of-the-line. It’s a terrifying, alien world. Conditions are grim, discipline harsh, the rigid rules of conduct and even the language incomprehensible. Kydd is fortunate; under the patient tutelage of a kindly old sea hand he discovers an affinity for the sailor’s life. Laughing with exhilaration in the teeth of a gale, he has an epiphany:

    ‘Something in him reached out and was answered. A fierce joy touched his soul. It didn’t matter that the situation was perilous or the ship doomed. From that moment on Kydd knew in his heart that he would be a seaman.’

Kydd is the opening salvo in an addictive series of naval adventures, marked by excellent characterisation and fluid, fast-paced prose. Landlubberly readers may initially flounder in the welter of unfamiliar naval jargon. Grab a lifeline and hang on; as Kydd learns the ropes, so do we, experiencing with him the majesty of the ocean in all its moods, exotic destinations, dramatic, bloody battles on land and sea, and the sturdy comradeship of messmates whose lives depend upon each other’s teamwork.

Based on the historical record

As I wrote in the Author’s Note, Kydd is definitely based on real life. I feel that I would devalue what the eighteenth-century seaman really achieved were I to exaggerate or distort facts for the sake of drama – for me, a particularly odious form of betrayal. Therefore, all the major actions and most of the minor are as close as I can make them to the real thing.

Thomas Kydd
Kydd Junko reading J edition

Reading the Japanese Edition

In the circumscribed world of eighteenth- century society, there were those fortunate enough to be well-born, and there were the lower orders who knew their place and in the main accepted it. Yet in the twenty-two years of warfare at the end of the century, a total of 120 or so men crossed from the fo’c’sle to the quarterdeck through their own exceptional merit, passing thereby from common seaman to gentleman. And of these, twenty-two went on to become captain of their own ship, and three, possibly five, ended as admiral! Thomas Kydd is based on these.

And imagine my surprise when I came across an eighteenth century portrait of a master’s mate named Thomas Kydd! Is this what my hero might have looked like? He’s quite a handsome chap…

Moon rocket of its day

The mighty ship-of-the-line was as complex in its day as a moon rocket today. Most seamen were proud, self-sufficient and resourceful men sharing a remarkable culture, but they were not articulate. This book is my tribute to those who became masters of the sea in the greatest age of fighting sail.

Minor character spotlight: Ah Wong

I greatly enjoyed creating the cast of characters for Kydd and as the lower deck of a man-o’-war was very varied in terms of race, colour, creed – and life experiences, I had great scope.

Ah Wong first appears in in chapter two of Kydd; he’s the first Chinaman Tom Kydd has ever seen. Born second son of a minor mandarin to a favourite concubine, Ah Wong, real name Wong Hay Chee, seemed destined for a life of cultured ease in Kwangchow (Canton). However the accession of Emperor Chien Lung to the Dragon Throne was accompanied by social upheavals in distant provinces; his father was disgraced and committed suicide. His mother took the lively five-year-old into the safety of the countryside, but the dreary back-breaking labour broke her spirit and she died. Ah Wong was left to a childless rice farmer, where he endured his unhappy circumstances with uncomplaining stoicism. Unusually well-built, ‘Little Buddha’, as he was called, would impress his friends with his raw strength, and when a travelling circus passed through, he joined to become a strongman. After three years, bored with the same routines, Wong was easily tricked into shipping out in an opium trader to India. The clean and settled sea life appealed with its attractions of comradeship and adventure, and when the ship arrived to await the new-season crop, he had no hesitation in signing on in a homeward bound East Indiaman. Cast ashore on arrival in an uncaring London, he was easy meat for the press-gang at the outbreak of war, and quickly found himself with new messmates in the 98-gun Duke William.

Previous blogs on Kydd
My first book
Kydd’s home town
Kydd has been published in the UK/US in English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese and in ebook, large print and audiobook
Buy on Amazon or The Book Depository (free postage worlwide!) Also widely available at independent bookstores
Detailed list

Copyright notices
Every effort is made to honour copyright but if we have inadvertently published an image with missing or incorrect attribution, on being informed of this, we undertake to delete the image or add a correct credit notice

25 Comments on “KyddFest-1 : KYDD”

  1. When I was introduced to Kydd by my stepson who knew I enjoyed Naval Historical books I was rather taken aback and almost didn’t finish it. I felt the author took it that the reader knew more of the Naval technical jargon and took it for granted they knew all the terms onboard a sailing ship. However I persevered and learnt what was being said. Although I wasn’t much taken with Kydd because of this, I felt there would be something in reading the series and I bought all the novels I could find and started reading them in order so I knew what the progression was. I’m so glad I did as I have now become an avid reader of the series and now collect the first editions. Being ex Navy I relish in the history behind the fiction. I hope to read many more of this brilliant series. Keep going Jules.

  2. You are an incredible author because your novels flow so smoothly and one can loose their selves in the adventure. I especially love Kydd because it introduced me to a nautical world I might otherwise never have experienced. I love all your works and own about half of your collection.

  3. Pingback: KyddFest-1 : KYDD | Nighthawk News

  4. Hi Julian,

    All of that is good – thanks.

    I have printed the picture of Thomas Kydd and it’s is now on my study wall alongside HMS Tricomalee, HMS Pickle and a couple of others – and top RHS, that’s me sailing on Table Bay Cape Town.

    Love your books!


    Roger Horwood

  5. Kydd was my first historical naval fiction novel. At first it was somewhat difficult to read as I didn’t understand all of the terms. So I got a notebook and wrote down everything I didn’t understand, then looked them up later. By the time I got to Seaflower it was smooth sailing. So far Command is my favorite, and then Invasion. Thanks for the great reads!

  6. Dear Julian
    One of my greatest pleasures was to introduce my late father, a senior naval officer whose ancestor sailed around the world with Drake; to the Kydd series. It felt like a grateful return after he had introduced me to Hornblower, Ramage, Bolitho and Aubrey. Thomas Kydd has become a great favourite partly because he like Hornblower before him is a man of integrity with likeable if frustrating flaws.

    I have re-read all the series at least twice including Tyger which was a great pleasure as Blake is one of my favourite poets. I read Kydd to my father and shared the early books with him too.

    Your own naval experience, your detailed research and the marvellous cast of characters keep the books fresh and fun

    Thank you

  7. My late father was a Chief ERA Royal Navy and taught me to respect him, Mother and the Senior Service. The first historical novel I ever read was ‘Hornblower in the West Indies’ – thanks, Dad – and I’d read all of Forester’s work by my late teens. Then along came Patrick O’Brian, which I had to agree with Charlton Heston is ‘better than Forester by a long sea mile.’ I read the entire series, then my wife told me she’d been reading ‘Kydd’, had thoroughly enjoyed it and recommended I give it a go. Hmmm, Her Lioness is more inclined to fantasy novels, thought I, but I’ll humour her – and I’m very glad I did.

    There aren’t many authors who can combine adventure, accurate descriptions of ship-handling, good characterisation and interest-grabbing storylines, so I count myself lucky to have followed her recommendation. I’ve bought the entire series, value highly the two inscribed proof copies I’ve won, and am looking forward impatiently to ‘Inferno’. Here’s wishing power to your writing elbow, Skipper – cheers !

  8. I’m 74 years old. I grew up in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina where life was rather mundane and I, product of a divorced mother & father, was something of a rudderless soul. I could hardly wait to go out in life and roam beyond those mountains. During my school days I discovered the Hornblower series by C.S. Forester, which provided some of the sense of escape and adventure that I was yearning for. I have the complete Hornblower series in my library and have re-read it several times over the years during my career in the U.S. Air Force and my subsequent career as an Aerospace Quality Assurance Engineer for Boeing. I’ve now visited five of the seven continents and around sixty countries, and my wife and I are still going – will be cruising from Boston to the Canadian Maritimes and Quebec City later this year. To the point: I recently discovered your Thomas Kydd series and as I did with Horatio Hornblower decades ago, I became totally immersed in his adventures. I just finished Tyger and can’t wait for the next Thomas Kydd and adventure. And yes, I’ve collected the entire Kydd series (to date) as well. C.S. Forester’s Hornblower and your Thomas Kydd are both literary treasures that are ideal companions to be enjoyed by a warm fire with a glass of fine wine or single malt. Thank you for Thomas Kydd. Warmest regards, Fred Kuykendall, Jr. Apache Junction, Arizona

  9. Hi Julian, I have all the Kydd books and have read them all three times except Tyger which has only had one read, so far. The stories, your writing style and imagination together with the accuracy of your subject enthralls. I have no doubt that I shall read them all again but in the meantime I shall give other authors a go. I have many books concerning that period both factual and fictional and I never tire of the subject. Keep up the very good work Julian. I eagerly await the next Kydd adventure. Colin Kempshall

  10. julian. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to tell you how much I have enjoyed all your books. I stumbled on Kydd when searching for something else on Kindle and decided to “sample” Kydd (#1). since that very fortuitous accident I have been immersed in them and recently finished up with Battle of the Nile book (#9) before I had a little rest! I was brought up on C S Forrester’s Hornblower books which I guess sparked my interest in both reading and history some 60 decades past. I have read James Nelson, O’brien, Stephen Taylor and a host of others. However I can honestly say that no book about the Royal Navy has quite caught the rawness and technical details of 18th century fighting ships, alongside a ripping sailors yarn as you have achieved. I was brought up in boats and the sea around the west coast of Scotland from my earliest days and did my National Service in the RN as an ordinairy seaman and then Midshipman before leaving the reserves as an acting temporary sub lieutenant RNR. During that time i had the good fortune to be in the Med in 1956 and at the Suez Canal landings in November of that year. Perhaps Great Britain’s second last gasp of Empire! so certainly had an affinity to Nelson’s battle of the Nile. You seem to have kept pretty close to historical accuracy and the use of two very different main characters has enabled you to cover a broad spectrum on the main events. In the Kindle editions I delight in your authors notes on the chapter just read and I would really like to see that element expanded. Your meticulous research obviously was enjoyed by both you and your wife and enables you to travel around with a purpose – which must be most pleasurable way to fill your pre-writing time. I look forward to returning to Kidd’s life and no doubt will reach a point when he is an Admiral. I have quite purposely not sought to see how far you have gone and take it one at a time. Again thanks for giving this reader such pleasure and an even better understanding of all the technical stuff which to me is a joy as a modern sailing man. Hamish MacDougall

    • Thank you for these comments, Hamish. And as you say, location research is a most enjoyable aspect of writing the Kydd Series! Kathy and I have had the great pleasure of visiting many places around the globe in this role.

  11. Dear Julian, It’s great to hear that you intend to publicise the early books again. For me they were the greatest although that is not intended to denigrate the later books. I am very proud to have all of the special edition hardbacks that you started years ago and would love to complement my collection by replacing my early paperbacks with hardbacks. Brian Allinson

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Thanks for your kind comments, Brian. Good luck with replacing your early paperbacks with hardbacks. I have a limited number of some of the more recent ones for sale in this website but not the early ones, I regret.

  12. I have read Kydd three times so far. I find the book an excellent read; you meet for the first time, someone who is unknown to you, entering into a service (the Royal Navy) that is also (in my case) unknown to you. The more you read of this book, the more you learn about both the individual and the two worlds in which he lives, within the Navy and outside of it, the civilian life.
    A bloody good read!

  13. Reread the first few after coming away amazed at Kydd’s rapid advancement which seemed unrealistic for the time. After the re-read I came to appreciate the finer details which my Navy bias overlooked the first time around and have since greatly enjoyed the series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: