Over the coming months I’ll be celebrating the earlier titles in the Kydd Series, it’s Seaflower for this blog. 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 chance to win a special thank-you prize: a CD set of the unabridged audiobook of Seaflower, superbly read by Christian Rodska..
‘Seaflower is the third novel in Julian Stockwin’s series devoted to the nautical adventures of the fictional Thomas Paine Kydd. This time the setting is the Caribbean Sea, where Kydd and his friends have been hustled on account of their inconveniently truthful depositions at a court martial. Now they must face the new challenges of hurricane and yellow fever as well as the familiar danger of war at sea against the French foe. For some time Kydd and his good friend Renzi are parted by the exigencies of war, and we learn fresh details about the latter gentleman’s family background, and even his real name, richly deserved even according to the exacting eighteenth-century classifications. As their journeys weave back and forth between Barbados and Port Royal, with stops at Antigua and an assortment of French islands on the way, we overhear tales of the old days of piracy and learn a bit about the slave economies of the sugar-producing islands. There are also a couple of surprising family reunions along the way. As this tale reaches its climax, our friends find themselves on a mission to deliver a prestigious emissary with urgent news about the war. The obstacles soon become overwhelming, and only the knowledge that the series will continue hints that they will prevail against long odds.
With this third novel Stockwin seems fully at ease with his voice, more assured in his decisions to summarize and leap forward in time rather than maintain an unbroken tempo. Or perhaps he is simply one of those happy companions on a long journey with whom one feels increasingly comfortable as time makes his ways familiar. Stockwin is certainly a narrator whose amiable manner wears well, and one whose storytelling decisions grow easy to trust. Seaflower offers an eventful Caribbean cruise with a bit more terror and despair than usual, but it ends with prospects looking good for its upwardly-mobile hero.’
Deeply interesting past
As I said in the Author’s Note to this book I am a visile – I have to ‘see’ things in my mind’s eye before I can write about them. Away from the gaudy tourist haunts in the Caribbean there are many tactile relics of rousing times past, unwittingly bequeathed to us by men whose concerns of the hour did not include a care for posterity. Henry Morgan’s Port Royal slid into the sea a century before Kydd arrived, but the bones of the dockyard still exist, albeit in a parlous state. More rewarding is English Harbour in Antigua, where Kydd suffered and loved, and which remains much as he would remember – an undisturbed and uniquely preserved jewel of naval history.
There are many who care about the Caribbean’s past, and I think especially of Reg Murphy of Antigua dockyard, who told me the story of the deadly confrontation on the quayside, which I faithfully retell in this book, and Desmond Nicholson whose encyclopaedic knowledge so enriched my visit. In Barbados, the staff of the museum were especially kind, enabling me to find Karl Watson at an archaeological dig of the eighteenth century; he then provided me with an embarrassment of material. In Jamaica, John Aarons at the National Library proved a fascinating source of his country’s deeply interesting past.
Minor character spotlight: Caird
In Seaflower, we meet Zachary Caird as he leads the small dockyard party to inspect the storm-damaged Trajan when she arrives in Antigua. Born and brought up in Wapping, the boy Caird was no stranger to the colourful world of docklands around the great Pool of London, the biggest port in the world. Thrilled by tales of the seven seas told by seamen from every corner of the globe, he longed to go to sea. But his hard father, a brewery drayman, swore that Zachary should not be a common sailor but have a proper trade, and Zachary was bound apprentice to the Royal Dockyard in Deptford.
The lad promised his father he would not disappoint him. There were many temptations, but he always kept faith. After his apprenticeship was over and he started work as a shipwright’s sidesman he continued his habits of moderation and self-control, unusual among his hard-bitten workmates.
As a journeyman shipwright he had occasion to repair a Bethel – a floating chapel for seamen. There, he was touched by the selfless devotion of the lay workers. Later, he answered a need for skilled craftsmen for the dockyard at Antigua in the Caribbean, and among the slaves in this exotic locale, he, too, found himself called to become a lay preacher.
It’s always an enjoyable task – choosing a dedication for the book before sending it out into the world. Kydd had a dedication to Jack Tar, Nelson’s famous quote – ‘Aft the more honour, Forward the better man‘; for Artemis it was ‘to the mistress of my heart‘ (Could this be soul-mate Kathy – or the sea? I’ll leave it to you to decide…)
One of my favourites out of all the dedications for the sixteen titles to date is the one I selected for Seaflower, the old sea toast:
- “To the wind that blows
a ship that goes
and the lass that loves a sailor“