The Other Man in My Life
My wife Kathy and I work together as a close creative team writing the Kydd titles and my other books. George Jepson, the editor of the online magazine Quarterdeck, recently asked Kathy would she like to write a piece about Team Stockwin from her point of view. The result was this article, published in the latest issue of Quarterdeck, and reproduced with the kind permission of Mr Jepson.
Julian and I met back in the mid-1970s in Australia as two young psychologists at the Tasmanian Education Department Assessment Centre, a special facility for diagnosing and treating students with learning or behavioural problems. But there’s a bit more to the story than that…I’d had my driving licence only two days and just driven my first car 200 miles from my home town to start a new job. I was a bit of a nervous wreck when I arrived having narrowly escaped a nasty traffic accident. I had come for an interview with my boss, the head of the Centre, but he had been called away on some urgent matter so I was sent to the staff room to have a coffee until he was available.
I saw this tall, dark-haired (and quite handsome) man looking at me. Thinking I was one of the young adolescent females who had been referred there for counselling he came up to me and in a very paternal way asked me what my problem was and could he help. Not the best way to start a relationship with the very independent young woman I then was! Julian persevered, though, and he eventually connived for the two of us to be sent to one of the remote schools in the south of the island, which involved an overnight stay in a hotel because of the distance. Separate rooms of course! However things did take off after that and we recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary…
A year or so later we decided to move to Hong Kong, Julian to begin post graduate studies, me to take up a position in journalism. We lived in that fascinating city for over ten years then moved to the UK where Julian worked on a high intensity NATO project and I became a head hunter, among other roles.
The NATO work was very stressful and after successful completion I suggested to Julian that he might try his hand at writing. To this day I’m not quite sure what prompted me to do this as I didn’t really have a lot to go on. I guess the main reason was his great passion for and knowledge about the sea, built up over half a lifetime. The other was a gut feeling that there was a great talent there waiting to be released and nurtured. Perhaps this came from my experience as a commissioning editor, or maybe the incredible letters he used to write. The funny thing is that once the Kydd books came out many people told me they weren’t surprised at his literary talent. One of his nieces in Australia still remembers Julian entrancing her with magical stories when she was very small. And at a reunion of the Indefatigable Old Boys Association one of the members told me that Julian used to keep them quivering under the bedsheets in their dormitory at night with scary tales.
Of course the writing didn’t just flow from his pen, so to speak. Julian took some time to learn the craft of writing and undertook deep research about the Great Age of Fighting Sail. But from the beginning he wanted the books to have his voice, with the sea itself in a central role, and the characters to be from before the mast. He plotted out all the elements of the ‘book’ and we realised it was not a book, but a series. He would follow one man’s journey from pressed man to admiral, initially over a dozen books. This number has now grown considerably, with eighteen books written to date, plus another four or more in the pipeline.
Tom Kydd came into existence reasonably fully formed, and conveniently, was born in Guildford, the Surrey town where we lived at that time. His side-kick, Renzi, took a little more time to evolve but I think he complements Tom beautifully, especially in the way that both came to need each other, drawing on the strengths of the other.
I sometimes think Julian has salt water coursing through his veins – he has such a deep and abiding love of Neptune’s Realm. Through him I have grown to appreciate man’s relationship with the sea and in particular share his admiration for the skills and courage of the eighteenth century seaman. We have spent some time in sailing ships – a three-masted barque in the Irish Sea in a Force 8 gale comes to mind… And I guess given my druthers I would rather sail in my imagination, via his writing.
My role in Team Stockwin is pretty varied, ranging from sounding board to first editor to marketing and promotion initiatives. We have evolved various techniques of working together over the years and feed off each other in many ways. I have to say, though, that in the early stages of Julian’s development as a writer he felt so protective of his work that he was quite reticent to take on board my editorial comments and make changes. As well as a blue pencil there was a lot of blue air!
One of the particular aspects of the series I admire is the way Julian has grown Kydd – from a naive young wig-maker who had never been to sea – to (so far) a post captain at the top of his profession. Each of the books has added to Kydd’s maturity and world view. But while now at a level in the navy he could never have aspired to once, at heart Tom Kydd will always have a can-do and playful nature unsullied by success. He’s both a man’s man and someone with great attraction to the females he meets.
Of course one of the great privileges of our work is undertaking location research. We’ve literally travelled the world with Tom Kydd – Australia, South Africa, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, Canada…to name just a few destinations. When we go we have a strong focus to recreate in our mind’s eye the world Tom Kydd would have known. You have to peel away the trappings of modern life and dig down to Georgian times. Some places are more challenging than others in this respect but it is a most engaging exercise. On these trips Julian is more drawn to details like sailing craft and sea lore and I focus on the social aspects like what did people eat and drink, health and disease, but there is always quite a bit of overlap in our quarrying.
For the research for Persephone we travelled to Iceland, a truly fascinating country. In some parts the landscape is almost lunar from volcanic activity. Other areas still bear testimony to hard times in the past such as fishermen’s huts cut out of turf.
The world of Thomas Kydd is so real to both of us now that it is like a parallel universe. Tom, Renzi and all the others are both our creations – and people we are privileged to know. Long live Tom Kydd!