At the helm, Lady Nelson

At the helm of “Lady Nelson”

I was born in the English town of Basingstoke in 1944, but have lived in many parts of the world including Australia and the Far East ‑ and now home is ‘Corinthia’, an eighteenth‑century house (which we share with Mae and Ming, two very charming and naughty Siamese cats) in a quiet part of Devon.

I wanted to go to sea ever since I can remember. My mother says that as a toddler I went up to sailors on the street, and on one occasion dragged home a dead sea bird because it smelled of the sea. My uncle Tom Clay, a seaman in square-rigged ships who sailed around Cape Horn in the Cutty Sark, took me over his ship and also around the National Maritime Museum and was a great influence on me. (No one else in my family had any connection with the sea; my father served in the army during the war.) As a young boy I read everything about the sea, and was especially terrified by a description of a great storm, but longed to go to sea to experience a real one!

I won a scholarship to a fine English grammar school, but my mind was captivated by seeing low grey shapes slip away over the horizon, outward bound to who knew where. I passed this sight every day on my way to school. My scholastic performance suffered.

In the hope of having the nonsense knocked out of me my father sent me at the tender age of fourteen to the Indefatigable, a tough sea-training school. This only strengthened my resolve for a life at sea, and I joined the Royal Navy at 15. My family emigrated and I transferred to the Royal Australian Navy. I served there eight years, saw my great storm, and was eventually rated petty officer. In my naval career I saw service around the world, including the Far East and South Sea islands. In Vietnam I served in a carrier task force and was on board Melbourne at the time of the disastrous peace time collision with Voyager.

JS at bow of VICTORY

At the bow of HMS Victory

Leaving the Navy was a wrench but I wanted to take up the education I had missed, a considerable challenge having no qualifications from school! Attending the University of Tasmania I graduated in Far Eastern studies and psychology (after what I had seen in the fo’c’sle of a warship, fascinating). After teaching for two years I practised as a psychologist. Then I met Kathy and we decided to seek adventure in Hong Kong. I initially did post-graduate work in cross-cultural psychology and in the process was seduced by computers. Disillusioned with academic life I became involved in the manufacture and design of computers and later software development. Meanwhile, Kathy’s career was developing as a journalist and we enjoyed the social life of a foreign correspondent. At this stage I renewed direct involvement with the Navy, being commissioned into the Royal Navy Reserve. I was honoured to be awarded an MBE and retired as Lt Commander.

In 1990 I returned to the UK to be involved with a big project concerned with the strategic deployment of merchant shipping. This was an extremely high pressure environment, and in 1996 Kathy and I took stock – she told me to get a life! Her suggestion: that I write. And about the sea…

She saw my potential as a writer (where I did not) and persuaded me to give it a go. I took a half‑time job lecturing in order to devote time to absorbing the craft of writing.

I’m ‘Old Navy’ with a deep respect and admiration for the service, so it had to be the Navy I’d write about. I chose Nelson’s time, the great climax of the age of sail and a magnificent canvas for sea tales. This was an era when the sea was respected and wooed by men who didn’t have steam engines and brute force. I also wanted to bring the sea itself into a more prominent role.

But to achieve that more prominent role for the sea, it seemed logical to take the perspective of the men who actually did the job out there on the yardarm, serving the great cannon or crowding aboard an enemy deck, rather than of those shouting orders from behind. So the lower deck it was – and then I came across some surprising statistics. Unlike the army, where commissions were bought, all naval officers had to qualify professionally, and scattered among these were no more than a couple of hundred common seamen who made the awesome journey from the fo’c’sle to the quarterdeck, thereby turning themselves into gentlemen. Some became captains of their own ships; remarkably, some victims of the press-gang even became admirals. How could it be so? Just what kind of men were they?

I began to write my story…

Team Stockwin!

Team Stockwin!

I soon realised there were things from my time in the Navy that I wanted to bring to my writing; small things but evocative to this day ‑ a shimmering moonpath glittering on the water, the sound of voices from invisible night watchkeepers, the rich stink of land after months at sea, the comfort of a still hammock when the ship rolls about… There were darker moments, too. Savage storms at sea when you feel the presence of nature like a wild beast out of the cage…

Kathy’s skills as an editor were seminal in the process of my developing as a writer and finding a voice and we now work full time as a close creative team.

As well as the latest book in the ongoing Kydd series, Yankee Mission, I’ve brought out another two historical action-adventure novels, The Silk Tree and The Powder of Death together with the non-fiction compilation Stockwin’s Maritime Miscellany.

18 Comments on “About”

  1. Hello Sir,

    I’m a British/Canadian NavRes officer currently serving in the Cadet Instructor Cadre, but also an amateur author (though still trying to get published). Currently I’m about halfway through the adventures of Thomas Kydd, which were a great discovery and extremely welcome after finishing O’Brien’s (or should I say Russ’?) Master & Commander series. I found an old copy of “Artemis” in a second hand book store in the town of Bracebridge, Ontario that got me started after utterly devouring it.

    Although my books take place in many periods (I wrote a trilogy for my son that take place during the War of 1812, in 1878, Jutland and 1941 in the North Atlantic), I’m often inspired by true stories, like the outstanding autobiography by Denys Rayner, “Escort”.

    In that vein, have you ever read any of the volumes of “Salty Dips” by the Naval Officers Association of Canada? They’re the transcribed memoirs of RCN officers, mostly from WWII. They put meaning into the old phrase of “reality often being stranger than fiction.”

    Please keep writing! I’m always keen to pick up the next volume and find how Thomas Kydd is faring in his Naval career…



    • Thanks for the recommendation of ‘Salty Dips’. Delighted you’re enjoying my Kydd tales – and good luck with your own literary endeavours!

    • Am thoroughly enjoying Salty Dips but finding it difficult to source 4,5,6,7,8,9 and 10 at reasonable cost. Shipping also pushes up the prices significantly! Any suggestions? I would like to complete the collection…

  2. Hi Julian,. I have recently read the whole series of the Kydd books and enjoyed them immensely. I found your discriptions of the Gunner’s crew ‘performing a ballet’ inspired and surprisingly for a man of the sea, (or is it?) There are a couple of mentions of men performing a ‘pirouette’. l also loved the comparison of the beautiful movement of ships with horses. There is also a horse, a bridle and a martingale on board, which were new me, so an education also. I hope there will be further adventures to look forward to: l will keep my telescope trained for any news. … With best wishes, Rebecca

  3. Hello Julian, l became aware of you Tom Kidd novels a few months ago and have thoroughly enjoyed them, I too joined the Navy (RAN) at the age of 15 and saw service in Vietnam. I have stayed in touch with the sea and find your description and detail very easy to follow with a little help from Google earth. I live in Tasmania these days and was impressed with your local knowledge of the area and “southerly busters” having fished these waters for a period. Keep up the good work. Regards John Nicholson

  4. Could there possibly be a follow-up to The Powder of Death? From one ex-matelot to another, thanks!

  5. “Then pray do not wish it—a battle. It must be the most obvious and disagreeable occupation of man known. Yet some must be accounted inevitable—desirable, even.” Spoken by Nicolas Renzi to Thomas Kydd aboard the Duke William.”

    Kydd. A Kydd Sea Adventure. The first book in a series.

    There have been wars upon wars and men and women have given their lives for their country. Let us not forget those who have died for our cause, to keep a people free from oppression.

    Here in the States we celebrate Memorial Day thinking of those we lost.

    Thank you, Sir, for this exciting Kydd series. I love it.

  6. Greetings, Julian. I served in the US Navy more years ago than I can recall as a Lt. Commander. Sadly, I was in a bloody bunker as a naval officer and always wished I was at sea. But, after my Navy days I was able to due some time sailing in the south Atlantic. I am thrilled with your sea novels about Tom Kydd. I am only on book number three but enjoying every moment. Prior to finding your books, I had read all the Hornblower novels but was most intrigued by your writing about a young lad pressed into service when individual rights were not dreamed of. Thank you for your wonderful books. You have opened a world long forgotten when a man’s word was as good as a promise. Thank you again!

  7. I bought the first Kydd in paperback years ago for my husband who loves stories about that era. We have all the P O’Brien books in paperback including a biography. then I bought biography of Lord Cochrane. I have enjoyed reading these series and have to wait for the next one to come out in the small paperback to fit in our bookshelves. My local Dymocks is good at getting these in. You have educated me with historical events about which I knew nothing. ( I hated history at school) You have led me into other seafaring books especially by Rob Mundle another author personalizing characters in Australian history. May the Kydd series continue. Patricia, Busselton

  8. Julian,
    I love the website and I have just started my first “Kydd” novel. I too love the sea however I get very seasick! My uncle and great-uncle were in the Royal Navy (my mother is from London, but I am American). One now lives in New Zealand and the other has passed away. The one that passed away was the captain of a ferry from Sussex to Amsterdam (the sister ship capsized in the 1980’s). So far I am really enjoying the book. Keep up the good work!

  9. Hello, Julian! I am counting down until October 1 — the day that “Inferno” might appear in bookstores in the US. Yes, I could have bout it in Kindle a few weeks ago, but, this time, I’d rather have The Real Book in my hands. On Saturday, I will harass my local bookstore! Less than four days!!



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