Researching the Kydd Novels #3

One of the elements of writing my Kydd tales that I particularly enjoy is the research, and it’s one of the things I’m most questioned about when I give talks or do author signings. There are many aspects of this – consulting primary and secondary sources, speaking to experts, undertaking location research, visiting museums and archives. I’m often asked about the length of time research for a book takes – that’s a difficult thing to quantify because in some ways I guess I have been doing it subconsciously all my life, during my time at sea absorbing the universals all mariners take to their hearts and ingesting material from countless maritime books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I’ve been drawn to from an early age.

Readers Rock!

research3 Paulo Meireles

Paolo Meireles

As well as the professional experts I mentioned in my last blog I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of my readers, who have generously contributed their time and local knowledge, and many of whom have become friends over the years. They are scattered across the globe, male and female, young and old. Although I’ve not met them all of course, through social media such as Twitter, Facebook and my BigJules blog I’ve developed a circle of informal contacts I feel I can call upon in my work. Here’s a random three who’ve proved that readers really do rock!

Sarah Callejo Living in Madrid, Sarah was most helpful with suggestions for Spanish names, phrases and eccentricities that I put to good use in Betrayal.

Robert Squarebriggs Visiting Canada on location research for Quarterdeck, I met up with reader Bob Squarebriggs in the aptly named Lord Nelson hotel in Halifax. Bob enthusiastically imparted his knowledge of the country’s boreal wilderness and remarkable maritime heritage.

Paulo Meireles A native of Portugal, Paulo enlightened me with details of his homeland’s culture that gave a truly authentic flavour to the storyline in Persephone.

Researching the Kydd Novels #2

One of the elements of writing my Kydd tales that I particularly enjoy is the research, and it’s one of the things I’m most questioned about when I give talks or do author signings. There are many aspects of this – consulting primary and secondary sources, speaking to experts, undertaking location research, visiting museums and archives. I’m often asked about the length of time research for a book takes – that’s a difficult thing to quantify because in some ways I guess I have been doing it subconsciously all my life, during my time at sea absorbing the universals all mariners take to their hearts and ingesting material from countless maritime books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I’ve been drawn to from an early age.

Experts to go!

NPG D11239,Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford,by; after Unknown engraver; C. Bond


I’m deeply indebted to the many experts who’ve contributed their time and knowledge over the course of the Kydd Series. Having one whose calling is centrally that which bears on a particular turning point of the developing tale gives a priceless authenticity to the narrative and usuallly spurs me on to deeper work, to the benefit of the emerging plot. There’ve been countless kind souls who’ve steered me true and of course I couldn’t possibly name them all, but to get an idea of the range and quality of these, here’s a random three:

Dr David Green at the USDA Forest Service provided details of the specific gravity of swamp oaks that enabled me to send Kydd on his night-time sabotage mission against the French frigate in Quarterdeck.

Dr Dennis Wheeler of the University of Sutherland shared his analysis of the meteorological conditions during October 1805, providing insights for Victory.

Dr Reg Murphy of the Antigua Dockyard told me the story of a deadly confrontation on the quayside in Kydd’s day. A rusting old anchor marks the spot where a British peer and acting commander – Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Baron Camelford – shot dead another officer in a pistol duel. This incident went on to become the basis for my fatal meeting between Farrell and Powell in Seaflower.

I work very hard to ensure the veracity of my books, and much of this I owe to the many leading authorities across a broad spectrum of specialities whom I’ve consulted over the years who have freely shared their knowledge. And of course my own professional experiences in the British and Australian navies, both on the lower deck as a naval shipwright and on the quarterdeck as an officer, are of immense value in achieving an insight into the motives, fears and satisfactions of life at sea.

Researching the Kydd Novels #1

One of the elements of writing my Kydd tales that I particularly enjoy is the research, and it’s one of the things I’m most questioned about when I give talks or do author signings. There are many aspects of this – consulting primary and secondary sources, speaking to experts, undertaking location research, visiting museums and archives. I’m often asked about the length of time research for a book takes – that’s a difficult thing to quantify because in some ways I guess I have been doing it subconsciously all my life, during my time at sea absorbing the universals all mariners take to their hearts and ingesting material from countless maritime books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I’ve been drawn to from an early age.

Head Down, Nose in the Books!


Guardians of my library!

I’ve collected a vast number of books relating to the Great Age of Fighting Sail, in particular the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with France (1793-1815) which I’ve always felt is as well the Climax of Sail before man’s relationship of wooing and respect for the nature of the seas was overtaken by the brute force ways of steam. These are all catalogued and cross-indexed like a library so that I can find relevant titles and fact/page citations quickly in my bookshelves, which now amount to some five-hundred feet of books which spill over from my study into almost every room in the house.

Before I start a new Kydd title I note down the important historical events that have caught my eye in the time period that it will cover, normally some small months, and Kathy and I develop the broad theme on a large whiteboard. My next step is to identify books and journal articles that are relevant to the story line. Then it’s down to an intensive period of immersion reading. This usually starts with broad works such as James, ‘Naval History of Great Britain‘ followed by very focused study specific to the time and location that I’ll be writing about, often triggered by some throw-away historical fact or comment.

Taking my latest, Persephone, as an example, here are just three reference books (of the some dozens I worked with) that I found useful:

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

Although keyed to Heyer’s novels, it’s a very readable guide to Regency England – how the people worked and played, what they wore, what they ate and drank – and more…

Admiralty Sailing Directions to the Pentland Firth
The Admiralty ‘Pilots’ are among my compulsory ‘go-to’ books, written in a dry factual style by professional mariners, full of fascinating maritime details relating to the chart coverage of the area accrued quite literally over the centuries that often find their way into my Kydd adventures.

The English Dane by Sarah Bakewell.
What a fascinating character! Jorgen Jorgenson ran away to sea at fourteen. He would go on to many adventures, including captaining a warship for Napoleon before joining a British trading voyage to Iceland, where he staged a coup and ruled the country for two months.

And of course the internet is a great boon to writers, with so many old texts, primary sources which are now available digitised and downloadable. It’s all up to you – go for it!

BookPick: Summer Selection

This selection covers a broad range of topics including the real story behind the loss of HMS Gloucester during World War II, the influence of the Royal Navy on the West Coast of America 1812-1914 – and leadership at sea in the Merchant Marine. Whether it’s an addition to your library or just a good holiday read, I hope there’s something for everyone in this eclectic mix.

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Golden Stripes by Captain by V S Parani

bookpick1paraniAlthough merchant ships carry 90% of the world’s trade, the mariners who sail these mega-million dollar vessels often have little guidance on leadership. Parani weaves together his rich maritime and management experience, cutting-edge insights and case studies in this book to offer a practical leadership action plan which can be applied at sea, or indeed in many other workplaces. A succinct and compact guide that will be compulsory reading for mariners worldwide.

Beyond the Harbour Lights by Chris Mills

bookpick2millsAnother book with real-life stories of the Merchant Marine. Based on contemporary newspaper articles, mainly from the 1920s and 1930s, it weaves in background information from other sources such as marine courts of inquiry and ships’ logs, and the author has compiled – with a few imaginative added details – a very readable little tome of voyages full of drama and unexpected incidents.

Britannia’s Navy by Barry Gough

bookpick3goughThe influence of the Royal Navy on the development of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest was remarkably extensive. Yet its impact has been largely ignored by historians, who instead focus on the influence of explorers, fur traders, settlers and railway builders. In this revised and expanded edition of his classic 1972 work, naval historian Gough examines the contest for the west coast of North America between 1812 and 1914, shedding new light on geopolitical forces past and present.

HMS Gloucester by Ken Otter

bookpick4otterOn 22 May 1941, the cruiser HMS Gloucester was sunk by aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Of her crew of 810 men, only 83 lived. Clinging to rafts and flotsam, the survivors hung on for almost 24 hours before finally being rescued by German boats searching for their own men who had been victims of a previous British attack. The fact that Allied destroyers were in the proximity but were recalled from the rescue mission poses a serious question that needs answering. The resulting tragic story of one of the Royal Navy’s greatest disasters during the Second World War makes compelling reading.

A Social History of British Naval Officers 1775-1815 by Evan Wilson

bookpick5wilsonThe first serious study of commissioned officers’ lives and careers was Michael Lewis, ‘A Social History of the Navy 1793-1815‘, a book which I used in my research for the Kydd tales. This title further explores the world of British naval officers at the height of the Royal Navy’s power in the age of sail. It describes the full spectrum of officers, from commissioned officers of differing origins to the unheralded but those essential members of every ship’s company, the warrant officers. As with other books from Boydell Press it has extensive appendices and a comprehensive bibliography. A valuable contribution to maritime scholarship.

The Social History of English Seamen 1650-1815 by Cheryl A Fury

bookpick7furyOver the past few decades, social historians have begun to examine the less well-known seafarers who were on dangerous voyages of commerce, exploration, privateering and piracy, as well as the usual naval campaigns. This book, together with its companion volume, The Social History of English Seamen 1485-1649, highlights important contemporary research that is throwing such a compelling light on the field. Subjects covered include trade, piracy, wives, widows and the wider maritime community, health and medicine at sea, religion and shipboard culture – a truly illuminating and satisfying work on the experience of Jack Tar over the centuries.

River Ouse Bargeman by David Lewis

bookpick6lewisThe Ouse reaches into the heart of Yorkshire from the Humber Estuary. Until the 1980s, loaded barges made the challenging journey from Hull to Selby, bearing bulk cargoes for the mills of the town. The bargees had to be tough and resourceful and Laurie Dews of Selby is no exception. He worked the Ouse from 1937 to 1987, and is now the only man remaining with first-hand experience of life on the Yorkshire Ouse as a bargeman. Author David Lewis, in conjunction with Dews, presents this lost way of life in a fascinating tribute which is warmly and touchingly presented.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year this year
And I have a very limited number of Signed First Editions, which I’m happy to inscribe with a personal message

Plaudits for Persephone

Since the publication of Persephone in the UK on May 18 I’ve been giving talks and doing signings at various locales. It’s always a special pleasure to meet readers, old and new. And who could have predicted that on one book signing I’d meet a delightful young lady called Persephone! I’ve been chuffed with the response to this book.

Here’s what Booksville had to say:

I’ll be darned if Julian Stockwin hasn’t done it again – bested persephone-coverhimself with his latest release in the Kydd Series, Persephone. There’s a little something for every reader in this volume: sea chase, age-of-sail battle, Napoleonic intrigue, imperial palace pomp, and romance. All nicely packaged in well-written historical fiction in around 400 pages.

Persephone is the name of Captain Sir Thomas Kydd’s once spurned love interest of the past, and Kydd encounters her again while on station in Portugal trying to rescue the British from Lisbon and escort Portuguese royalty from the clutches of Napoleon and his Spanish allies. A spark of interest re-ignites between them, but they are forced apart by circumstances, only to be reintroduced once again on British soil.

Kydd, the toast of England for his heroics in battle, has plenty of time to pursue her, but she appears to be out of reach. Meanwhile Kydd, inconsolable at his loss, returning to the sea and service of king and country, is sent to the site of his most recent conquest, Copenhagen, and then to follow a strange group of merchant ships protected by French sloops and a frigate, perhaps destined to invade the shores of Scotland or Ireland. They face uncertainty, and dangers abound in pursuit, only to be surprised time and again – including the final, biggest surprise of his life.

persephone with persephone

Persephone with PERSEPHONE

There is the romance of the sea and the romance between a couple, and Stockwin blends both seamlessly in this great tale of adventure. He deftly describes the relationship between Kydd and Persephone, their still stirring love interest yet the still unresolved conflicts from the past, setting up a hunt and seek chase that lasts through the book, almost as in a thriller. Packed in and around this theme flows the adventures of a naval hero doing his duty at sea and doing his duty on land, being paraded before the people as the hero of the hour and yet feeling the tug of life on board one his majesty’s finest fighting frigates. There are battles aplenty, both at sea and on land, both military and political. And keep in mind, while many characters are fictional, others are based in history.

Stockwin’s prose flows easily on the page, fluid with the magic of truth. You are transformed to the settings, knowing he has been there and seen that or gleaned parts from historical records. Dialogue is real, descriptions are vivid. The pacing is exciting. And having served in the Royal Navy, you know his battle narratives ring true. Many of Stockwin’s characters recur from novel to novel, and one of my favourites is Stirk, who has been with Kydd from the beginning. One of those most stirring and realistic bits of dialogue is his near the end of the novel.

I think you will find it entertaining reading!

And just three recent reader comments :-

‘Just finished Persephone, you build us up, drop us down with a thump and then raise us up again. A very enjoyable experience!’

‘I can understand Mr Stockwin finding difficulty in writing this emotionally charged book. He has managed it beautifully. And he’s a man to boot, like me!! A lot of people think that only women can do this well. Well it’s obviously not true. May I send a message to Julian’s wife – There are not very many men in this world who can write so sensitively about love between a man and woman. Her husband obviously can. I have to say I was much moved.’

‘Once again a masterpiece from the pen of Julian Stockwin. To be able to write fiction mixed with historical fact is brilliant. From start to finish an excellent read and gave me some sleepless nights. A tale that was both spell bound yet moving and kept me on the edge of my seat. Many twists and turns led you through the countryside of Portugal to the fashionable world of upper class London. A final twist at the end made the book for me. Thank you Julian another great effort and I believe one of your best yet. Can’t wait till November for my next Kydd fix.’

Persephone is available now in the UK as hardback, ebook and audio download and in U.S. as ebook and audio download. The hardback will be available in the States and the rest of the world in early September.

The Book Depository offers a discount on Persephone plus FREE SHIPPING worldwide

The next title in the Kydd Series is The Baltic Prize, out November 2. As usual I will be offering a Collectors Set of this book

Bookpick: Spring Selection

This selection covers a broad range of topics including what we can learn from ship models, the life of a Yorkshire bargeman and a scholarly compilation of the importance of the sea in history And there’s also a delightful book about London’s weird and wonderful places, many of which would have been familiar to my hero Thomas Kydd and his fellow Georgians. Whether it’s an addition to your library or just a good holiday read, I hope there’s something for everyone in this eclectic selection.

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Wooden Warship Construction by Brian Lavery

Bookpick woodenThe National Maritime Museum in Greenwich houses the largest collection of scale ship models in the world, many of which are official, contemporary artefacts made by the craftsmen of the Royal Navy or by the shipbuilders themselves. These models offer more detail than even the most meticulous plans, and as well demonstrate exactly what the ships appeared like. Lavery discusses a selection of the best models from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the end of wooden shipbuilding. As you’d expect, superbly illustrated throughout.

The Sea in History Edited by Christian Gérard Le Bouëdec

bookpick sea in historyOne of the volumes from a magnificent four-volume work discussing the importance of the sea in the development of human history. This volume is of particular interest to me as it covers the period from around the end of the fifteenth century up to the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and from a French source (some articles in that language) its insights are interesting and significant. A ground-breaking contribution to naval scholarship.

London Curiosities by John Wade

Bookpick curiositiesCleopatra’s Needle is a 3500-year-old obelisk that stands on a plinth on the north bank of the Thames. To commemorate the victory at the Battle of the Nile the monument was presented to the British nation by the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali but the cost of bringing it to London was initially prohibitive. The story of how it eventually got to the capital is just one of the fascinating items in this book. A delightful little tome to dip into!

Secret Naval Investigator by Commander F Ashe Lincoln

bookpick secret naval investigatorIn the lead-up to the Second World War, Lincoln, a junior barrister enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a Sub-Lieutenant. At the outbreak of war he determined to serve at sea and was posted to minelayers. But a mysterious midnight summons sent him hurrying from his ship to the Admiralty in London and a top-secret conference presided over by Winston Churchill. Lincoln became a key figure in a small group in the Admiralty whose exploits can now be revealed and should not be allowed to be forgotten. A remarkable tale of enterprise and courage.

British Cruisers in the Victorian Era by Norman Friedman

bookpick cruisersI’m pleased to see the re-release of this major contribution to the history of British warships. Gradually evolving from the masted steam frigates of the mid-nineteenth century, the first modern cruiser can be taken to be Iris and Mercury of 1875. They were the RN’s first steel-built warships; the first designed primarily to be steamed rather than sailed and formed the basis of a line of succeeding cruiser classes. The story ends with the last armoured cruisers, which were in turn succeeded by the first battlecruisers (originally called armoured cruisers), and with the last Third Class Cruisers (Topaze class), all conceived before 1906. Superbly illustrated, a must for any students of the emerging Age of Steam.

Seizing the Enigma by David Kahn

bookpick enigmaFrom 1939 to the middle of 1943, the British and, later, American navies fought a savage, losing battle against German U-boat wolf-packs. The Allies might never have turned the tide without an intelligence coup that for sheer bravery must take its place at the forefront of any in the war. Kahn expertly brings to life the race to break the German U-boat codes in this updated edition of his classic book. For this reviewer a fascinating read!

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year this year
And I have a very limited number of Signed First Editions, which I’m happy to inscribe with a personal message

21 Books – and Counting…

21 books

With the publication of Persephone this month I will have 21 books in print; 18 in the Kydd series, two historical standalones and a non-fiction work. I feel very privileged to be able to earn my living as a writer and I’m looking forward to penning more Kydd titles and possibly several further standalones – or a trilogy. For the short term, however, I’m focused on the Kydd series – two titles this year and two next year in my current contract. 2017 will be a busy year for Team Stockwin, with two hardbacks and two paperbacks coming out! And of course the titles will be available as ebooks and audiobooks.
The Powder of Death paperback
We know Julian Stockwin best for taking us on adventures on the High Seas with Captain Kydd not the Medieval world of Knights and Castles, but don’t let that put you off – this is every bit as good!’ — Amazon 5-star review

Powder of Death Cover1261. Oxford, England. An envoy returns from the land of the Tartars to meet with an English scholar and share a deadly secret. The two men vow that the knowledge of gunpowder must die with them as the consequences are otherwise too fatal to contemplate.

1290. Hurnwych Green, England. After his quiet life is shattered by tragedy, blacksmith Jared begins a pilgrimage to the Promised Land. Along the way he is invited to join the Knights Hospitallers as their blacksmith on a holy crusade for King Edward. The adventure that follows sees Jared encounter men from distant Cathay who harbour the secret of huo yao, and so begins one man’s obsession with the powder of death and a king’s determination to change the very nature of warfare.

Published in April

Inferno paperback
Julian Stockwin is one of the best current authors in this genre. His books are always awesome and Inferno is no exception.’ — Amazon 5-star review

x1024-inferno1807. Captain Sir Thomas Kydd’s famous sea action aboard Tyger has snatched his reputation from ignominy. He is the hero of the hour. But though Britain’s Navy remains imperious, a succession of battles has seen Napoleon victorious on mainland Europe.

In an attempt to prevent the French from taking control of Denmark’s navy, Kydd’s great friend Nicholas Renzi – now Lord Farndon – is sent on a desperate diplomatic mission to persuade the Danes to give up their fleet to Britain. But the Danes are caught between two implacable forces and will not yield, opting instead for the inferno of battle.

To be released May 18

Persephone hardback
I have to say that without a doubt, Persephone was an absolute joy to read. I have hardly slept for the last few nights as I have really struggled to put it down.’ — early reader

persephone-coverNovember 1807. Captain Sir Thomas Kydd must sail to Lisbon to aid the Portuguese Royal Family’s evacuation in the face of Napoleon’s ruthless advance through Iberia. In the chaos of the threatened city an old passion is reawakened when he meets Persephone Lockwood, a beautiful and determined admiral’s daughter from his past.

But the Royal Family’s destination is Brazil, Persephone’s England, and it seems Kydd’s chance has gone again. Only later he discovers Persephone has another suitor – and that, if he wants to win her hand, he must enter the highest echelons of London society.

Mixing with aristocracy and royalty brings other responsibilities. The Prince of Wales asks him to take temporary command of the Royal Yacht. Sailing to Yarmouth, Kydd realises they are being stalked by French privateers. The terrible threat of a prince of the blood being captured sees Kydd call on daring seamanship of the highest order.

Will be launched May 18

The Baltic Prize hardback

Baltic Prize HB1808. Parted from his new bride, Captain Sir Thomas Kydd is called away to join the Northern Expedition to Sweden, now Britain’s only ally in the Baltic. Following the sudden declaration of war by Russia and with the consequent threat of the czar’s great fleet in St Petersburg, the expedition must defend Britain’s dearly-won freedom in the those waters.

However Kydd finds his popular fame as a frigate captain is a poisoned chalice; in the face of jealousy and envy from his fellow captains, the distrust of the commander-in-chief and the betrayal of friendship by a former brother-in-arms now made his subordinate, can he redeem his reputation?

In an entirely hostile sea Tyger ranges from the frozen north to the deadly confines of the Danish Sound – and plays a pivotal role in the situation ensuing after the czar’s sudden attack on Finland. This climaxes in the first clash of fleets between Great Britain and Russia in history. To the victor will be the prize of the Baltic!

Published November 2

All the books will be available worldwide, usually a month or so after the UK publication date.
The Collectors Sets
For each new title I offer a Collectors Set. Each Set comprises a signed, numbered and embossed UK First Edition plus a signed cover postcard. Each issue is strictly limited to 500 in number. The Persephone Collectors Set is fully subscribed but there are still some unreserved for The Baltic Prize. Secure yours here.
Standing Orders
A number of readers have asked whether they could have a Standing Order for all future Collectors Sets. Just email with your postal details and ‘Sign Me Up for All Future Collectors Sets’ in the subject line.

BookPick: Napoleonic Memoirs & Biographies

Among the many treasured volumes in my library are memoirs and biographies, which so often give wonderful insights into the individuals who strode the Napoleonic-era stage. I particularly enjoy hearing actual ‘voices’ from the past, they can really transport you back in time. Here are four recent titles that will appeal to all those drawn to this fascinating period in history.

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The Late Lord, the Life of John Pitt by Jacqueline Reiter

memoirs2The Second Earl of Chatham is one of the most enigmatic and overlooked figures of early nineteenth century British history. The elder brother of Pitt the Younger, he has long been consigned to history as ‘the late Lord Chatham’, the lazy commander-in-chief of the 1809 Walcheren expedition, whose inactivity and incompetence turned what should have been an easy victory into a disaster. Chatham’s poor reputation obscures a fascinating and complex man. This biography peels away the myths.

A Soldier for Napoleon by John H Gill

memoirs3The letters and diaries of Lieutenant Franz Joseph Hausmann are here placed in the context of the military events of the period by renowned historian John Gill. This book is an important, authoritative addition to the many new works on the Napoleonic Wars that modern scholarship is bringing to light.

In the Words of Napoleon by R M Johnston

memoirs4This engrossing compilation acts as a diary or journal, encompassing the whole of the emperor’s life. Napoleon’s words – as recorded on a particular day – are set down as ‘entries’, and these offer a unique glimpse into the major events of the Napoleonic period. The diary reveals Napoleon’s thoughts and actions as his life unfolded and throws light on his attitudes to war, politics and the many varied personalities who surrounded – or opposed – him

Fighting Napoleon by Gareth Glover

memoirs1Britain’s struggle against Napoleon ranged across the continents, and the extensive operations of the Royal Navy and the British Army in the Mediterranean was a key battleground in this prolonged war of attrition. Even when Napoleon considered himself the master of Europe, he was unable to control the Mediterranean. These lively and entertaining memoirs provide an intriguing counterpoint to Wellington’s better-known operations in the Iberian Peninsula.

Still looking for bookish inspiration?

You might also like to take a peek at my other BookPicks this year this year
And I have a very limited number of Signed First Editions, which I’m happy to inscribe with a personal message

Out and About with Persephone

persephone-coverPersephone is officially launched in the UK on Thursday May 18, along with the paperback of Inferno. I’ll be signing copies of these books, along with my historical standalones, The Silk Tree and The Powder of Death at a number of venues around the UK. Do come along and say hello! And I’m always happy to add special inscriptions to the books

May 13
Meet the Author Morning, Kingsbridge Library, 11:30-1:00

Ilbert Road
Devon TQ7 1EB
01548 852315
Books will be available to purchase

May 20
Waterstones Drake Circus Plymouth 11:00 am

1 Charles St, Plymouth PL1 1EA
01752 669 898

May 27
Torbay Bookshop 11:00 am

7 Torquay Rd, Paignton TQ3 3DU
01803 522011

June 3
Ilminster Literary Festival 18:30 to 19:30

Nyanza Lodge, Berryman’s Lane
Ilminster TA19 0DY
Tickets: £7 – A Bar is available for those attending the talk

If you can’t make it on the day to Waterstones Drake Circus or Torbay Bookshop you can reserve a signed copy by calling the store.

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.


The Stockwins at a recent working lunch with literary agent Isobel Dixon

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!

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