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!
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!