Congratulations on the launch of your eighth Age of Nelson novel, The Guinea Boat, an edge-of-the-seat thriller in which the hero is challenged not just by pirates, but by smugglers, too.
JD: Like your very well-reviewed Turn a Blind Eye, which was also about the free-traders who sabotaged the English economy during the Napoleonic Wars, it is a departure from your usual style. You were already the author of the very successful Fighting Sail series, so what inspired you to make this change of course?
AB: The Fighting Sail series is very important to me: I enjoy using the same characters, and being able to continue a story that reflects my interest in the French Wars from the Royal Naval angle. But the long periods of conflict affected other forces and organisations as well. Some, such as the Revenue Service, John Company and even Trinity House, are well known, while others, like the Sea Fencibles – effectively a “Dad’s Navy” of the period – have been rather neglected. I feel there are plenty of tales to tell from a different perspective and the change of viewpoint opens up a whole new aspect to the times.
JD: Another thought is that through the six books of the Fighting Sail series, you must have become attached to the core characters. How difficult was it to create a new hero, and his antagonists and allies? Did it turn out to be a rewarding experience?
AB: Oh, it was very rewarding – and very freeing. There is nothing I like better than meeting new characters: the only problem comes when you have to abandon them at the end of a story. With regard to my Fighting Sail series, this has no central hero, but relies instead on a diverse collection of individuals of differing ranks and disciplines that appear from book to book. That was a conscious decision for me, and allows the true danger of any situation to be shown: basically, I can kill people… When you read book five of a thirteen volume series about a central hero you know there is a fair chance they will get to the end in one piece. With my Fighting Sail books, everyone is vulnerable.
JD: Did the change of direction involve a change in tempo? Or do you plot the book the same way, with events evolving towards an exciting climax? Is it unusual for you to introduce a romantic element, for instance?
AB: I tend to plot all my books in much the same way, although the tempo of Guinea Boat is more reflective than that found in a Fighting Sail story. The change has allowed a good deal more insight into each character. And yes, there is a romantic element, although that is not unusual in my work. With regard to climax, I am especially pleased with the ending to Guinea Boat. It is not a dramatic fleet action, yet I think there will be enough to keep most readers interested.
JD: Did it mean that you had to do a lot of new research? Or do you always start off a new line of background study, with every book you write? At the same time, could you tell my readers something about how you tackle the job of creating an authentic, yet evocative setting? For instance, do you take pains to learn the spoken idiom of the locality in that era? Costume? Social manners? After all, you are writing in the era of Jane Austen as well as Admiral Nelson!
AB: Research is king; it begins long before any story has been mapped out, and never really ends. Not all is included in the actual text however – nothing slows the pace of an adventure story better than a succession of gratuitous facts, (and sometimes it is the more obscure points that truly cement the atmosphere and setting for a tale). I live relatively close to Hastings, where much of the action in Guinea Boat is set, and spent a good deal of time there walking along the ancient Rock-a-Nore, speaking to fishermen on the Stade, where their predecessors have worked for over a thousand years, and eating far too many fish and chip lunches. I learned much of the local slang and jargon, which remains in use and has been incorporated into the book. A selected glossary listing this, as well as more common nautical words and phrases, is included for those not familiar with the area.
JD: My readers always appreciate learning something about an experienced writer’s routine. Do you write every day? All day, or just part of the day? And what is your favourite place for creating an Alaric Bond novel?
AB: I start at nine and end at five, pretty much six days a week although obviously the actual business of refining plots and polishing characters tends to be twenty-four, seven. We live in a house that was built in 1392, which is not unusual in my part of England. It has crooked floors and walls; the beams are low, much of the old glass gives some strange and wonderfully distorted images, and there is an atmosphere that is almost tangible (I blame the cat). To my mind it is the ideal place to create historical fiction.
Again, thank you very much for sharing so much with us. Much appreciated, I assure you!