Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Lone Escort (and social distancing)

Lone Escort was a lockdown book. Some specific research for the story was needed, as well as a basic outline, but once both were completed work began on the text at the beginning of April, roughly two weeks after we were told to hunker down. And that’s what I did although, being used to working from home, the enforced detention made little difference.

The book centres on an Artois class frigate, nine examples of which were finally built. Seen here is HMS Ethalion in action with the Spanish frigate Thetis.

My average daily output for a first draft is about three thousand words but that hardly means a full length novel can be roughed out in a few weeks. Despite having a synopsis there are always blind alleys and, even in a first draft, certain passages have to be re-written, occasionally several times. Knowing there would be positively no visitors might have allowed for greater concentration although distraction is often welcome, what affected me more was the weather.

Lone Escort opens with a merchant brig running before a fair wind as she makes for her home port after several years at sea. It is early spring in England and a bright, crisp day, as it was when I wrote the first paragraph although from then on the climate, and my narrative, began to diverge.

A Falmouth Packet, such a vessel is featured in Chapter Two
In Chapter Two King makes his first appearance standing on the cliffs of Beachy Head; it is bleak and cold with dark rain falling but at the time Lockdown UK was in the blistering heat of a spring that set new records for sunshine hours. The book continues with a northerly crossing; the ship – a frigate – is initially part of an escort group protecting a convoy and spends much time chivvying her merchant charges in the grey skies and stiff winds of the North Atlantic. In fact, as I look back on the story my general impression is of grey weather – something that made the eventual cover art seem especially appropriate – yet I was gently simmering in sub-tropical temperatures. It was a contrast that increased as our summer approached and it often came as a relief to “cool off” in the narrative of the story.

Lone Escort contains a fair amount of naval combat but the action is not confined to cutlass and cannon, there is the usual mix of characters common in any Fighting Sail book and, between them, I believe they create enough dynamics to satisfy even the most spirited of hearts

The harbour at Cork provides a welcome refuge

First draft was completed on June 1st, then I took a week off to breathe out before starting the second. By then the heat had grown to the extent that England was fairly sweltering, far different from the sharp, clean atmosphere of Halifax, Nova Scotia I had left behind.

Then, gradually, the restrictions were lifted; we could venture out, and not just for food or medical supplies. Folk began calling again and we started taking tea in the garden – as long as all remained respectfully distanced of course. Schools, restaurants and pubs re-opened and life became, if not as before, then slightly closer to normal. And of course the weather changed as well, once we emerged the sun retreated and a more normal English summer resumed but by then I was back in my work room completing yet another draft.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ill-fated convoys destination

I think it finally ran to ten, including proof and line edits, then the e-book was released almost exactly six months after that first sentence. It’s out there now in all formats and selling well just as England heads for winter and the uncertainty of a second spike. In a couple of weeks I intend starting on the next. This will pick up where Lone Escort ends and, while the days grow increasingly shorter, I’m looking forward to enjoying a summer spent on the East Coast of Canada and North America – at least in my imagination. But quite where we all end up in reality is another matter entirely… 

Monday, 20 April 2020

Tangmere, a flight of fancy

Lysander Mk III

The volunteer staff are former RAF personnel and appear older than many exhibits; elderly gentlemen whose active careers are over yet still with the desire, and memories, to speak to the next generation. It was a quiet day and we were probably lucky, but all were ready to reminisce. There was the Canberra navigator who spoke of travelling long distances in the cramped cockpit, the ground engineer who proudly patted one of the planes he had cared for during service life then pointed to himself in a faded photograph of his former squadron. We discussed Cold War politics with another and were shown around the cockpit of a Hunter by someone who truly knew. The atmosphere was that of a convivial gentlemen’s club and we learned so much.

Work is well advanced on the next Fighting Sail instalment; I’m currently about a quarter of the way through the first draft and am aiming for a late autumn release. Meanwhile I am also hoping to add to the Coastal Forces series and, to this end, recently paid a visit to Tangmere Military Aviation Museum. This was partly for research – I had heard there was an informative air-sea rescue display – and partly pleasure. And it was excellent, with a good range of aircraft, displays and memorabilia. But the true magic of Tangmere lies in its attendants.

But there was one short incident that will always stay with me. Tangmere has a fast jet simulator; the cockpit of a Lightning having been wired up with screens and sound to allow amateurs some sensation of being in control while a patient former fighter pilot gives guidance. We enjoyed our twenty minutes and moved on to other exhibits, then the peace of a quiet afternoon was broken by the “engines” of the simulator roaring into life once more.

I quietly returned to the room; another elderly man was at the Lightning’s controls and ‘flying’ it expertly. I think the term is “stooging about at nought feet” but his level would have aroused an angry response from local residents had it been for real, while the speed at which he tree-hopped and banked was truly breath-taking. I watched, transfixed, while this elderly gentleman handled his terrible machine in the way young men have been encouraged to since chariots were invented. He wore glasses and a hearing aid, but neither were needed for the simulator was now a time machine. In my former life I mixed with some top musicians (makes me sound like a drummer) and was fortunate to be present when they practised or improvised; it was a similar sensation: he played that aircraft with an innate talent that surpassed age and I felt honoured to be a silent witness.

Should you find yourself in the South East of England (and when the current crisis is over) do come to Tangmere. It’s a brilliant museum and a great day out; the kids will love it. And there is more; oh, so much more.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Hellfire Corner, first in the Coastal Forces series

Artwork by Geoffrey Huband RSMA

My Fighting Sail series was launched over ten years ago and currently consists of twelve books set during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Most are based around the Royal Navy of the time although I have also touched upon the Honourable East India Company and the merchant service in general. I strayed twice to write two books that concentrated more on the work of the revenue service but, until now, my entire output has focused on the turn of the nineteenth-century. However the urge to explore a later period, and navy, has always been strong.

I was born in the ‘fifties and amongst my school friends there was much talk of World War Two, then a recent conflict. Most of our parents had been in the services or working for the war effort in some way and Southern England still held many reminders in the shape of pill boxes, bomb shelters and anti-invasion measures for youngsters to seek out and explore.

Even then my main interest was maritime history, and I began to read accounts of twentieth-century naval actions as avidly as those from a hundred and fifty years before. It soon became obvious that, once again, the Royal Navy was pivotal in securing peace in Europe and equally major warships had not been responsible for every victory.

The Battle of the Atlantic, surely one of WW2’s longest and most punishing campaigns was arguably won by convoys of merchant shipping, often made up from elderly, dilapidated vessels and frequently escorted by equally aged destroyers and underpowered corvettes. And Dunkirk, though by no means a victory, could still be considered a success due mainly to Royal Naval small craft backed by civilian owned and manned “little ships”. Together the two unlikely allies brought about a rescue as remarkable as it was audacious. Even the immediate defence of Britain’s home waters lay very much in the hands of lighter vessels and I quickly found myself concentrating all my attention on this aspect of WW2 sea power.

During the course of my reading I also noticed a similarity between the Royal Navy of 1939-45 and that of the Georgian era. In both periods Britain placed little emphasis on preparing for conflict and the sudden building programme that saw hastily constructed fleets of warships take to the water demanded an equivalent increase in manpower to sail them. As a result, the relatively few professional seamen available were quickly swamped by untrained civilians brought in to fill the gaps.

6th MGB Flotilla, Robert Peverell Hichens' MGB 64 leading
Thankfully measures such as the quota act and press-gangs were unnecessary during the later conflict, although conscription was exhaustive and not all those called for naval service came willingly. But, as in the past, a good proportion took to the life and prospered with the many news skills that would set them up in well-paid jobs at the end of hostilities. Some even went so far as to volunteer for special service in divisions such as Naval Intelligence, the Submarine Service, the Fleet Air Arm or Coastal Forces, and it was the latter that drew my attention.

Originally formed during World War One, Coastal Forces administered the Royal Navy’s high-speed launches; the Motor Gun Boats, Torpedo Boats and Motor Launches whose role in the defence of home waters was later extended to cover many other areas of conflict. Small, fast and eminently vulnerable, Coastal Forces’ craft undertook a multitude of tasks ranging from convoy and minesweeper protection, through the clandestine delivery and recovery of SOE agents or escaping airmen, to direct attacks on enemy merchant shipping and coastal targets. Their crews were exclusively volunteers drawn from both the regular Royal Navy and ‘hostilities only’ recruits – many of the latter having been in civilian occupations barely months before. And they were supervised in the main by officers equally fresh to Service life, being drawn from the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Much of Coastal Forces’ work was undertaken at night, in the worst of weathers and their main opponents were the Kriegsmarine’s own small craft. These included the heavily armoured VPs that carried far greater weaponry, minesweepers which could be the size of small destroyers and the vastly more powerful E-Boats.

Most of the early British vessels were small indeed, the majority being between sixty-three to just over seventy feet in length, and there could be little formal naval discipline on craft of such a size – something the few regular officers were quick to realise if not always understand. With crews regularly consisting of under ten men, it was not unusual for entire departments in larger vessels to be represented by a single rating aboard a high-speed launch. Inevitably something close to a family environment evolved and, although attention might be paid to the courtesies of rank and uniform ashore, when at sea the attitude was considerably more relaxed.

MGB 66 at speed with the crew at action stations,
off the coast at Fort William
Despite what some maintained to be a dangerously casual approach, Coastal Forces was to become a major influence in the outcome of World War Two. Some of their successes might not have attracted public attention although a few, such as the daring raid on the dry docks at Saint-Nazaire, did come to prominence and all undoubtedly affected the outcome of the war.

Serious research for my Coastal Forces series began over four years ago and the first instalment, Hellfire Corner, is due for release during the early part of 2020. I hope to follow it with another although further Fighting Sail books are also planned.

Outside the Lord Warden Hotel,
the building that became the Coastal Forces base
 HMS Wasp during WW2
Hellfire Corner contains many aspects of what quickly became a private war, including conditions on land. My fictitious MGB flotilla is based at Dover, an English town that suffered more than most from intensive air raids and was also subject to long-range artillery bombardment from the nearby French coast. Investigating civilian social history can be as fascinating as the military aspect, although the focus is very much on time spent at sea and naval action.

Launching a new series has brought back many feelings of trepidation experienced when starting Fighting Sail (I actually began writing His Majesty’s Ship over twenty years ago), but this is definitely not the end of my Georgian naval saga. The next Fighting Sail book has been outlined in rough and there are at least two more to follow. Ideally, I’d like to alternate between the two subjects and eras; there is a massive amount of material in each and many more stories to tell.

Hellfire Corner is due for release at the end of January 2020 and will be available in all popular formats.

Friday, 14 June 2019

The Scent of Corruption is now available as an audio book

“Summer, 1803: the uneasy peace with France is over, and Britain has once more been plunged into the turmoil of war. After a spell on the beach, Sir Richard Banks is appointed to HMS Prometheus, a 74 gun line-of-battleship which an eager Admiralty loses no time in ordering to sea. The ship is fresh from a major re-fit, but Banks has spent the last year with his wife and young family: will he prove himself worthy of such a powerful vessel, and can he rely on his officers to support him?”
The Scent of Corruption is narrated by Michael Troughton (son of the actor who played the second Dr Who) and is free to anyone joining Audible’s 30 day trial using this link in the US:…
And this link in the UK…

Friday, 24 May 2019

Sea Trials now released!

I'm delighted to announce that Sea Trials, my fourteenth book and the twelfth in the Fighting Sail series, is now available as a trade paperback as well as in all popular formats.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Fighting Sail Series to be available as Audio Books

I'm delighted to confirm that the Fighting Sail series is starting to appear in audio format with The Torrid Zone now available from Audible. Narrated by my son, actor Timothy Bond, the book is set in the South Atlantic, principally on the island of St Helena.
The Scent of Corruption, narrated by Michael Troughton (actor son of the second Dr Who), will be released in May with other titles following. I understand Fireship Press are also considering the first five books for audio distribution.
Anyone without an Audible account can download The Torrid Zone for free on signing up, while non account holders can purchase the audio file outright from the Audible site.
UK based listeners can find the book here: and international listeners here:

On another tack, work on the next Fighting Sail book is progressing well with release of Sea Trials scheduled for May.  

Friday, 15 March 2019

12th Fighting Sail book announced

I'm pleased to confirm that Sea Trials, the next in the Fighting Sail series, is on the way. All being well it should be available in April/May. I'll post more news as matters develop, meanwhile here is the dummy cover.