Thursday, 4 October 2012

Clear Lower Deck - a Review

Clear Lower DeckRoger Paine's book, Clear Lower Deck is a collection of the author's recollections and anecdotes, and provides a fascinating view of the post war Royal Navy from the 'sixties to the early 'eighties. The style is relaxed, competent and extremely easy to read, and the book presents well, in the large format paperback style favoured by Fireship Press. A few illustrations would have been welcome, but this is a minor point. What stands out is the intimate view of the RN of that time; you feel accepted into that tight club, with jargon, slang (always explained), and camaraderie abounding. It is a truly personal account of service life; one which is both authentic and totally captivating.
The author certainly led an active career, with deployments aboard a wide variety of vessels, as well as time at the Ministry of Defence, and on an admiral's staff during the Falklands conflict. Starting as a sixteen year old junior rating, he rose to Commander, a rank he held for several years before opting for retirement. There are no eye witness accounts of great battles or major incidents, but in smaller matters, like entertaining visiting dignitaries, dealing with a manipulative superior, or heading an exercise to secure an ammunition depot, the detail is minute and insight fascinating. Service etiquette is also covered, as well as a good deal of background into various naval traditions. The author even recounts his experiences as he retires from a life he had known since a lad, faces the civilian world, (and further watery perils beyond).
Don't expect side splitting humour; this is not a naval joke book, neither does it paint an overly sentimental picture of jolly Jack Tars, or totally improbable Navy Lark capers. But as an entertaining glance at a time when the RN still boasted more ships than admirals Clear Lower Deck is absolutely first rate, and serves as an excellent reminder of the Navy we have lost.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

"The Next Big Thing"

MM Bennetts ( mmbennetts.com ) has been kind enough to "tag" me in "The Next Big Thing", a chain blog currently being passed amongst writers. I must say, some of the questions are quite novel and caught me off guard, but it seems quite a jolly exercise.

1.) What is the title of your book?
The Patriot's Fate.

2.) Where did the idea come from for the book?
Battle of Tory Island
Battle of Tory Island
It appeared in an odd way; my "Fighting Sail" series had reached 1798, and the logical progression would have been to join Nelson in his hunt for Bonaparte's fleet in the Med. But that, and the glorious action at Aboukir Bay, has been covered in nautical fiction by other writers so many times before that I felt unwilling to follow. Then I remembered The Battle of Tory Island, a minor action that took place off the coast of Northern Ireland but was pivotal in many ways. I started researching, and inevitably became embroiled in the events of that year; from then on I was hooked.

3.) Under what genre does your book fall?
Historical Nautical Fiction, although one of my readers commented that they enjoyed my 'adventure stories'. I liked that: there were echoes of H. Rider Haggard and his kin.

4.) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
That is something I have never considered before. I watch remarkably little television, and have visited the cinema precisely twice in the last ten years. A couple of my choices have already passed on, and would have to be invited back, but as we are talking fantasy...
King, slightly credulous, and still finding his feet in the adult world, would be a good role for the fast maturing Daniel Radcliffe; I think he would produce the right mixture of devil-may-care bravado with the occasional flash of immature reserve. A young John Laurie, for the worldly, but withdrawn, Fraiser; a remarkable sensitive actor, and too often categorised as just another old boy from Dad's Army. Banks, being played by Benedict Cumberbatch would be perfect: aristocratic and with a natural air of command. This is also a character I see developing, and B.C would allow him to grow old well. 
Tim Bond
Tim Bond
The beefy, black-hearted bully, Surridge would have been a peach for Oliver Reed, and Daniel Craig, ideal for Manning. I must say it is a shame I could not find a part for Michael Kitchen; one of the best actors working today; fascinating to watch, and my favourite audio book reader by a long shot. If I could also make him a few years younger he would be a first rate Caulfield. The women are a little easier; Betsy's character, being promiscuous, and slightly shallow, is not exactly unknown in drama of any period; there are a number of actors who could carry off such a role. Sarah is a little more subtle; capable, slightly feisty, intuitive, and yet also na├»ve; Jenna-Louise Coleman, Doctor Who's new companion, would make a capable job if it. And finally Tim Bond, (pictured) for Lieutenant Chilton. He's my youngest son and a rising star on the stage (or so I am informed).

5.) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
1798, and Ireland is in turmoil: two friends and former allies follow developments from opposing sides to their spectacular conclusion. (I think I may have cheated a little with the colon.)

6.) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Published by Fireship Press, a great bunch who look after their authors well (even if they are based in the middle of the Arizona Desert). Fireship was started by Tom Grundner (author of the "Sydney Smith" series and The Ramage Companion amongst others). On his death in 2011 Michael James took over the reins, and they are steadily accumulating a stable of solid nautical fiction writers, including Linda Collison, Susan Keogh and Steven Maffeo.
7.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft was completed in exactly three months; then the work really began...

8.) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I'm not aware of any that have covered the '98 Irish Rebellion from the naval angle. (I'm certain there are some, but none that I have encountered.)

9.)  Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The initial inspiration was a little mundane, I'm afraid. As previously stated, I was simply looking for another scenario for the characters I have created in the previous four "Fighting Sail" books. But once I discovered a little more, the history took me over, as is all too often the case. The British administration and land forces do not come off well, but even amongst the tyrants and autocrats, there were a few good men. And I learned more about Wolfe Tone, as fascinating a character as you could ever hope to use in a novel; likewise Napper Tandy. By the time I was finished I felt I knew them all personally.

10.)  What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

As with all the "Fighting Sail" books, there is no central hero; instead I use a characters of varying status and from several divisions of the ship; lower deck seamen, junior, warrant and commissioned officers, marines: even wives or passengers. Some appear in every book, others come and go, and quite a few are wounded or die. I feel this is a realistic approach to historical fiction, and far better than concentrating on one personality, which almost inevitably will live a charmed life. The books are in a series, but can be read in any order or isolation.

With special thanks to MM Bennetts for including me in this. In turn I would now like to tag Linda Collison:lindacollison.com - Susan Keogh: susankeogh.wordpress.com

Thursday, 9 August 2012

A review of Hell Around the Horn by Rick Spilman