Saturday, 12 August 2017

A Taste of Blackstrap

There are no two ways about it, I have been neglecting this blog, for which I sincerely apologise. But, if there was an excuse, is has to be that I have been heads down writing.

Since my last visit I have finished one book and prepared another to the stage when it is almost ready for delivery. Both are in the Fighting Sail series, and I will do my best to make up for lost time by adding a brief outline for each in what should now become more regular visits to the blog.

Sunset on the Med. Much of the action in Blackstrap
takes place on the inland sea.
The first book is The Blackstrap Station. This saw light in September 2016 and has sold consistently well since. After the somewhat dramatic ending to HMS Prometheus I was apparently left with a number of options, many of which were anticipated by my readers. In fact, until Blackstrap was announced, I had a succession of emails asking if the series was going to end (never an option), as well as suggestions for how it might continue. These were welcomed as I always enjoy hearing from readers although I actually already had a plan, even if it needed taming.

Entering Grand Harbour - the Seige Memorial
can be seen to the righ

I had intended to include the American Navy, in the form of the USS Enterprise (see my last post) but sadly could not make the time-line work for that particular vessel. However, research on the American War against the Barbary States led me to Malta, one of my favourite islands, and gradually a story emerged.

 Malta was a pivotal station during the latter part of the Revolutionary and much of the Napoleonic Wars, with its very existence being a factor in the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens. After several adventures, King winds up there although he is very definitely “on the beach” with seemingly little chance of a sea-going post.
Kin'g place of work. The Auberge d'Italie was the base for
British administration in 1804.

His luck soon changes, however, and this is principally due to the 'intervention' of a non-fiction character; one of many who appear through the Fighting Sail series. Sir Alexander Ball was a Royal Navy Captain who had been given the unenviable job of Civil Commissioner to the island. With the versatility that has made the service famous, Ball took to the task and did much to secure and stabilise the small outpost. He truly was a magnificent figure who, as with many, has not received enough attention.

Before his admirable work on Malta his ship, HMS Alexander (74), was part of Nelson's force in the Mediterranean. When they first met Nelson gained a poor impression of Ball, believing him to be far too flamboyant for a sea officer (criticism indeed!). However, the Admiral's opinion improved following Ball's rescue
Much of Malta remains unchanged
since the 19th century
of Nelson's dismasted Vanguard and was further cemented by his exemplary performance at the Battle of the Nile. In this significant action Alexander was the second ship to engage the French flagship, the far more powerful L'Orient (formerly Dauphin Royal and Sans-Culotte) that carried over 118 guns.
The memorial to Sir Alexander Ball in the Lower Barrakka Gardens.
I was last there in November and left my poppy in respect.

Ball went on to be instrumental in wrenching the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino from the grasp of the French and bringing them under British protectorship. Throughout his association with them, Ball treated the indigenous population with such care and respect that, even more than two hundred years after his death, his memory remains revered on the island.

I hate spoilers, so won't elaborate too much on the book; suffice to say King does not remain a land creature for long. We are soon under sail once more and in a trim little craft ideally suited to the inland sea. There is a deal of naval action, as well as intense personal dynamics in the sub-plots, one of which verges on the macabre! Writing about Ball was a positive pleasure while the period, which is just prior to Trafalgar, gave scope for plenty of tension.
The Seige Bell Memorial viewed from the
Lower Barrakka Gardens

I was especially pleased with Blackstrap's ending; this was the ninth book in the series and there comes a time when most angles seem to have been covered. I think I found a slightly different slant though, and one that enabled me to continue with the next, Honour Bound, without too much prompting from my readers!

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