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… 

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