For centuries, the Royal Navy has symbolized Great Britain and has fascinated the rest of the world with its tradition and its lore. This fascination has led Julian Stockwin, a British author and former sailor, to write stories about the glorious history of the navy.
This has resulted in five novels in the past six years. The books have followed the career of young Thomas Kydd (the first book in the series was named Kydd) who came into the Navy involuntarily as a seaman, and his adventures in rising to become "an officer and a gentleman."
Stockwin s latest book, Quarterdeck, continues the Kydd series and is soon to be published in North America. According to his Web site, Stockwin is in negotiations with a new publisher, and there is no firm publication date for the U.S. edition of Quarterdeck.
"The sea is fascinating and endless. I will never get tired of writing about it," Stockwin said in a telephone interview from his home near the sea in Devon, England.
Stockwin does not write about today s Royal Navy, but instead weaves tales of the days of full sailing ships, ropes, tar, cannonballs, floggings, grog, and the deprivations of men at sea. There was also a rigid chain of command that has changed very little over nearly 400 years.
The fictional books detail the rise of young Thomas Kydd, a "pressed" seaman who rises through the ranks to become an officer in His Majesty s Royal Navy. "Pressed" was a nice word for the practice (also called "Shanghaied"), where young, healthy, and usually unattached young men were grabbed and put on ships to fill out their duties in the Royal Navy, once the largest and most powerful sea force in the world.
Stockwin knows the ropes, literally. He was sent at age 14 to the Indefatigable, a hard sea-training school. He was then allowed to join the Royal Navy at 15 before transferring to the Royal Australian Navy, where he served for eight years in the Far East, Antarctic waters, and the South Seas. He saw active service in a carrier task force in the Vietnam War.
He stayed in the Navy as a Petty Officer but left the service and practiced as an educational psychologist. In Hong Kong, he was commissioned into the Royal Naval Reserve and later retired as a lieutenant commander.
But writing was his first love, Stockwin says, and he prepared himself for the Kydd series by meticulous, deep research into the Royal Navies of the past. The Kydd series is set in the late 18th century and involves its fictional characters in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. For example, Stockwin has taken the names of some of his characters from tombstone research in old cemeteries near the coast.
"There is an unlimited supply of research material available and I love that part of writing," he says. His attention to detail often carries him to out-of-the-way places for the "feel" of a port or a part of the sea that will figure in his books.
When Stockwin describes the odor from the bilge or going into battle with roaring cannon fire, flying splinters, the acrid stench of gunpowder, and confusion among sailors and officers amidst turmoil, it is realistic.
The approach of a strange ship through the fog, for example, was not so simple in those days before radar and radio communications. What is coming? Friend or foe? Stockwin brings it home with vivid descriptions of situations in the Navy when a ship s fate depended on the experience of its officers and men and their "feel" of the moment.
One of his pleasures, Stockwin says, is the ability to communicate with his readers via e-mail. He maintains a Web site (www.JulianStockwin.com) and says he is pleased to find high interest in how the Navy life was in the age of sail.
"The sea is a living, breathing thing and I love it. I cherish those comments and they make me want to write, and do better."
Hank Harvey is a retired Blade staff writer.
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