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INVASION is somewhat of a milestone in my literary career my 10th book in print – one million words! When I look back to that day in April
2001 when I held a copy of Kydd in my hands for the first time, I can only wonder at the enrichment Thomas Kydd has
brought to my life since then. My wife Kathy and I were able to give up the day jobs and work together as a creative team and we’ve travelled the globe delving into the
captivating world of the eighteenth-century sailor, at sea and on land. We’ve met thousands of readers and book-sellers and people from all walks of life have enthusiastically
shared their specialist knowledge. These range from Professor Jack Lynch in the US, an authority on Georgian speech patterns, to expert knot-tyer Ken Yalden in the UK, to Joseph
Muscat in Malta, with his deep understanding of Mediterranean sailing craft.
I have seen the Kydd books translated into Japanese, French, Russian and many other languages, and published as e-books, in Braille, as audiobooks and in large-print. My monthly
newsletter The Bosun’s Chronicle exceeds a world-wide subscriber base of 4000 and my website now celebrates all
aspects of Neptune’s Realm, thanks to regular input and feedback from readers. One of the most popular pages is the Shipmates’ Album, which features photographs of
some of my fans from around the world, including one reading Seaflower on his honeymoon, another with
Kydd on a dangerous expedition up the Amazon...
I’m often asked whether my original conception of the series and its characters has changed much as I’ve gone on – and the answer is no, with the exception of
perhaps two things. When I first put pen to paper I thought the series would run to 11 books; now I can see it reaching at the very least to 20. As I’ve delved more deeply
into the period I have found there’s just so much rich material in the historical record to stimulate an author’s imagination. The other main change is the character
of Renzi. Initially he was just to be a means of articulating in a way that the uneducated sailor could not, and act as a foil to Kydd. However he’s grown into his own
character, in some ways as interesting as Kydd himself. Kathy actually tells me I am half Kydd, half Renzi. Just how much an author’s personal experiences influence his
writing is of course very hard to say, but she may have something there...
Writing about the sea in all its moods gives me special pleasure. I take great pains to ensure my prose is as accurate as possible and make constant use of ship’s
electronic sea charts and my now-vast reference library, as well as regularly consulting the various experts I’ve discovered over the years. Of course having been a
professional sailor myself helps enormously in bringing to mind the sights, smells and sounds of deep sea. When Old Salts tell me they’ve really felt the heave of a deck
under their feet as they read my books, I feel especially chuffed! And whenever I can, I take the opportunity to get in a bit of sea time, whether in tall ships or putting to sea
with the modern Royal Navy, whose ships may be steam and steel but many of the traditions from Kydd’s day are still honoured aboard.
Although I have rough outlines for all the books, the period of research and fleshing out of the plot at the beginning of each writing year is especially enjoyable. Often one
tiny obscure fact will suggest a nice twist in a particular aspect of the story line – and the hunt is on to find out more. About half of the year is devoted to this
initial work; during the other half it’s down to solid writing, in my case about 1000 words a day. Kathy keeps a watchful eye on this as I go along and is always on hand
with invaluable insights if required. We sometimes go for a walk in the lovely woodlands along the banks of the nearby River Erme to toss around ideas if I find I am writing
myself into a corner – and it’s never failed me yet.
Would I like to have lived in the eighteenth century? I think the answer must be yes. It was far more colourful and individual time than it is today. The kind of characters who
walked the Georgian stage will not be seen again and some of the great naval feats of the Napoleonic wars will never be repeated. It was also a more romantic and personally
fulfilling time, I feel. I'm always taken with the soft effects of candlelight around a dinner table, of the art of conversation, of making your own musical entertainments in the
evening. These the Georgians did very well!
In doing my research on historical people I have been fascinated by what has been discovered by modern scholarship – but at times what we don’t know about some of
these personalities is more intriguing. Robert Fulton, the maverick American inventor who appears in this book, is certainly a good example of this. There are several biographies
of Fulton which I consulted extensively but he was one of those larger-than-life figures whose persona generates more questions the deeper you dig.
Fulton's nickname of ‘Toot’ was widely used but I can find no definitive reason for it. Some have suggested it derives from the whistle of the steamboat for which
he’s known, but it seems his nickname was used before this. Fulton was very gifted but difficult to penetrate as a person, na´ve but intense. A Maryland farm boy, he came
to England by invitation, and for a time lived as a portrait painter in Devon, near where I live. He reached the status of having his work hung at the Royal Academy so he was no
amateur, but then went across to revolutionary France, and extraordinarily, within a year he was working on his incredible submersibles. It’s on record that he actually met
Bonaparte face to face and demonstrated a working submarine, the first Nautilus. It remained on the bed of the Seine for an hour to the horror of the assembled
dignitaries; Fulton later took it out on several armed war patrols against the British. He destroyed it when the French delayed in making a commercial arrangement along the lines
I spell out in the book.
Fulton’s proposed machines were the first weapons of mass destruction – deliberately designed to blow up humans without warning or a chance to fight back and caused
as much stir then as WMD does today. Did he really believe in what he said about freeing the world’s oceans with the threat of mutual destruction or was this to assuage his
feelings of guilt? The record is not clear and I can only guess at the answers to these questions.
And we’ll never know whether if Fulton had been given full backing, he would have succeeded. It took another century before the world saw the first practical submarine but
his terminology (submarine, torpedo, conning tower) is still in use today. How did it all end for him? He scraped together resources for one more try and succeeded in frightening
the wits out of Admiralty officials gathered for a demonstration off Deal, but a fortnight later the Battle of Trafalgar took place and effectively ended his dreams. Fulton
returned in penury to the US but went on to become famous with the first commercial steamship there. Ironically, he later began building another submarine, this time against the
British who were blockading New York in the war of 1812, but he died before it was finished.
Other characters in this book may seem at first reading to be the product of a vivid imagination but there really was a mysterious ‘Mr Smith’ who detached Fulton from
Napoleon to transfer his allegiance to England. There is very little known on this episode so I took what I felt was likely to have occured, and put Renzi in Smith’s place.
Likewise, the famed Parisian savant, LaPlace, was indeed a friend of Fulton’s...
I enjoy Jane Austen’s works and it was on a literary whim that I decided to mention her in Invasion,
via her brother who actually was in post there at the time. She in fact had two sailor brothers; Francis, who Kydd meets in the course of his acquaintance with the Fencibles, and
Charles. Both later advanced to become admirals and Jane no doubt consulted them when she created William Price in Mansfield Park and Captain
Wentworth in Persuasion.
As usual, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to many people. I cannot acknowledge them all for space reasons but deep thanks are due to Rowena Willard-Wright and Joanne Gray of
English Heritage, who arranged special access to Dover Castle, Fulton’s base while he was working on his inventions, and Walmer Castle, where Pitt lived and used as a
secretariat for his clandestine operations against the French. And of course I would be remiss not to mention my literary agent Carole Blake and my new editor at Hodder &
Stoughton, Anne Clarke.