The Massacre of Innocents

Historic Naval Fiction is pleased to have obtained an Interview with Alan Lawrence whose new novel, The Massacre of Innocents, was recently released.

What can you tell us about The Massacre of Innocents without spoiling the plot for readers?

The plot, the historical events within which the story develops, as well as the people within the story all bring essential ingredients to the mix, but the most important one is the depth, dialogue and realistic nature of the principal characters. I have strived to add this strength and colour to my own characters, and to illustrate the thoughts, concerns and emotions affecting them within the bloody events of the story; to show how these events affect them.

What do you have planned for the future of the series?

My series follows very closely the actual events of the period, the Greek war of independence; but there are also scenes back home, in Falmouth; major English historical events come into the story too in books two and three.

What led you to choose the Greek struggle for Independence as the setting for your series?

I also considered the wars of liberation in South America, but Patrick O'Brian had already touched on that in his final novel. African slavery skirmishes didn't seem to offer great scope – certainly none for sea battles - and hence it was an easy decision to opt for Greece, the country consisting of so many far-flung islands and ideal for a seafaring tale. The true historical events were impossible to pass by and feature strongly and in detail in my book.

Where did your interest in the sea originate?

It's always been in me since I was a child, like many others fascinated just to be on the beach. In past years I spent many a seaborne trip voyaging around the Hebridean islands; a simply delightful part of the world: unsurpassed scenery, great history, wonderful wildlife, friendly people, and of course the opportunity to enjoy a wee dram in delightful hostelries.

What intrigues you about the period in which the book is set?

The striking factor that my research brought home to me was that things don't change much, people don't change much: Imperialism, politics, great power manipulation and diplomacy all much the same then and now. For such a short time in history's march, the technical mastery of sail-driven battleships – as a '74' was – enabled maritime powers to control what were then very thinly-populated great states. Park a '74' on the doorstep and control was almost assured. It similarly is interesting to see how maritime doctors struggled with a huge lack of medical knowledge – much as is the case today with our still limited understanding of many diseases. It's encouraging to believe that we do get there in the end!

What inspired you to begin writing?

I wanted to write since I was about sixteen when I was particularly fascinated by the characters in Sven Hassel's WW2 series about a German panzer crew. Not quite 'Catch-22' but something earthier, vivid, more believable. His characters simply were the book (as are Patrick O'Brian's), the background story almost unnecessary. I wanted to write something similar all the way back then, but life and the day job always intruded. So, I am starting my writing much later in life and I think my books will be the better for it.

From where do you draw your supporting characters? How do you name them?

My original draft was written as a sequel to Patrick O'Brian's series and therefore two of my three principal characters were O'Brian's characters, Aubrey and Maturin. They were changed to avoid copyright infringement; a third character entering the story as part of my comprehensive rewriting of the book. Having spent much time in Scotland myself, I decided a couple of Scots would be ideal. Similarly, an Irish captain allows me to bring into the story many facets of Irish life at that time. In retrospect I think I have subconsciously drawn some memorable elements of Sven Hassel's characters into my own too, though none of mine are an exact match for his.

How do you undertake your research?

It was relatively plain-sailing to accumulate many and varied books about the ships of that time, of the Royal Navy, of the general geo-political history, but the difficulty was very much in finding information on the minutiae, the detail of the events as recorded by Greeks because much, almost all, is recorded in the Cyrillic script! In this I was aided by a delightful lady, Elaine, living in Kefalonia, who translated the essentials for me. Several Philhellenes wrote contemporary books which are very detailed and present the historical fundamentals of my stories. I strived for great accuracy in the people, places and events; to the extent of tracing even the Argostoli harbourmaster's name; and for the battle scenes establishing the strength and direction of the winds recorded.

When and what do you read yourself?

Principally in recent years, non-fiction: history. When much younger I loved the fiction of Alistair Maclean, Desmond Bagley, Hammond Innes and such like. Since then, Tom Clancy is one author I like, and his contemporaries such as Clive Cussler and Dale Brown – all ripping good yarns. I love the works of Patrick O'Brian most of all, and so that became the motivator for my own start in writing – I wanted more stories of Aubrey and Maturin, of HMS Surprise, and so I decided I would have to try and write them myself. There's nothing quite like an inspiring challenge!

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

We all enjoy a gripping story, an adventure, but so often the sense of events such that we read of in works of fiction isn't really that close to reality. That has been my self-imposed challenge, to draw out the real, the psychological realities, the emotional impacts, the shocking mental costs of the infliction of truly horrific events such that I describe in my book on people subjected to such horrors: what is the true cost to the soul? It is, in short, a story of fundamental human feelings in the most extreme of circumstances.

© 2008-2024 David Hayes (Astrodene)