Astrodene's Historic Naval fiction is pleased to have obtained an Interview with Mark Keating, author of the recently released The Pirate Devlin.
What inspired you to begin writing?
It was mostly out of frustration. I was in one of those lulls where I didn’t have a book primed and wanted to try something different. I tried to find some pirate fiction, as a change of pace, but came up short on finding any that satisfied. I thought that if there wasn’t one that engaged me I’d try and write one. I’d never written anything before but I knew what I liked to read so I did it out of pleasure thinking it would just be a pastime. It wasn’t that I thought I could write, just that I had no reason to believe that I couldn’t.
After a few weeks I was enjoying it so much that every evening stretched way past midnight and when I was about halfway through I gave it to some friends and they came back with positive responses and they wanted more.
I think that's the hardest part of writing: the moment when you give it to someone else for, what is essentially, judgement. I never thought that the first book I wrote would be picked up within two weeks of my finishing it. It's still a blur. I've been lucky.
Pirates in novels traditionally fall into two pigeon holes. They are the romantic hero whose crew is made up of miscreants that he is perpetually trying to protect people from. They never wanted to be a pirate and are only doing it to rescue their father/love/dog etc. or exact revenge on the antagonist who killed their father/love/dog etc. and will turn back to the good path once all is well.
The other type is usually the villain that crops up briefly in naval fiction and is always trumped easily by the better-born captains due to the fact that they are drunk, incompetent, psycho, ignorant and surprisingly undermanned. These guys are usually very ungrateful members of the captain’s crew who have mutinied and should know better.
I wanted to show pirates that reflected the souls of the men chronicled in “A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates”.
This is the bible of piracy published in 1724 and which every historical account of piracy draws on. It shows intelligent, stubborn, dangerous men who chose piracy or had it forced upon them by unemployment and disassociation.
The pirate is also an enduring character. From Halloween costumes to Johnny Depp they are still resoundingly popular and very much a sub-culture. If you ask anyone to name someone from the 17th or 18th century the chances are they can come up with a king, queen, composer, scientist, artist, writer, statesman and a pirate. But only one of those represents murder, theft and anarchy as a way of life.
Which are your favourite genres and who are your favourite writers?
I read a lot of non-fiction. Biographies and history mostly. In fiction I love Bernard Cornwell and Alexander Kent but most of my bookshelf is over fifty years old. I have a complete Saint collection in the yellow jacket Hodders and loads of pulp novels from the 30’s and 40’s. I also love Dumas and Dafoe and the style of Devlin emulates these authors which may make the prose seem old fashioned but long term I hope this will make the series gel. It may seem overly written to a modern reader but you have to get into the notion that it's designed to be.
Why do so many readers love historical novels?
I can only say why I love them. I think too many contemporary novels have too much ego in them. I don’t mind being informed when I read but I don’t really relish your opinion when I’m reading or what the modern world means to you.
I still think novels should be about entertainment, transportation outside your own sphere, but I think good historical fiction is like good science fiction and holds a mirror up to your own world without being obvious. The Pirate Devlin is set in a world where personal freedom has been eroded away for the majority and Governments rely on the proliferation of companies and exploitation of other nations. Three hundred years ago yesterday.
Are there more books to come?
I have at least four novels planned, just because the stories are there and I want to develop the character and I feel that the time period has been neglected somewhat. The early 18th century saw a lot of changes in the world and by the cusp of the 19th century had changed completely. The second novel is sub-titled White Gold and is about the theft of the secret of porcelain from China. A very early act of intellectual property theft and industrial espionage. Naturally a pirate is involved.
So aren't you essentially writing about the bad guys? The villains of the age?
Just because you're on the wrong side doesn't mean you can't be resourceful, bold and adventurous. To the rest of the world Drake was a pirate and the right side depends entirely on your perspective. More often than not we cheer for the hero in a movie not because of his motives but for what he overcomes and how. The lines are very blurred and I think most intelligent readers accept that and enemies don't always have to be countries at war. As a pirate, the whole world is your enemy.
How important is history to your stories?
As I said the early 1700's is a very neglected period especially for adventure fiction so I weave a lot of actual people and events into the books, but I don't educate. Hopefully though some readers will want to learn more about piracy. And remember: pirates haven't left history. They're here now.
Do you plan your stories before you write?
For the most part. I use three tools: a big yellow pad (yellow is easier on the brain), a whiteboard for sketching out chapters, and a moleskin in the pocket for those fleeting thoughts. I always start with a question and several goals but I let the characters surprise me. For instance in the second book I didn't intend one character to return until the third instalment but he fought his way back in. That surprised me.
What do you think of publishing's attitude to historical fiction?
I think it's pretty healthy. I'm told that it is the fastest growing genre other than young adult fiction. But they're not looking for one-off books. A series is definitely the way to go. At the moment publishing is suffering like the rest of the world but it seems that the reins have slipped in that the publisher will fund books to be in promotional offers and shop windows but they'll only fund books that will sell anyway. The mid-list author is suffering the hardest. The stores could help. It baffles me that the major chains still do not have a historical fiction section which would encourage browsing. Your book just gets bundled A-Z.
I'm new at this but I can see how it's a tough road.