What can you tell us about Charles Hayden's new adventures in A Battle Won without spoiling the plot for readers?
Poor Hayden is sent to deliver the Themis to Admiral Lord Hood in the Med and as convoy escort to Gibraltar. Not only is his convoy pursued by an enemy squadron but his commander has been given a report on his character from Captain Hart. It does not go well. He’s then sent off to Corsica to help oust the French from that island. There is a lot of action and period detail in this book.
Hayden has an unusual background with a French mother and the other characters are all well described. How did you create them?
My mother’s father came from a French (Canadian) family but her mother was an Anglo. This created a lot of issues at that time though more about the differences of religion (the French family was Catholic and the English family Anglican) than about culture. I tend to build characters by accretion – a layer at a time. I picked up a very well-reviewed, contemporary novel my wife was reading recently and the main character was described in what amounted to a core dump – all in a few paragraphs at the beginning of the book. I like to build my characters over the length of the book so that it’s hardly noticeable to the reader. By the end, the reader really knows the characters; Hayden and company have become complex and nuanced – at least that’s the goal.
Can you describe your writing path to naval fiction?
I grew up in a house on the beach and I’ve always had a fascination with the sea and boats. I love to sail and have a large library on things nautical – everything from technical books on yacht design to yarns to history to fiction. I have a lot of old yachting books, as well. I’ve always wanted to write something in this area and considered a number of different projects but finally decided to do the Royal Navy. I didn’t realize so many others would be doing the same thing but then I guess O’Brian’s success inspired a lot of people.
How do you undertake your research?
There’s usually an initial period where I’m reading about a number of different events that might prove useful. Once I’ve chosen something I find interesting I start looking for more material on the subject. At a certain point I’m stymied by the fact that I live in a small town on Vancouver Island and need a good research library. The British Library, the library at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and the National Archives in Kew are the best places to go – though finding what you want in Kew is a big undertaking. I also order a lot of books from book dealers online. There are rare and out of print books that are really valuable to these projects. I also like to get to the places I’m writing about if possible. I spent a week in Corsica before I wrote A Battle Won and I couldn’t have done the Corsican section of the book without that. I also visit museums – especially maritime museums – wherever I travel. Ships like Victory and Trincomalee in the UK are also tremendously useful and inspiring to visit. I’m also lucky in that a number of experts on various aspects of my period have offered me their help at different times. I’m always amazed at how generous these people are with their time and knowledge.
What appeals to you about the period in which the books are set?
The War of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars lasted about twenty years and there was a lot of action at sea during that time. The era was rich in events and characters. As a backdrop to a novel you can hardly wish for more. The world itself was changing rapidly – trains were only a few years away and the steamship was coming as well. Austen was writing her brilliant social novels which give us such a wonderful window into life at that time. It’s just a tremendously rich period, dramatic and charming at the same time.
What’s next in the Maritime adventures of Charles Hayden series?
Hayden has been having things a bit too easy so far and in the next book he suffers more reverses and… well, I hate to give anything away.
How far into the future have you planned Hayden's adventures?
One book, although I have signed on to do two more so there will be four books for certain. There are so many possibilities. I like to ponder them for as long as possible. Writing a novel for me is 90% contemplation and 10% actual writing – although the writing takes many, many hours.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
I get a lot of mail from readers through my website – about a 1000 letters so far. People often ask if I actually sail – I think this is because there was such a debate about whether Patrick O’Brian actually knew how to sail (for my two cents worth, I doubt he was much of a sailor but clearly he understood the principles). I have been sailing for about 40 years. We just bought a new (old) boat last year and have been enjoying it tremendously. Of course with boat ownership comes maintenance – I should be down scraping varnish off the toe rail now!
A Battle Won is published by Michael Joseph in the UK and by Putnam in the US.