It’s out at last! “The Aftermath of Devastation” The 4th book in the series.

It’s available now as an e-book for kindle – from Amazon – and also as a paperback – also from Amazon and courtesy of their print on demand operation, CreateSpace. It is a first class service for authors and publishers, one which I have adopted for all of my books so that literary neanderthals (like me) with an aversion to e-books can buy a physical book. There will be a hardback coming along too, for the UK only, in July, which will be the “Collector’s Edition” and will only be available in UK bookshops.

 

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The Aftermath of Devastation

This book in my series represented the most severe challenge: naturally, every author believes their first book is a wondrous thing, as as for their second one… well, the seven wonders of the world ain’t in it! And then we take stock, a sobering moment for reflection… are we really writing something that will reach beyond our own interest, will offer pleasure and fascination to other readers? Do we ever know? I reflected on the justifiable acclaim for the greatest writer ever (in my humble opinion) of naval historic fiction – for it was (you guessed) Patrick O’Brian; and the answer is plain: yes, true wonders are, eventually, recognised. They are, really; his series is truly the eighth wonder of the world. OK, I have been enjoying my grog ration. However, it is enough to keep us mere scribblers at the keyboard, plugging away, close-hauled and approaching that distant sun… Time to stop, time to put down a few words; and here they are, from my latest book. I am sure my second one built on the first (I can’t, even now, bring myself to say “better” – can I?) and this latest one has, I think, stretched my hitherto unknown (I’m talking about my own perceptions here), unsuspected abilities to new… new… OK, here’s the words, below. I hope you enjoy this tiny taster.

Pellew extended his hand, ‘And the finest of good mornings it is too, O’Connor. Indeed, it is a damn fine morning whenever I find myself aboard ship these days; there it is… too many infernal days ashore, but enough of that else we may run foul of speaking of higher authorities, and I would not care for that.’

‘Top of the morning to you, sir. How I most heartily wish the ship was in better order for your visit.’

‘It don’t signify in the least, not at all. I do so hate a flash ship,’ replied Pellew in a friendly tone and with the kindliest of look.

‘I regret, sir, that we have enjoyed neither the time nor the materials to remedy her prodigious damages, these past days…’ Pat’s voice tailed off.

‘Never be so concerned, O’Connor. Do not stand on ceremony,’ declared the admiral with great benevolence.

‘You are very good, sir.’

‘Now, pray be so good as to show me the barky, and perhaps we will enjoy a tint of coffee later… you do have coffee?

‘Be so good as to follow me, sir,’ Pat was feeling a little more relaxed, Pellew’s informality a huge relief. ‘Yes, it pleases me to say we have a fine coffee, a Turkish coffee, so it is.’

‘Excellent, pray lead on.’

Pat paced slowly about the quarterdeck; that there were none of the customary carronades present was readily apparent. To a fighting man such as Edward Pellew the glaring vacancy loomed large. ‘The smashers went overboard, sir, to lighten ship,’ said Pat, anticipating the admiral’s question, one framed in his thoughts if not on his lips, ‘… so much water in the hold… seven feet at one time…’ The admiral’s smile vanished, his face darkened; he nodded his understanding. They turned at the taffrail to gaze forward the length of the ship; the void presented by the absent mizzen mast was stark, glaring. ‘The mizzen was cut down to release her, when she was knocked down in the storm,’ explained Pat, ‘a beam sea… the drag of the mast in the water preventing her from finishing her turn… to fall off the wind, the fury of it pressing her down.’ Pat swallowed hard, the recounting of the terrible minutes constricting his throat, his breathing coming faster, his tone of voice deepening, ‘She would not come back, rise up, until the mast was gone, the rigging severed.’

‘Good God Almighty!’ Pellew gazed at the stump of the mast in something akin to disbelief, his mind struggling to visualise the scene of horror, ‘An infernal close run thing, I venture?’

‘Indeed it was, sir,’ the whispered reply, ‘Perilously close.’

Pellew stared hard at the deck planking; to his practised eye the indelible dark stains in large patches on the oak planking – holystoning long accepted in the fleet as being utterly useless – could not be missed, could be only one thing: blood, buckets of it, dried in the sun to a permanence. There was no other explanation for such that he could think of. His eyes narrowed, yet he said nothing, the bloody causation of the now near black residues perfectly plain to him. Together they paced past the wheel, towards the mainmast, the remainder of the ship before them. ‘The foretop don’t look like anything that ever came out of Pompey, O’Connor,’ remarked the admiral, ‘Cut short, would it be?’

‘Yes sir; the original was struck by Turk shot, cut away, cast overboard…’ Pat’s spirits were diminishing by the minute even as his heart, it seemed to him, beat louder, his anxieties rising. ‘

‘On my life…’ Pellew muttered to himself, and more loudly, ‘She was damnably knocked about.’

‘I regret she was, sir,’ Pat waved his hand toward the remaining companionway as if to lead the admiral away from further scrutiny of more ravages, unrepaired and greatly demoralising. ‘Please to step this way.’ Pat started quickly down the steps, as if in doing so it would hasten Pellew’s practised eyes away from the sight of so much more yet unseen damage, perhaps towards rather safer havens. ‘The other was smashed by a ball strike, off Samos,’ declared Pat, anticipating  the admiral’s obvious enquiry.

Pellew nodded, thinking hard. He reached the bottom of the steps and stared down the length of the gun deck. ‘In the storm…  the carronades gone… you did not care to cast the great guns overboard?’

‘It was not for want of intention, for with never less than two feet of water all over the deck, no sails and rolling most severely…’ Pat shuddered as he spoke. ‘I dare say she was heeled over to some sixty degrees, and it was not possible… we dare not untie them… we could never have held… controlled them… else they too would have gone…’ Pat’s voice tailed off.

‘I am fully persuaded of it,’ the words were uttered quietly, the gravity of Surprise’s situation revealed with crystal clarity, the depth of her distress and that of her men all clear to him, and Pellew’s tone of voice was low; the terrifying nature and extent of the ship’s catastrophic danger had registered with him as they paced the length of the deck to stand under the foc’sle. The admiral gazed in silent astonishment at the bow hull, hundreds of tiny wooden wedges remaining tapped into the gaps in the oak timbers where, bereft of the caulking which had dried and shrunk in Greece’s summer and which had then been battered out by the repetitive pounding of monstrous wave after storm wave, the seawater had pressed in, the accumulation of a myriad of tiny jets becoming an unstoppable, unceasing and flooding torrent, much worse on the decks below where it could find no escape.

Pat led on, down the steps to the lower deck. In the immediate area at the bottom of them, a dim light persisting, Pellew noticed more enduring stains proliferating on the planking, many of them large indeed. Shocked and unspeaking, he looked down all about him in dismay, dozens more of dark blotches visible, stretching away into the far gloom. The illumination of the solitary lantern not affording him any more than an impression of the whole of the deck, an image, a picture came to mind, his imagination affording him a vision of the surgeons working in this dark place, dozens of wounded men lying here in their agonies, bleeding, crying, dying. The admiral’s steps and words were halted entirely. He stood in enduring silence, rigid, unmoving, staring the length of the lower deck.

Eventually a grim nod from Pellew and they stepped on, down to the orlop, halting above the hold, two feet of water even now still swilling about, for the extra pumps procured from ashore had enabled the water depth to be reduced from the former four feet still present on arrival but no further. ‘Good God!’ exclaimed Pellew. That so many pumps were still working he had noted on his arrival aboard, great streams of water visibly gushing out in a torrent from the larboard side where he had boarded, the same being visible from the deck on the starboard side; and then the rhythmical, noisy, mechanical workings of the pumps could not fail to reach his ear even now, six of them going non-stop, always a dozen men working them, the laborious toil unceasing, day and night.

Up they stepped, up from the near absolute darkness of the hold to the enduring gloom of the lower deck, both men uncomfortable, aware they were returning to the surgeons’ scene of horror; slowly they stepped towards the stern, towards the gunroom, Edward Pellew dawdling, deep in reflection, Pat striving to quicken his step but holding back to stay with his distinguished visitor, the admiral taking in everything about him, every detail, every nuance, every visible vestige of record of the events. Pat too began to reflect on the battle; he stared as if seeing for the first time the old bloodstains, never completely cleansed since the battles of Samos, and the fresh ones from injuries re-opened by the hurricane’s horrors. All had been scrubbed a dozen times since the Falmouth arrival, but with very limited success, and Pat too was now reduced to keeping his silence; indeed, he would have omitted the lower deck from his tour, had that been possible, for the unspeakable horrors he had witnessed in the aftermath of the Samos battle endured painfully in his mind, and simply being here, in the place where Simon had endured the gruesome and ghastly burdens which had precipitated his brief breakdown, was hard. The admiral, Pat’s long silence registering with him, reined in the innocuous platitude about to escape his lips, bit down on his tongue, turned and faced his guide, shaken, deeply moved, unsettled, his heart turning within him, his voice a mere whisper, ‘I have been afloat since I was thirteen… on many ships… in many battles. I have seen unspeakable horrors at sea… terrible things, which no man would care to reflect on,’ Pellew took a deep breath, ‘ but it is plain to me, O’Connor… it is perfectly plain to me,’ he reiterated, ‘… that you and your men…’ a long pause, ‘… have been to hell.’

My first ever review of “The Fireships of Gerontas”

*****  The Next Patrick O’Brian… 1 Jun. 2016
By Dr.Steve – Published on Amazon.com

Having finished reading the first two books in Alan Lawrence’s “continuing voyages of HMS SURPRISE” series, I find myself contemplating his stated desire and hope that he has “endowed them with a trifle more of Patrick O’Brian’s essential and complex essence; ….striven to attain his rich eloquence, ….replete with diverse linguistic faux pas and..humorous conversational and other ambiguities together with his remarkable ability to fascinate with an infinity of detail,” and conclude that he has done so. So well, in fact, that once into the second in the series; “THE FIRESHIPS OF GERONTAS” I was no longer thinking of our beloved friends for so many years, but the new ones instead.

It is natural, given that the author had hoped to continue the original, but had to change tacks once the estate made it clear that POB did not want a sequel, and had to alter the characters, for the devoted POB reader to picture the original characters while reading of the new ones, and I did so at first. However, as I continued reading I found myself carried along by the new stories, experiences, anguish, pain, joys and sorrows, and settings, to the point where I no longer thought of Aubrey and Maturin, but rather of O’Connor, Ferguson, and Macleod. The warm glow in my heart for the former will never be extinguished by the new characters, but rather re-lit by the continuing fire of battle in war and emotions.
This must have been an extremely difficult task given the level of love and loyalty the POB fan has for the series and the fact that we do not know these new characters. The author has had to refer to the years of experiences that these characters have had in their past that molded them into the persons they are now, we have only references to their years in the TENEDOS, and voyages in the Atlantic, and are left to imagine what they may be, separate from the memories we have of our POB characters.

I found myself with a variety of impressions and emotions. Not living on the left side of the Atlantic, I had difficulty reading and understanding the Scottish accents, mostly in the first of the series, “THE MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS” (picture a father, despite the name Sutherland, reading out loud to his child and trying to read those passages with the correct accent…..we laughed a lot, and I finally gave up and just read it paraphrased!)
When Dalby saves Ferguson in MOI and the latter is reunited with O’Connor, I wept. There were several passages involving Murphy, O’Connor, and Ferguson where I laughed out loud.

The most amazing and impressive writing of the whole series so far though, was the final sixty or so pages that detail the traumatic experience of surviving the hurricane. This was the most intense, comprehensive and gripping description of any storm experience I have ever read in any of this genre. The intensity of emotion, courage, stamina described by the author surpasses even the desperate battle to survive described by POB in “DESOLATION ISLAND” in which our old friends fight to keep the “LEOPARD” afloat.
Mr. Lawrence, your writing stands on its own, is terrific, and amazing. As I thought of POB, I think of you; how can anyone think of these things and be able to transfer it onto paper for the rest of us so eloquently? Your characters DO stand on their own, and I look forward to THEIR continuing voyages!

https://www.amazon.com/Fireships-Gerontas-continuing-voyages-SURPRISE-ebook/dp/B01FB3SGXI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465492573&sr=1-1#customerReviews

The Fireships of Gerontas is launched as an ebook

I am very pleased to announce that the second book in my series is live, available on Amazon kindle. A print copy will come along over the summer for those traditionalists (like me) who prefer paper and a sparkling good cover!

The story, I believe, is essentially one of people, people involved in and finding the truth of the uncomfortable, not to say downright frightening reality of war and its corrosive effects on minds and friendships.

I really strived hard on this one, and I hope readers will contemplate and appreciate the – will I say – small ‘diversion’ from the norm of a “ripping good yarn”.

It’s back now to the keyboard / coalface for the third book; writing has been underway on and off for a little while, and I hope it will emerge early next year.

In the meantime, please do let me know your opinions on the second one, and if you do enjoy it then a review posted in any of the usual places is really appreciated.

About Attack Ships on Fire

(EDIT: Since writing this post the book title has changed to The Fireships of Gerontas)

In this, my second tome, I have continued the story of actual historical events directly from the end of my first book: that one concluded with the first battle to preserve the Greek island of Samos from Turk invasion on 17th August 1824. This story describes the great sea battle of 10th September in the Bay of Gerontas which finally thwarted Ottoman efforts to capture Samos; it ends with the hurricane which struck Britain on 22nd November.

In this second, factually-based story in my own series I have endeavoured to endow it with a trifle more of Patrick O’Brian’s essential and complex essence; I have strived to attain his rich eloquence, customarily replete with diverse linguistic faux pas and rife with humorous conversational and other ambiguities together with his remarkable ability to fascinate with an infinity of detail.  The reader will be the judge of whether I have succeeded.

There are a great many books about historical conflicts, both factual and fiction. As an extreme generalisation, it is true to say that few of them examine in any depth the deleterious effects on the men at the sharp end: those determined, brave souls who experience close combat, many of whom become wounded in doing so or experience the loss of dear comrades. These are men (and women) who, for the most part, must and do continue to persevere with considerable bravery throughout the very worst of life’s experiences, both during and after the traumatic events they encounter. This story, though fiction, strives to touch upon this oft neglected issue of warfare and the painful burdens of the enduring aftermath.

This book is dedicated to all those who served in the 1982 war in the South Atlantic, to everyone on both sides of that bleak, wintry conflict.

About The Massacre of Innocents

Adding to the treasure trove of actual events that the historical novelist is blessed with are the real people of those times, many of whom grace this book. It is particularly pleasing to develop this rich mother lode into brief but colourful appearances within the story, the places and timing of which, if not the actualité, accord with the known detail of their lives. Lord Byron is one such person, and the author has taken the liberty of including a few words (in Chapter 5, for 22nd November 1823) of simple yet sublime prose which Byron himself wrote within his journal for the 17th October 1823 describing his quietude in Cephalonia some weeks before he departed for his destiny in Missolonghi.

A selected verse of Byron’s famous poem (within a poem) The Isles of Greece (within Canto III of Don Juan) precedes each chapter, the first verse being on the front title page. Lord Milton’s stirring address to the formative London Greek Committee on 3rd May 1823 is similarly reproduced verbatim. The reader may also perceive the influence of that engaging wit Mark Twain gracing a few of these pages.

Notwithstanding that this is a work of fiction the author has strived for the inclusion of many real historical events throughout the story. It is little realised, for example, that the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’, now in commonplace use, actually originated from Lord Byron. The capture of Byron’s companion, Count Gamba, by the Turks, which is described in Chapter Six of this book, was a real event, and there surely cannot be anything stranger in fiction than the true tale of the Turk captain fortuitously recognising his Greek captive counterpart, his own former rescuer, after an interval of fully fifteen years.

This first book is dedicated to all those who have served in the Royal Navy, past and present: to whom; lest we forget, our debt is immeasurable.

 

The Greek War of Independence

These tales, a detailed and interwoven fabric of history and fiction, are set in the early nineteenth-century war of Greek independence. From the detail within them I hope that the reader may find his or her own interest in the history of that period stimulated to find out more, as I did. The subject matter of these novels, generally the war fought for the independence of Greece and the story of the Philhellenes, is seldom taught (except in Greece), and hence appears to be little known in any great detail outside the most narrow of academic interest; yet it presents a most suitable subject for works of historical naval fiction.

The conflict was a long one, but these stories must necessarily restrict themselves to a very few of the significant and the minor naval engagements, detailed references to many of which are singularly few and hard to find even in these days of the facility of the web. Conversely, there are numerous contemporary books and reports from the Philhellenes themselves, the ones by Gordon and by Finlay being remarkably detailed. Two more modern accounts are well worth reading: That Greece Might be Free (1972) by William St. Clair, an excellent book and one which recounts the exploits of the Philhellenes of all nationalities; and the more general 2011 book by David Brewer, The Greek War of Independence. For an authentic description of life at sea in the early nineteenth century and battle in all its gruesome detail, it would be hard to surpass Roy Adkins’ superb book, Trafalgar.

The historical researcher’s task is made more difficult by the many and varied names which almost all the Greek, Turkish and other locations referred to within these stories have possessed, not only since the early nineteenth century when these events occurred, but from centuries beforehand as these lands and islands were within the grasp of a succession of colonial overlords including Genoese, Venetians and Ottomans. For contemporary veracity many Greek places are referred to in these stories principally by their then still widely used Venetian names, their Greek names generally only being used when mentioned by Greeks.