These historical novels are founded upon the continuing voyages of HMS Surprise – not, please note, the 28-gun ship of 1796 in Patrick O’Brian’s marvellous, fictional series (a ship design based on the captured French ship Unité), but the later 38-gun, Leda-class frigate of 1812 (also a design based on another captured French frigate, Hebé). This latter Surprise, though a relatively young ship, lay at Plymouth Dock in 1822 about to be reduced to a prison hulk. In these stories her fate takes its fictional turn for the better. Her sister ships, Trincomalee and Unicorn, to our good fortune, remain preserved in Hartlepool and Dundee respectively.
For any novelist the writing of historical seafaring tales set in the early 19th century is to follow in the footsteps of and to strive for the literary heights reached by the author so appropriately described as “the greatest historical novelist of all time”. It most certainly represents a challenge of the very first order. With no prospect (sadly) of any further historical novels from Patrick O’Brian and missing his characters so much myself, I decided I must write a sequel series, so as to bring them back, to enjoy their company all over again. However, after writing the first draft and by then in a dialogue with his estate, I was made aware of Patrick O’Brian’s wish that no sequels to his series should be published, and hence a different course was subsequently plotted; the finished result being no longer a faithful reproduction of his ingredients but books with different characters, though ones which still draw their inspiration of form and flavour from his genius.
Who would honestly conceive that there could be two writers of his ilk? Certainly not I, and so these books could never have become ones that read as if written by the master himself, and I make no claim of attaining his glorious pinnacle: it would plainly be an unrealistic aspiration. Consequently, the reader must be content with historically detailed, seafaring tales of adventure; stories of battle and fascinating exchanges between all aboard ship; tales which chronologically follow the enthralling Aubrey & Maturin novels, and hence stories which might well have been conceived by O’Brian had he been blessed with more time to continue his superb series.
To use the metaphor of flavour, soused hog’s face and a capital sea pie are greatly different dishes, but I am sure Jack enjoyed one as much as the other. In any event, the writing of these books brings to my own mind considerable pleasure when I observe that the barky is afloat once more upon the literary waves, with her crew of many fascinating individuals; interesting characters all and generously bestowed with a well-distributed sprinkling of many of those familiar traits reminiscent of our old friends Aubrey and Maturin. I do hope that it brings similar satisfaction to many other O’Brian fans.
The officers of the early nineteenth-century Royal Navy were drawn from every part of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (including the present Republic). It has been estimated that one in eight officers were Irish (though Catholics were not accepted) and that Scots represented a higher per capita ratio of officers to population origin than the Irish. The author therefore feels perfectly justified in enlisting a Scot as first lieutenant to serve alongside his Irish captain. Similarly, Scots were well represented as ships’ surgeons in those times, and another has come aboard for these stories.