Thursday, July 16, 2020

Julian Stockwin

Julian Stockwin was sent at the age of fourteen to Indefatigable, a tough sea-training school. He joined the Royal Navy at fifteen before transferring to the Royal Australian Navy, where he served for eight years in the Far East, Antarctic waters and the South Seas. In Vietnam he saw active service in a carrier task force. After leaving the Navy (rated Petty Officer), Stockwin practiced as an educational psychologist. He lived for some time in Hong Kong, where he was commissioned into the Royal Naval Reserve. He was awarded the MBE and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

Stockwin's latest Thomas Kydd novel is To the Eastern Seas.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

People do judge a book by its cover so both the title and cover art must work together to attract a reader into the story. For To the Eastern Seas my publisher created what I think is a very compelling offering. The artwork is obviously the Indian subcontinent, with palm trees, a large Oriental dagger, intriguing exotic local craft - and a British man- of-war centre stage. You know immediately that there are going to be salty adventures in tropical locales!

What's in a name?

My central character is Thomas Paine Kydd. I thought long and hard about this, wrote down hundreds of possible names from the period, even wandered through numbers of graveyards looking at tombstones. In fact I was nearly arrested at one time for loitering over-long in a graveyard in Guildford in Surrey. I knew I wanted something manly, of the time, but also with a modern ring. Princess Diana’s mother’s name was Frances Shand Kydd. ‘Kydd’ somehow rang a bell and when I checked I confirmed it would certainly have been found in Georgian times. The ´Paine´ comes from Kydd´s parents' admiration for the early teachings of the radical Thomas Paine.

I wanted to have someone not at all connected with the sea, taken against his will into His Majesty’s Royal Navy but who grows to love the life and find a natural ability as a seaman. I chose to have him as a wig-maker somewhat on a whim but also as this was an occupation facing many challenges with changes in society at that time and through this I could also reflect the Georgian age ashore.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Once I´ve decided on the physical location and time frame of the book I like to do a White Board exercise mapping out the essential features of the narrative arc. Crucial to this in my view is seeing, in my mind´s eye, the beginning and the end. The beginning should draw the reader in, sprinkle in a little back story, and set out the stakes and themes in a broad sense. As I write a series it is important to have variety in the beginnings and endings of each book. For To the Eastern Seas I saw the beginning fairly quickly in my mind´s eye - an anxious crowd standing on the high vantage point of Plymouth Hoe peering out to sea. Rumour has it that there has been a great clash of fleets out to sea. Have the French been vanquished? How many British sailors have lost their lives in protecting the sacred shores? And I felt the end must in some way reflect the beginning. Captain Kydd, after his great successes in the East is recalled home to England, the circle complete.

I find that once I have settled on a beginning and an ending - and have a narrative arc that works - I rarely make any changes.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Where do a writer’s characters come from? Obviously reading, period research and life experiences all play a part. My wife (and literary partner) Kathy believes that Thomas Kydd and Nicholas Renzi strongly reflect both sides of my personality – the physical me (or me when I was a little younger and a wee bit more spry…) and the logical me. That’s flattering but I don’t think a writer can just transpose aspects of his own personality onto a character. They must also reflect the values and mores of the age in which they live. And they must be characters with which the reader can have some sort of emotional bond; if you don’t care about characters – either positively or negatively – a book won’t be satisfying. I have to say also that my time in the Royal Navy has certainly influenced my writing and I was privileged to have served both on the lower deck and later as an officer.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I find inspiration in many things. My collection of eighteenth- century sea artifacts provide a tangible link to Kydd’s day. As I take a long sniff of a piece of tarred hemp rope, if I half close my eyes it is not long before I am well away at sea.

Certainly the work of the great artists in capturing the many moods of the sea, and the majesty of a ship under sail is inspiring to me. I have a huge admiration for the giants of the past – Charles Brooking, Peter Monamy, Dominic Serres, Thomas Whitcombe, Samuel Scott, John Cleverley and Nicholas Pocock – and of course, Turner. They provide a contemporary window on the world of Thomas Kydd. Then there are the modern artists like Geoff Hunt, John Chancellor and Derek Gardner ( I have framed prints of all their work in my home). And I delight in what the modern world of electronics can offer me as a sea writer. I now have the most up-to-date ships electronic charts system installed in my computer and can call up and plot all of Kydd’s journeys with the press of a key! The familiar paper charts that I used when I first started writing the books have been lovingly stored away.

And of course my own time at sea. Having served ‘before the mast’ was invaluable to me in being able to ´get under the skin´ of my characters. There is a real comradeship, loyalty and strength of character at sea in the fo’c’sle, which I believe has changed little to this day. Then, later, I was privileged to serve as an officer and I draw on these experiences when Kydd himself becomes an officer. I do not feel it is essential for someone to have actually been to sea to write about the sea, but for me, it’s important that I have personally experienced the sea in all her moods.
Visit Julian Stockwin's website.

Writers Read: Julian Stockwin.

My Book, The Movie: To the Eastern Seas.

--Marshal Zeringue