Book of the Day: Historical Naval Fiction

When I decided to write the biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey I was acutely aware of my unsuitability for the task. I was not a historian, I was not a writer, I knew nothing about the East Indies and I was certainly no expert in all things maritime. I was not totally unprepared. I had been interested in early-modern history, especially of London, for some time. I had had some magazine articles published. I had done a year’s sailing whilst still at school and I had cruise round the world – over time and not always in the same direction but still …

Alongside immersing myself in the papers of Thomas Bowrey and writing the book, I have had to undertake some serious education including a number of non-fiction writing workshops. This Book of the Day series is highlighting my non-fiction reading list covering a wide range of subjects from the East India Company to Restoration London and there is more variety to come as the series continues. Whilst these gave me skills and facts, they could help me understand what it would have felt like to be a mariner in the days of sail: what the life was really like; what would have directed my days and nights; what I would have feared.

Fortunately, I discovered the novels of J D Davies and Alexander Kent (the late Douglas Reeman) with their sagas of Matthew Quinton and Richard Bolitho. These protagonists may have been officers in the Royal Navy and lived a generation before and after Thomas Bowrey but their stories, written by experts, have provided me with a painless and enjoyable education. The backgrounds of the two authors were different: Reeman was a Royal Naval officer during WWII while Davies also served in the Royal Navy, he was a teacher and historian before turning to writing full-time. What both have done in their novels is to take their reader into the mind of a captain of a early-modern sailing vessel.

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