I’m pleased to be under the same publishing house (or in this case, aboard the same publishing vessel — Fireship Press) as historical naval fiction author Alaric Bond, a man with a wry and dry sense of humour who likes to sail, plays the trombone, lives in a 14th century Wealden Hall house in East Sussex and has a penchant for many things historic, including old SAAB convertibles.
Alaric Bond writes with authority and keen insight about the British Navy 1793-1815. His four well-plotted novels are rich with choice bits of historical detail, yet he never throws in detail just to impress the reader, which is the mark of a historical writer truly comfortable in his time warp. But what I like best are the people in Bond’s world, all of whom are very fallible, very believable, very human. He employs a whole boatload of characters, all caught up in their own motives, their own secrets, their own conflicts. (He includes female characters too, richly imagined, who have significant roles and aren’t just there as dolls, as wish fulfillments of an author’s fantasies. ) The situations and shipboard dynamics in Bond’s books are in constant flux, making them feel very life-like.
Bond stretches the genre of historical British Naval fiction in other directions as well. His latest release, Cut and Run (Fireship Press, 2011), takes place aboard a merchant vessel, an Indiaman, instead of a navy ship. Of course Patrick O’Brien did that too, so I’m not saying Bond’s the first. Just that he is in good company. Yet Bond’s series differs significantly from the famed Aubrey/Maturin novels in that more characters are involved: commissioned officers, warrants and their wives, able seamen, marines and landsmen, all.
Now let’s pick Bond’s brain a bit to see what we can glean.
So you’ve written for comic books, periodicals, the BBC radio, stage and television — and you’ve published 4 historical novels. That’s quite a broad background! What is it you most enjoy about writing? What drives you?
Bond: I enjoy the act of communication, of seeing my ideas and thoughts come to fruition.
One thing I admire about your Fighting Sail Series is how your novels encompass the whole society of the wooden world; a cross section of society, a web of characters interacting in the same setting. As a writer myself, I am curious: Do you start with one character then seek to create the others, as needed? Or do they all sort of crop up simultaneously? How do you manage all of those voices? Do you diagram, or does it just evolve?
Bond: When I started writing nautical fiction I was determined to get away from the “hero who becomes an admiral” pattern that has been done, and done well, many times before. It is a good formula, but does have limitations; certainly a more limited point of view can be shown. And your hero can’t die: when you pick up book seven in a fifteen book series you know there is a good chance the central character will survive until the end, however much danger they might encounter halfway through. I began with a rag bag of characters from diverse backgrounds who were at different stages of their nautical career. The tradition of following a successful officer was very well established at the time of which I am writing, so there are few problems in allowing the same faces to appear in successive books. Some can have a rest for a volume or two, and others might be written out completely. But all are vulnerable and that very vulnerability helps to represent a true picture of naval life in a country at war.
In your interview with David Hayes and on your own website you talk about your dyslexia. Is this something that changes with age, does the brain get retrained? Or does having access to word processing technology make dyslexia a non-issue. I guess what I’m asking is do you still struggle with dyslexia or has it become more of a difference rather than a handicap?
Bond: I’m not sure about brains being retrained; you tend to develop strategies to help, and modern technology can certainly be a great benefit. My condition was diagnosed long before it became fashionable, and was a hindrance in the early years. It is not uncommon amongst writers however; certainly when I was working for the Beeb, many of my colleagues were similarly affected — or claimed to be — some just couldn’t spell! Most also had a well developed sense of humour, and all were very creative people. But then dyslexia seems to encourage creativity, and definitely imparts a lateral slant that can be very valuable.
In general, how long does it take you to write a novel? Can you briefly explain your process? For instance, do you outline, do you set a word limit for each day or are you an unstructured writer?
Bond: A year; I allow myself that, and am quite strict. Roughly three months for research, six for writing and three for polishing. I am used to working to deadlines, and find such a structure to work well; it is also a help on those dark winter mornings when the last thing you want to do is get up and be creative.
(“Quite strict,” he says. That’s what I need to learn. A little more self-discipline is in order for me. ) Have you ever used an agent to represent your work? Any advice to struggling fiction writers who want to be published and develop a following, such as you have?
Bond: I have been writing for over thirty years, throughout that time have had two agents. One messed up a contract, the other leaked an idea to a popular television series. The idea was adopted, but no credit, or future work came my way, and the agent was more concerned about offending the production company than looking after my interests. I am certain they have their uses, and secretly would welcome the reassurance of someone with a little more legal savvy, but have yet to find one I can work with.
That’s an interesting perspective. Writers beware: Just because someone proclaims herself an agent, doesn’t mean she’s a good agent, worthy of 15% of your royalties. In any case, a hearty congratulations on the initial success of your most recent novel, Cut and Run, fourth in the Fighting Sail Series. So what’s next? Do you have a work-in-progress you can tell us about?
Bond: Book five will be set in a third rate. I have many of the crew in place, and the scenario is developing daily, but I am still working out the fine details. I usually present a synopsis to my publisher, then write something that bears a reasonable resemblance to that outline. Characters develop and situations might change slightly: you only know the real story when you have written it.