When I started to write HMS Archer, I wanted to achieve four things. I needed to present a book that developed a comprehensive story but would remain easy to read. When I am reading books for my own entertainment, I am often put off by having to launch into a chapter which is twenty or thirty pages in length. In these circumstances I frequently find that the story has become repetitive and filled with a lot of detail that I, the reader, do not really need. In such circumstances I get to the end of a long, wordy and boring chapter, often introducing multiple characters, and I think ‘who on earth is this person and where does he fit in?’
For this reason, I try hard to make sure all my chapters are fairly short and balanced. In ‘HMS Archer’ the story takes up 414 pages, set out in 49 chapters, which means that an average chapter has just over 8 pages. I used the same technique in my previous books, particularly ‘Privateer’ and ‘Harry’s Revenge’
I also wanted a story that was down to earth and closely related to real historic events. I started with my main character enduring the boredom of meteorological misery of blockade duty in a frigate, in foul weather, off the coast of Napoleonic France. Following a series of unpredictable events, John Lawson, the central character, is precipitated into a completely new war – the war declared by US President ‘Jamie’ Madison against Britain in 1812. This of course means that the British navy is fighting on two fronts and is stretched. In fact, at the start of the war, Britain quickly lost three frigates, captured or sunk by the US Navy, but I did not dwell on that.
My third aim was to inject a sense of urgency and excitement into the story. I introduced time pressures and the threat of weather and battle at sea. But I wanted to reflect what historically happened, so I added a few real characters and real ships, as well as expanding the range of activity to reflect what British sailors were expected to achieve, and what they did achieve, in a war on the other side of the ocean.
I also wanted to show a human dimension and so I introduced Lucinda and Kate, and perhaps some future competition.