Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Margaret Muir interviewed by Elizabeth Cauldfield Felt

September 15, 2012
Today I’m welcoming Margaret Muir, author of Sea Dust, the nineteenth-century story of a young woman who hides aboard a ship bound for Australia hoping to create a new life for herself; Through Glass Eyes, a saga set in Yorkshire; The Black Thread, a dramatic tale set on the Leeds and Liverpool canal in 1898; The Condor’s Feather, an equestrian adventure across the Pampas of Patagonia in 1885; and Floating Gold, the first in a series of naval adventure novels set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Elizabeth: Please tell us more about your most recent novel, Floating Gold.

Margaret: Floating Gold is an Age-of-Sail nautical fiction adventure, written for a male readership especially those who enjoy the works of CS Forester (Horatio Hornblower) or Patrick O’Brian (Master and Commander). Set in 1802, Captain Quintrell is entrusted with secret Admiralty orders and heads to the Southern Ocean aboard the Royal Navy frigate, Perpetual. Battling unforgiving seas, near mutiny and freezing Antarctic waters, the captain is unaware of the dangers awaiting him when he reaches his destination.

Elizabeth: Sounds exciting! You are currently writing the second book in the series. What will be happening to the main characters in this next instalment?

Margaret: In The Tainted Prize, Captain Quintrell and his motley crew again head south but this time the destination is Peru. Drama and intrigue lie ahead, however, action on the gun deck is tempered by the undertone of political unrest which is simmering in the Spanish vice-royalties in South America. Also of concern is the vast number of African slaves being transported to Peru to work and die in the silver mines. This raises questions about the social, economic and human cost of the slave trade.

Elizabeth: Many of your novels are nautical adventures or involve the sea as a setting, almost as a character. Would I be right in this?

Margaret: Yes indeed, Elizabeth, and thank you for your observation. Both for me and certain characters I create, there is definite affinity with the sea to the extent that it almost takes on a character of its own – a dual character that can be either male or female. The masculine Sea (metaphorically speaking) is dominant, powerful, cruel, exciting and mischievous, manifesting himself in violent storms and turbulent currents. Conversely, the feminine Sea is beautiful, mesmerizing, gentle and evocative.

Here is an example of this personification from The Tainted Prize:

For Oliver Quintrell, the sea was his comfort and companion and, when licking the salt from his lips, he had no doubt she was his mistress. Despite her foibles and fickleness, moods and mysteries, she was soft and sensuous – beguiling in her calms and tantalising in her tantrums. She was the force which heaved beneath him every day and lulled him to sleep every night. By constantly challenging him, it was the sea who made him fearless (not reckless), and it was the sea who would receive him into her arms on the final day of reckoning.

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your fiction and how do you go about your research?

Margaret: As all my stories are woven around imaginary characters, it is the time, place and setting that provides the historical elements. Floating Gold and The Tainted Prize take place against a backdrop of the Napoleonic War in the early 1800s. This is a well-documented era and there is no shortage of information about it, however, primary source material written by sailors who served in the Royal Navy at the time, or copies of original ships’ logs are most valuable for research.

Walking the gun decks of an original man-of war like HMS Victory provides a valuable insight into life aboard a fighting ship, and in October, I will be re-visiting Victory and the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth. After that, I will sail to Gibraltar to learn its history and experience its atmosphere first hand, as it will be one of the settings in my next book. Academic study of the Napoleonic Era, the Atlantic World and the Age of Revolution has provided me with background material to pepper my books. And, last but not least, sailing as a crew member aboard various tall ships has left me with an insatiable appetite for the sea.

Elizabeth: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.

Margaret: I was born and bred in Yorkshire, England but moved to Australia in 1970. For twenty-five years my priorities were my career in Cytology and raising a family, and it was not until I was made redundant in the mid-1990s, that I had time to do things I had always wanted to. One of these was to write. The other was to sail on a tall ship. The tall ship came first followed by a BA (Writing) which led to my first novel, Sea Dust (2005).

Though it is many years since I left England, it was the moors and the rugged Yorkshire coast that I called on for the settings of my first three books. And while world travel is something I have enjoyed in more recent years, this also has had a considerable influence on my writing. Visits to South America and the Antarctic Peninsula directly inspired the settings for my novels, The Condor’s Feather and Floating Gold. Today, I live in Tasmania, an Australian state settled in the early 1800s from convict stock. It is called the Island of Inspiration and its history has inspired me to, one day, write a book about one of its infamous Bushrangers.

For the month of September, you can purchase Sea Dust on Kindle for $0.99:

Floating Gold is on Kindle for $2.99.

Margaret Muir’s other titles are available on Kindle and as paperbacks via Amazon.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

SEA DUST - 5 star review

Sea Dust has all the elements of a gothic romance, but with a maritime setting. The author writes with rich and metaphorical language, creating vivid, spellbinding imagery. The story begins in Whitby, England. It is mid-winter, 1856. Emma gazes out of the attic window where the body of her dead baby girl lies.

"The fishing port, nestled in the valley below, was shrouded in white. Snow covered the docks and wharves, the sand flat - Belle Island, and the hills and open moors beyond. Across the valley, the ruins of the old Benedictine abbey wore a vestal veil. Only the treacherous face of the crumbling East Cliff had escaped the winter mantle." (from Chapter 1)

The descriptions are beautifully evocative, but Emma is no innocent young maiden waiting to be swept off her feet. She is a mature woman, mother of a teenaged boy, about to go off to sea. Her marriage has gone bad and her life is closing in on her. The sea offers tortured Emma her only means of escape from a brutish, violent husband and a bleak life. But the sea is fraught with its own dangers, Emma discovers after she sneaks aboard an outbound ship with the help of a French seaman she is attracted to.

Margaret Muir is quite at home in her nautical setting and she knows how to build suspense. She chillingly portrays the dark side of romance in an era when women were second class citizens at the mercy of men; to be coddled, adored, or scorned and abused as they saw fit. I could relate to Emma's untenable situation and I cheered her on in her quest to be loved and respected while becoming the whole person she was meant to be.

A gritty, unsettling story in the guise of a nineteenth century romantic novel. I highly recommend it.

Review author - Linda Collison
For September, SEA DUST is on sale on Amazon Kindle for $0.99

Friday, September 07, 2012

Jane Austen and Patrick O'Brian - Bridging the gulf between

Though their stories are set in a similar era, there is a gulf between the historical romance novels of Jane Austen and the maritime fiction of Patrick O’Brian. The divide between these two extends beyond obvious gender difference and the genres in which they write, to the readership they attract and to the authors who attempt to emulate them.

Jane Austen is acknowledged as the quintessential Georgian Romance writer, while Patrick O’Brian and CS Forester are recognised as the masters of nautical fiction set in the Napoleonic period. Yet, born 100 years after Miss Austen’s death, Patrick O’Brian has been called ‘her rightful heir’ (Kirkus Reviews).

Jane Austen’s empathy for naval officers stemmed from having two brothers who served in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Both rose slowly through the ranks from mere midshipman to Admiral. But despite her close affiliation with, and knowledge of the navy, Austen did not attempt to write in the sub-genre of maritime fiction. Similarly, while Patrick O’Brian (author of the Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series) allowed love interests to filter into his novels, as did CS Forester in his Horatio Hornblower series, neither wrote genre romance.

In the past, writing romance in the Austen style has been and, for the most part, still is the domain of female authors. Conversely, writing in the sub-genre of nautical fiction set in the age-of-sail has been, and still is, the domain of male writers.

But it was not only the writers who fell into this distinct divide. In the past, the readership they attracted reflected a similar distinct male/female split. Generally, females read romance and male readers read maritime fiction. These unsubstantiated variants still appear to apply to a greater extent however very slowly the worm is turning. Today, more male readers are attracted to Austen’s novels, and increasing numbers of women are savouring heroic sea stories set during the Napoleonic wars. Perhaps the in-home TV presentations of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ have introduced men to Miss Austen. Similarly, the ‘Hornblower’ series, and the epic movie ‘Master and Commander’ have brought nautical fiction to the screen and introduced this genre to a general, rather than a mostly select male audience.

So, apart from the media, what other factors are bridging this gulf? Today, women feature almost as much as men in ocean racing and sea-faring achievements. Only a few decades ago, women who enlisted in the navy did not step aboard a ship, yet recently, a woman was appointed as commander of a British Royal Navy Frigate. Today, the navy is no longer an exclusive male domain, and maritime fiction is no longer just read by men.
But there is one area where the great divide still appears to be anchored in tradition. It relates to the authorship of the two historical sub-genres. As stated earlier, it is accepted that female authors write romance. A few male authors cross the divide, with some opting to write romance under a female pseudonym. From my observations, authorship of age-of-sail maritime fiction is accepted as being exclusively by males. For many years Forester and O’Brian have been the respected authors of classic Georgian age-of-sail novels. More recently, new names have appeared, such as Alexander Kent, Julian Stockwin, Richard Woodman and many more. But there are no female names on the list. It would seem, therefore, that for the female author, this is a difficult sub-genre to enter and gain acceptance in.

To compete in either genres, writers must know their craft. Just as authors of Georgian Romance must be conversant with the society of the day, the accepted behaviour, mannerisms and dress etcetera; the prerequisites for writing nautical fiction is a thorough knowledge of tall ships, historic sea battles and familiarity with all the bells and whistles of the Royal Navy in Napoleonic times. But is this sufficient for a female author to gain a foot on the ladder of the male dominated sub-genre?

From my own experience, having had four historical novels published, my fifth novel, Floating Gold, was a maritime fiction adventure. As an apprenticeship to writing this type of story, I sailed on several tall ships. I crossed the Atlantic on a barquentine and cruised most of the world’s oceans including the Southern Ocean and crossing Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. I have hauled on ropes, climbed the mast, taken the helm and immersed myself in the days of wooden ships. I have also visited numerous historic vessels and walked the decks of many.

But a knowledge of tall ships is not the only prerequisite to be competitive in this sub-genre. More importantly, the author must be capable of writing an engaging story, and be familiar with the historical facts in order to form the framework on which the story can take shape.

Having graduated with a BA (Writing) in 2004, I returned to University in 2010 to learn more about the Age of Revolution, the Atlantic World and the events of the Napoleonic Period. Just recently, I completed a second maritime fiction novel titled, The Tainted Prize. This is a sequel to Floating Gold, and my second book in this male dominated domain.

Just like the length of time it takes for a young midshipman to rise to the rank of admiral, I imagine it will take some years for female writers to rise up the list of accepted authors in the narrow and rather exclusive sub-genre of nautical fiction. But, I believe the worm is turning. Or, should I say, the tide is on the turn.

This first appeared on MORGEN BAILEY’s Guest Blog – 6 Sept 2012
Thank you Morgen.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

BARBADOS BOUND by Linda Collison (review)

In order to gain what is rightfully hers, Patricia Kelley, a young lady, brought up in Britain, makes the brave decision to return to the island of Barbados where she was born. With no money, the only way for her to get there is to stowaway on a sailing ship bound across the North Atlantic.

While struggling against both the elements and her emotional shipboard relationships, Patricia succeeds in establishing a role for herself (albeit disguised as a youth) as mate to a ship's surgeon.

Linda's intimate knowledge of tall ships, the sea and medical practices provide the reader with a convincing picture of life on both land and sea in the 1760s.

BARBADOS BOUND is a well written and engaging story. It was first published as a Young Adult novel by Knopf under the title STAR CROSSED. In this edition Collison has revised and refined the story turning it into a compelling adult novel. It is written in the first person from the point of view of Patricia/Patrick MacPherson. This gives the reader an intimate association with the main character.

HELL AROUND THE HORN by Rick Spilman (review)

In HELL AROUND THE HORN by Rick Spilman (e-book for Kindle), the author conducts the reader on a journey they will not easily forget.

From the hustle and bustle of the wharf side in Cardiff, we are introduced to the crew of the LADY REBECCA. The ageing windjammer, loaded with a cargo of coal, is set to sail from Wales, UK, to a port on the west coast of South America following the route taken by the famous clipper ships around Cape Horn.

By 1905, the days of the great commercial sailing ships were dying, but Captain Barker is intent on challenging the notorious Horn once more. He is so confident, he takes his wife and children with him.

Barker’s choice of sailors is both wise and eclectic. Some men have experience, others little, but one is dangerous – a fact that only becomes evident as the story unfolds. Facing unsympathetic winds, the dreaded Doldrums, fire on board and near mutiny, after two months sailing and over 8000 miles from home, the ship reaches the point of no return. Ahead is the notorious Horn with the menacing winds and currents which are associated with it. Barker takes up the challenge and proceeds even though the sea is intent on swallowing his ship.

It is here that Spilman’s personal experience as a tall-ship sailor comes to the fore. His awareness of the sea, the dangers, the excitement, the fear, and man’s vulnerability in a vast stretch of wild Ocean allows him to paint an unforgettable image – one of the best storms at sea I have read.

The story is told from several points of view including that of the Captain, the Apprentice and the Captain’s wife, though she has a minor role and could possibly have been omitted from the cast.

In the extensive section of glossaries and notes at the end of the book, Spilman explains that his inspiration for writing HELL AROUND THE HORN stemmed from a voyage of a ship named, ‘British Isles’.

Apart from his extensive writerly experiences and seamanship, Spilman is also a naval architect which explains why his knowledge of ships and sailing are second to none. While ‘HELL AROUND THE HORN’ is his first published novel, I look forwards to reading more work from this author.