Interview mit LovelyBooks, Mai 2011
I've been writing stories since childhood and always wanted to write a novel. From the 1980s onwards I wrote a lot of non-fiction about the 17th century British navy based on academic research, and eventually decided to try and write a novel set in that period. I sent a draft of Gentleman Captain to literary agent Peter Buckman, and luckily for me he loved it. His wife Rosie has excellent contacts in Europe, which was how the book was actually published by Rowohlt in Germany before it came out in both Britain and the US.
Patrick O'Brian, without doubt. I know that some readers find his use of language a bit difficult, and it took me perhaps half-a-dozen attempts to get to grips with the first book, but I was soon a huge fan and have read the entire series twice. In my opinion, few authors have ever recreated a historical period so successfully, especially when it comes to the ways in which people thought, talked and behaved.
I've been working on the 17th century navy for the best part of 30 years, so the plots have grown out of my detailed knowledge of that period. But I find that entire period of British and European history fascinating - you have larger than life characters like King Charles II and Samuel Pepys in England, as well as Louis XIV in France, huge events like the plague, the Great Fire of London and the siege of Vienna, and can also bring in references to famous fiction that's set in the same period, such as The Three Musketeers (which was another big influence on me).
It's difficult because I love reading, but after spending a day writing I want a change from looking at yet more words. So I tend to do most of my reading either 'between books' or at weekends and on train journeys, etc. I tend to read other historical fiction, such as Bernard Cornwell, John Biggins, C J Sansom, Arturo Perez-Reverte or the Scottish author Nigel Tranter; another favourite author is Robert Goddard, whose thrillers are set in the present day but are always grounded in a historical 'back-story'. I also love the Fandorin novels by the Russian author Boris Akunin. I still read quite a lot of academic history about the 17th century and naval history in general, too.
I have my own website at www.jddavies.com and have had a lot of positive response through that. I've also got a blog and a Facebook page called 'J D Davies - Quinton Journals'. I've resisted Twitter until now, even though I set up an account quite a while ago (@quintonjournals), but I've finally been convinced to start using it!
It was a strange mix of emotions - at once very thrilling, but also with a sense of 'did I really do this'? An even stranger sensation, though, was when I first heard the audio book; to hear someone else reading out words that you've written yourself really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!
One thing above all - always, always, keep believing! I must have been about six or seven years old when I first decided I'd like to write a novel, and it took me over forty years to achieve that ambition. Also, really think about your characters and their interaction. That was the big difference between Gentleman Captain and my many previous attempts at writing a novel - I spent a very long time working out the personal histories of each character, and indeed their family histories, so that by the time I actually came to write the book, they had a series of complicated inter-relationships which in some cases grew out of events that had happened twenty or more years earlier.
Phineas Musk, the roguish servant to the Quinton family. He was originally intended to be quite a minor character, but from the moment I wrote his first scene, he just seemed to keep on muscling into more and more of the action! He's something of an 'everyman' character whose humble origins provide a contrast to the aristocratic background of my hero, Matthew Quinton, and he also provides much of the humour that I was determined to include in the books.
I suppose this would have to be what should be the obvious fact that other people interpret what you've written differently to the way you interpret it yourself. Both Wendy, my partner, and Peter, my agent, as well as many readers since, have made comments about some of the characters' actions and motivations that simply never occurred to me when I was originally writing the books. But I've come to realise that this is a very good thing - it shows that the characters have taken on lives of their own, and have become much more complex creations. So that's another important piece of advice for other writers; always get other people to look at your work, even in its very early stages, because you'll often be surprised and enlightened by their feedback.
The second Quinton novel, The Mountain of Gold, was recently published, and I've also written the third, The Blast That Tears The Skies, which centres on the huge sea-battle of Lowestoft in 1665, between the British and Dutch fleets. All being well with contracts etc, I'm shortly going to start writing the fourth book, provisionally named The Lion of Midnight and set chiefly in Sweden.