Astrodene's Historic Naval fiction is pleased to have obtained an Interview with M. Howard Morgan who's new book First Fleet is now available for Kindle and will be available in paperback later in the year.
What can you tell us about First Fleet without spoiling the plot for readers?
My telling of the story had to have two main characters, there had to be a simple 'love story' woven into the fabric of the tale, but it also had to set a background to further writing. It was a fantastic voyage and social experiment to undertake, even for the time. It so nearly failed, but the result is Australia.
The story takes two young people, of very different backgrounds and by different paths, to find each other and perhaps themselves, when reunited in New Holland. The marine detachment in New Holland fought no battles, won no honours, but did distinguish itself in a sense. Discipline did not disintegrate completely, quite a remarkable achievement in the circumstances. First Fleet attempts to tell something of the voyage – really the first mass migration in British history and allow me to develop the main characters for a second, but very different book.
What inspired you to start writing the book?
In truth, it was a wager with a friend over a pint! I learned something of the First Fleet during my first visit to Australia in 1980. I also learned that an ancestor had volunteered for service with the marine detachment. It was many years later that I decided to investigate the story in more detail. It was then I became absorbed in the detail of the voyage and the history of the settlement; the anonymous villains that Britain despatched to the far side of the world to form a penal colony took on real form and became characters, real people, for me.
The officers and officials selected for the task were, in the main, fascinating people who have passed their stories down to us to study, if we choose to do so. I wanted to tell something of their lives, in a more accessible form than a factual history book. I grew up with the writers of naval fiction from Forester through O'Brian to Alexander Kent/Douglas Reeman to Julian Stockwin and others, and felt I could/should attempt a novel broadly set in the period. Actually a little earlier than the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars but the history of those conflicts became a passion of mine many years ago.
Now I should collect the wager, because I did it.
How did you undertake your research into the early colonisation of Australia?
Initially through reading the major texts on the history of the country, then to acquisition of the extant journals and correspondence of those involved. I have copies of all and probably everything written about the subject. I've visited Sydney several times, and the library services the country offers are superb.
I'd like to say I visited every port of call on the voyage of the First Fleet; but that would be um, inaccurate! Perhaps I will sometime. Portsmouth I know well, very well in fact. Sydney too, but sadly Rio de Janeiro and Capetown remain cities in the mind only. The Internet is a wonderful tool for those unable to travel to every desired location.
What intrigues you about the Royal Marines in the period in which Jack Vizzard lived?
That's been one of the surprises from my research; I hadn't really given the marines much thought until I embarked on the project. My family has a military history, but in the RN or RAF. A subsidiary interest since school has been 'elite forces' – several friends ended up in one branch of the services or another – and in modern times we've become more aware of the work of the Royal Marines. As I researched I became more interested in the 'combined operations' of Nelson's era not just the fleet actions or ship-to-ship engagements; the successes and the failures of land-based conflict too. It's a consequence of research really, as one delves into a subject other paths of interest open up. But it becomes more than mere study of the corps; one has to really understand the period. So the civilian world has to be understood too. The attitudes, the politics, social behaviour, speech, manners, morality, all become indivisible because Vizzard lived in the time. I believe good historical fiction has to be based on sound knowledge and understanding of the times in which it is set. Anything less and its value is diminished.
The work of the Royal Marines over the last three centuries is quite incredible and with the possible exception of Reeman and Tom Connery aka David Donachie, they have not received the attention, in fiction, they deserve. I commend Connery to any of your readers interested in the subject; He's an excellent storyteller.
I understand a sequel is planned. What can you tell us about the future for this series?
The sequel is a work in progress, the research more or less complete with the book only 50% written. Jack Vizzard becomes a real marine and is involved in far more challenging situations that guarding convicts! He will always be a sensitive, thinking man, but now more mature and more deadly to his king's enemies, i.e. the French! A third is very much in mind, the time and place and plotlines are fixed, the 'why' and 'how' sketched in the mind with only the detailed research to be completed. That and the writing of it.
Is there a time of day that best suits your writing?
Unquestionably, at night. The days are too busy with the means to pay the bills!
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
My passion for good story telling set in the Great Age of Sail. The men who worked and fought those ships, who created the best navy the world had seen, deserve to have an audience and understanding now they rarely had at the time.
First Fleet is published by M. Howard Morgan.