Ivybridge-based author, Julian Stockwin, has released his latest novel in the Kydd series, ‘Sea of Treason’.

Julian’s Kydd series is based on real events in naval history, following a sailor’s career working his way up to Admiral during some gargantuan battles.

Julian told us about the inspirations behind his novels, his time in the navy and the importance that local bookshops, like The Ivybridge Bookshop, continue to support his work…

Did you ever expect the novels to be so popular?

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I was a software designer. I’d just signed off on my biggest and most fraught project. As I sank into an armchair, my wife thrust a large tumbler of whisky into my hand and looked me straight in the eyes and she said, “get a life!” Her suggestion: that I write. And about the sea… Once I’d overcome the initial shock of her suggestion, I decided to give it a go. My original conception of the series was for a dozen books, which seemed incredibly daunting I have to say! I never expected this number to more than double and have followers around the world in many languages. 

One of the happiest days of my life was April 3rd, 2001. That was when I stood before over 100 guests at the launch party for Kydd. It was held in the historic Admiralty House in London, which had been the official residence of the First Lord of the Admiralty from 1788 to 1964 – there certainly could be no more splendid venue to honour a novel set in the Great Age of Sail! As I stuttered my speech of thanks, around me I could feel the ghosts of all the great sea heroes of the past that noble building had seen.

Were there any stories from your time in the navy that inspired the series?

As a writer I find inspiration from many things, not just my time in the navy. There’s my collection of eighteenth-century sea artefacts, which provide a tangible link to those days, music of the time, what few written diaries and recollections exist from the lower deck of Nelson’s time, actual ships’ logs, marine art. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been bewitched by the sea. Going to a decent grammar school was wasted on me; on the school bus I’d gaze out across the Channel at the low, grey shapes slipping away over the horizon on voyages to who knows where, taking my imagination with them. 

I am fortunate to have served in the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy, and experienced sea life both on the lower deck and as an officer. These different perspectives have informed my writing. 

Readers often ask me could I write the series if I had not been in the navy. For me those years were very formative and although I came to writing later in life, I often delve into my memory bank for inspiration. Things like a shimmering moonpath glittering on the water, the sound of voices from invisible night watchkeepers, the startling rich stink of the land after months at sea, the comfort of a still hammock (yes, in my day we still slept in hammocks) when the ship rolls about it, the unreal beauty of an uninhabited tropical island in the South Seas.

There are darker memories, too. Savage storms at sea when you feel the presence of nature like a wild beast out of a cage; close inshore in a gale when you wonder if a mistake at the helm will end with those black rocks suddenly bursting in. I was duty watch in the carrier 'Melbourne' that night when we collided with and sank the destroyer 'Voyager' – there from the seaboat I saw first-hand men’s courage at work while 80 sailors drowned.

Julian at the helm of Lady Nelson
Julian at the helm of Lady Nelson (Julian Stockwin)

Why do you think its popularity has continued?

The Great Age of Fighting Sail was a time when man had to woo the sea by skill and seamanship. It truly was a time of wooden ships and iron men. I think my hero Tom Kydd appeals to many readers because he won his spurs the hard way, starting as a young wigmaker who was press-ganged and eventually overcomes incredible odds to become an officer - and, finally, raises his flag as admiral. In many ways Tom Kydd is Everyman. Not many will reach great personal heights, but aspiration is a very human quality.

Is there anywhere in particular that the books have been popular? 

The books are sold all over the world and in many translations, even Russian! I have a large UK and US following but one reader in Japan made me feel very humble as he specified in his will that he be buried with his collection of Kydd books. I have had wonderful letters from all around the world, from both male and female readers. 

How important is it have local bookshops like The Ivybridge Bookshop are still selling your work and shipping it abroad?

Although Amazon and chains like Waterstones are important to authors, I have a special regard for independent bookstores. They bring an enthusiasm and the hand-selling that is sometimes lacking in bigger stores. In Ivybridge we are fortunate to have a wonderful bookshop and a very forward-thinking bookseller in the form of Matt Steele. He regularly brings special events to the store and always has engaging window displays. 

Julian's new book 'Sea of Treason'
Julian's new book 'Sea of Treason' (Julian Stockwin)

Did you ever have inspirations from Ivybridge or Devon? If so, what are they?

Kathy and I are privileged to live in a 250-year-old house in Ivybridge called 'Corinthia'. I took great delight in having Tom Kydd pass through Ivybridge, which was a popular staging post in the 18th century and wonder who lived in this house. 

I also have a smuggling incident at the mouth of the River Erme in which Kydd features.

In the Georgian era Plymouth was very important to the Navy, which still has a large presence there. As well as the dockyard area, I was given a special private tour of Stonehouse Royal Marine Barracks. The Long Room, where Kydd attended a ball, still stands tall within the complex. Kathy and I put in considerable footwork in Old Plymouth pacing out streets that Kydd comes to know.

There is an opportunity for you to win copies of Julian’s latest novel in the Kydd series, ‘Sea of Treason’ in this week’s editions of the South Hams Gazette newspapers, grab yourself a copy to enter the competition!