Monday, 14 April 2014

Field trip

Until this weekend, I'd never been to Portsmouth.

The home of the Royal Navy is also the home of several naval museums and famous ships, including Nelson's Victory. As the Burke books are set around the Napoleonic wars and warships feature in them, I thought Portsmouth was well overdue a visit.

Most of the museums are set in the Historic Royal Dockyards, where ships from the 19th century sit close to very 21st century warships that are berthed in their home port. The juxtaposition brings home to you how much the Navy is a continuing thread in Britain's history. It's an amazing place and I'll definitely be visiting it again.

The Victory is probably the most famous vessel there. Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, the Victory is still technically a commissioned ship of Her Majesty's Royal Navy, being the flagship of the First Sea Lord, who uses it for formal entertaining. Mostly, though, it is a museum, still being lovingly restored back to the state that it was in when it led the British in their greatest naval victory against the French.

The sequel to His Majesty's Confidential Agent is being polished up and it includes a description of the Battle of the Nile (another of Nelson's victories) as viewed from the gun deck of a British man o'war. Being able to walk the gun deck of a ship of that period has helped me understand better what it must have been like, though a lovely sunny afternoon safe in dry dock can give only the faintest idea of the horrors of that same deck when filled with cannon smoke and hundreds of men serving the guns amid the noise of battle and the stench of death.

Warships then and now are both beautiful and terrible things. At least this weekend, we could admire the beauty knowing that, for now, the Navy's big guns are silent.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


For those of you who haven't already seen it on Facebook, here's the cover.

Although most of the story is set in Argentina, it starts with Burke in Saint-Domingue (part of modern Haiti), where he fought with the Regiment of Dillon, a regiment made up mainly of Irishmen, but fighting under the French flag. The real James Burke fought in the Regiment of Dillon, but it's not a particularly well-known military outfit. So when Accent Press wanted a cover with a strong image on it, the temptation was to settle for a stock shot of a British redcoat. But I really wanted the cover to be authentic (notice the genuine early 19th century map in the background) and eventually we found a battle re-enactor who likes to dress up in – yes, you guessed it – the uniform of the Regiment of Dillon. And doesn't he look dramatic?

So there we are: a beautifully authentic cover.

Publication date is 8 May and then you can get to admire it on paper.

Monday, 7 April 2014


I'll be writing a lot more about "His Majesty's Confidential Agent" and its hero, James Burke, but let's start with the basics. What's the book about?

Well, it's about James Burke who was a spy in Argentina... Oh, what the heck, let's just give you the book blurb.

James Burke never set out to be a spy. But with Napoleon rampaging through Europe, the War Office needs agents and Burke isn't given a choice. It's no business for a gentleman, and disguising himself as a Buenos Aires leather merchant is a new low. His mission, though, means fighting alongside men who see the collapse of the old order giving them a chance to break free of Spanish colonial rule. He falls in love with the country – and with the beautiful Ana. Burke wants both to forward British interests and to free Argentina from Spain. But his new found selflessness comes up against the realities of international politics. When the British invade, his attempts to parley between the rebels and their new rulers leave everybody suspicious of him. Despised by the British, imprisoned by the Spanish and with Ana leaving him for the rebel leader, it takes all Burke's resolve and cunning to escape. Only after adventuring through the throne rooms and bedrooms of the Spanish court will he finally come back to Buenos Aires, to see Ana again and avenge himself on the man who betrayed him.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

I'm on a horse

Observant readers will notice that I've changed my profile picture. As "His Majesty's Confidential Agent" features our hero riding round Argentina, I thought I'd show a photo of me on a horse in Argentina. This is the full picture:

This was taken at El Calafate, in Patagonia. It's cheating, really, because in the early 19th century (when "His Majesty's Confidential Agent" is set), Patagonia, although nominally under Spanish control, was not really part of Spanish America. Wild and desolate, it was left pretty much alone. Even today, as you can see from the expanse of nothing at all behind us, it's hardly over-developed. It is extraordinarily beautiful, though.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New publisher: new approach

"His Majesty's Confidential Agent" marks a significant departure for me. New publisher: new style of book.

I hope that at least some of you reading this blog have read "The White Rajah" or "Cawnpore". If so, you will know that these are quite heavy books which could hardly be described as having happy endings. They've had some excellent reviews, but the style and subject matter meant that they were never going to have massive sales. Much as I enjoy writing angst-ridden novels about betrayal, despair and death, I couldn't help feeling that it would be nice to write a book that more people would read. Hence "His Majesty's Confidential Agent".

My hero is James Burke. I know the name is similar to one I've used already, but he was a real person, so I'm stuck with it. He started his military career in the French army, but moved to the British, where he distinguished himself as a spy. He worked in Buenos Aires ahead of the British invasion of 1806.  My story ranges across Haiti, Spain, Brazil and Chile, but most of it is set in what is now Argentina. I have a wholly unreasoning love of Buenos Aires and I was excited about the idea of setting a novel there.

James Burke's story reflects my feelings about Buenos Aires. It's exciting, sexy, morally ambiguous and has some very dark undercurrents but it is, above all, great fun.

If you have read my other books and thought that it would be nice to see a historical novel of mine that doesn't end in tears, "His Majesty's Confidential Agent" is the one for you.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Publication date!

His Majesty's Confidential Agent will be published by Accent Press on Thursday 8 May.

I'm very excited about this and will be telling you more (much more) about this book over the next few weeks.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Back from my holidays

I haven't posted anything for a couple of weeks because I've been off on holiday. Just before I went, I read an article about how to sell more books and it said that it was important that authors use their blogs to tell readers something about themselves. I must say that I'm not convinced. I write about the mid-19th century. Are readers (and potential readers) really that interested in my very 21st-century life?

Well, for any of you who are interested, I've been away in Les Menuires in the Trois Vallées ski area of France. I've been skiing for more years than I care to remember and the Trois Vallées offer a great variety of skiing, even when conditions are (as last week) far from ideal.

I think of skiing as a very modern activity. I know that people used some type of ski back into prehistoric times. Wikipedia tells me that a wooden ski dating from over 7000 years ago was found in Russia and there are records of skiers in Norse mythology and Viking sagas. However, like many Brits, I date modern alpine skiing from the 1920s when British skiers persuaded the authorities at Wengen to keep their cog railway running in winter so that skiers could take the train to the top of the slopes and ski down. The formation of the famous Down Hill Only Club in 1925 marked the start of the modern notion of skiing as an activity that concentrates on coming down the mountain, as opposed to its pre-Wengen days, when most of your time would be spent climbing up. Wikipedia suggests that I shouldn't write off the notion of mid-19th century recreational skiing, though. The first public skiing competition was held in Norway in 1843. The world's first alpine ski club was formed in 1861, though it was far from the Alps, being based in Kiandra in Australia, a product of the Australian Gold Rush.

Perhaps, then, my holidays are more related to the 19th century than I realised. I was glad, though, that I wasn't out on the slopes dressed in tweed and skiing wooden skis with lace up boots.

The same school of thought that says you want to know how I spent my holidays also encourages the use of photographs in blogs. I was too busy moving about to take many photographs last week, but here's one from the same area at the end of last year.

Do readers really want these sort of personal anecdotes? Let me know. Otherwise, it's back to 19th century history.