The guys at the books podcast We’d Like A Word are making quite a name for themselves. Previous guests have included Graham Norton and Anthony Horowitz. I’m honoured to follow in their footsteps. In their mid June broadcast I shared the spotlight with General Sir Peter Wall, the President of Combat Stress. Combat Stress is the premier charity for veterans with complex mental health issues such as PTSD.
Paul Waters and Stevyn Colgan, the show’s producers, had chosen a theme of ‘should trauma influence stories’. Sounds heavy, doesn’t it? Just follow the links below and listen; we laughed. A lot.
We started by talking about Draca, my novel about broken relationships and misunderstandings where one character is a veteran with PTSD. General Wall has read the book and had some wonderfully enthusiastic words to say about it. Paul asked how much trauma can, or should, shape a story. That’s a serious question which prompted serious discussion, but which morphed into reminiscences of Armed Forces life and became just a little explosive. Best line of the broadcast came from Paul Waters, after one anecdote from General Wall: “Just think how far your career might have gone if you hadn’t been caught!”
Where to listen
Sir Peter Wall and Combat Stress
Sir Peter Wall was Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, until 2014. If you’d like to know more about Combat Stress and their outstanding work with veterans, their web site is here.
There’s more information about Draca, including extracts, on this site here. For Draca’s Amazon pages, go here for paperback and here for Kindle. At the time of writing, one month from launch, it is scoring a very gratifying 4.6 ex 5 with 20 five star reviews. Draca is also available via Waterstones, Foyles, and all good bookshops.
Let me introduce you to ’George’. She’s a key character in my novel Draca, with almost 2/5 of the story in her ‘voice’. In a previous post I introduced Jack, the flawed hero of Afghanistan. George is a feisty orphan – with – attitude. She’s made her own way from care homes to be manageress of the local boatyard. As I crafted the book, George acquired a tough, shoulders-back manner that hid her vulnerabilities. By the time I had finished writing the book I think I was a little in love with her.
George is also a very competent yachtswoman. I’m an indifferent sailor, so writing credible storm scenes required a lot of research and imagination. That must have paid off; a former Yachtsman of the Year gave me an excellent quote for the cover. ‘A cracking, believable yarn made even more authentic by the wonderfully descriptive sailing scenes...’
Here’s George at Jack’s grandfather’s funeral, observing his dysfunctional family and showing that ‘attitude’.
Orphan – with – attitude at Eddie’s funeral
George could learn a lot from watching people. At first, everyone looked the same. All in black, all with that funeral look as if they wore a passport photograph where their faces should be. She could make out the Ahlquist crowd, all hugs and kisses except Jack, and then there was an older man and two women who stood a bit apart, both more smartly dressed than the rest, and the only women in hats. A husband, wife and daughter, at a guess. The man was a short, lean, military type who stood very square. When people came up to the older woman, she offered her hand palm-down, fingers drooping, as if she expected them to go down on one knee and kiss it. No one stayed with them, and the three kept to themselves as if they knew it was pointless to try to talk.
Jack moved between them and the rest, half belonging to both groups, neither oil nor water, looking stressed. Like all the men he was sweating in his dark suit, with spots of damp staining his shirt across his chest. The younger woman must be his wife, so the military man and the duchess were the in-laws, and the families didn’t get on.
Jack waved when he saw George. Nothing too enthusiastic, but enough for her to wander over and say hello. She was ready for the mother-in-law’s fingers. If you slide your hand under that kind of regal greeting, then grip and twist, you can turn it into a proper handshake. The duchess didn’t like that. She didn’t like George’s looks, either. The duchess was tall enough for her eyes to be at the level of George’s hair, and George saw her wince. So what? George liked orange. It’s a strong colour, and it was only a streak. While Jack fumbled the introductions the woman’s eyes dropped so she was looking down her nose at George’s skirt, and her mouth pursed into a tight, wrinkly, cat’s–arse circle of disapproval. Maybe yellow was a bit bright for a funeral, but there wasn’t much call for dark, smart stuff in a boatyard. At least George had put a decent jacket over it, and she bet the duchess couldn’t tell that the jacket came from a charity shop.
Draca, described as ‘a really cracking read’ by General Sir Peter Wall, will be released by Unbound on 14th May 2020. Half the royalties will flow to the veterans’ charity Combat Stress. Click here for more details of the book, including stunning early reviews.
If you’d like to order the book there are links to many retailers including Waterstones and Foyles here. Just click the ‘buy’ link.
There’s another character with his own version of events to tell as the story unfolds. Jack’s father is a dominating, controlling presence, and just because he’s opinionated doesn’t mean he’s always wrong. You’ll meet him next.
Draca is going to print. A book that has been seven years in the creation is about to be reality, with a release date of 14th May. Many of the conventional aspects of a book launch have necessarily been cancelled during the pandemic, but I could send out review copies. I’ve been stunned by the reactions.
From Combat Stress:
Combat stress is the veterans’ mental health charity. They will receive half the royalties. Their President, General Sir Peter Wall, describes Draca as ‘A really cracking read about a soldier who attacks his battlefield demons through his passion for sailing – and sadly still needs help.’
From a fellow author:
Suzie Wilde, the author of Sea Paths and Obsidian, enthused ‘tension, release, fear, laughter, fear, lust, so you don’t notice the tightening of the noose … the story sucks you in and won’t let go.’
From the Armed Forces:
I served for nearly eleven years in the armed forces, but never saw action, yet the protagonist is a war-damaged veteran of Afghanistan. So it was with some diffidence that I approached General Sir Nick Parker to take a look. Sir Nick was Commander British Forces Afghanistan in 2010, and he says it’s ‘a terrific and compelling story which highlights mental and physical challenges that many who have served will recognise.’
And from a distinguished sailor:
Those who know me also know I am an occasional and inexperienced sailor. I have sailed very enjoyably with a hugely more competent friend, but I was a little nervous about the authenticity of some sailing scenes. The book, after all, pivots around a very idiosyncratic, vintage pilot cutter. It was an area, like combat, where I had to rely on research and imagination rather than personal experience. Then Ewen Southby-Tailyour OBE, a former Yachtsman of the Year, told me he’d lived on a Bristol Channel pilot cutter. He reassured me that Draca is ‘a cracking, believable yarn made even more authentic by the wonderfully descriptive sailing scenes – and by falling in love with the true heroine, the Bristol Channel pilot cutter Draca.’
A ‘book launch’ with no bookshops
Draca is sailing out into a strange world where no physical bookshops are open, and no libraries, so the book launch I was planning can’t happen. All authors with books coming out during these stressful times have had their wings clipped, but with a little help, I think Draca is reaching flying speed.
Draca will be released by Unbound on 14th May 2020, ISBN: 978-1-78965-105-8, and will be available to pre-order shortly. Further details to follow on this site and on my Amazon author page. You’ll find a synopsis of the book, including extracts, here.
Research and inspiration behind the book
Draca, the novel, is now sailing towards its pre-orders target with publisher Unbound. The eponymous Draca is a classic sailing boat, central to the plot. Those who know me well have asked how a landlubber like me could write the maritime passages. After all, ten years ago the only thing I could remember about sailing was a bushy-bearded instructor bellowing at me. I think he was saying “when you see the seagulls walking, it’s time to go about.”
Confession time. In a previous post I described how the idea for the book was born, anchored in a natural harbour on England’s South coast. The next time I sailed, with the same friend, the concepts for the book had formed to the point where we’d divert our course, on entering a harbour, to take a closer look at any classic sailing boats nearby. Old boats seem to have more personality, and I needed to find a type that was probably pre-war, and of a size that could just about be sailed single-handed if the skipper was fit and knew his stuff. Yet it was online research led me to Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters, the model for Draca.
Pilot Cutters – hard working, classic sailing boats
Pilot cutters were built to wait for ships to arrive off a port; pilots earned good money guiding vessels into harbour. With the pilot there’d be a mate, a seaman, and perhaps a boy. Cutters were robust enough to wait offshore in all weathers, perhaps for weeks. They had neither the belly of a fisherman nor the sleek lines of a racing yacht, but they needed speed. The first cutter to hail and offer their services would get the job. The cutter would follow the ship into harbour, recover their pilot, and go back to sea until the next ship. Sailing cutters fell out of use after telegraphy meant a ship could signal ahead. By then a steam powered launch could rendezvous faster, and against the wind.
A Yachtsman’s Log
Then I discovered ‘A Yachtsman’s Log’, written by Frank Carr for a readership with salt water in their veins. It’s a fascinating insight into sailing his cutter, the Cariad, in a technologically simpler time. No radar, no echo sounders, not even simple mechanical tools like winches to hoist sails. It was a time when fog at sea meant true blindness, navigating by dead reckoning among the tides and rocks, with the unseen bells of buoys to guide you if you were lucky. There are passages that are quaint by today’s standards; picture four men, after a sailing trip, taking the cutter’s dinghy up the Thames to work in the City, all shielding their starched collars from the wilting spray with their bowler hats.
But one of those men also wrote about life-threatening crises at sea with self-deprecating charm. Frank Carr was very much a certain type of Englishman from that age of sea power and Empire.
So if anyone questions how a pilot cutter handles in a storm, I have it, chapter and verse. And if anyone says it’s impossible for a boat to even survive a particular situation, then I beg to differ. A plucky chap called Frank Carr left me his log. And he’s certainly not one to boast.
Links and further reading
A Yachtsman’s Log by Frank G G Carr was published by Lovat Dickins and Thompson in 1935. You can see his boat the Cariad, now restored, at http://www.cariad.org
Draca is a novel about a war-damaged Royal Marine who rebuilds his life by restoring an old sailing boat. For a synopsis, click here and for an extract, click here . It will be published by Unbound when the level of pre-orders passes their threshold. We’re already over 70% there. After publication, half the royalties will go to the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.
Please support Draca here. Pre-orders are £10 for an ebook and from £15 for a paperback, and all supporters’ names appear in every edition.
Thank you. You’ll be helping me to help those whose wounds are more than physical.
The response to the launch of DRACA’s crowdfunding with publishers Unbound has been brilliant. Humbling, in fact. Sponsors range from old friends, to enthusiastic readers of Saxon’s Bane, to those who simply want to help our veterans. Half the royalties, after all, will go to the charity Combat Stress. Together, these sponsors have given DRACA a great start; Unbound say projects which reach 30% of target in the first month tend to succeed. DRACA reached 38% in two weeks.
We’re missing a character
But looking over DRACA’s project pages at Unbound, someone is missing. Jack is there, in quite a long extract. And here. Jack’s the book’s flawed hero who’s haunted by his past. But there’s not a glimpse of George, the pint-sized yachtswoman who’s made her own way from foster homes to be manager of the local boatyard. It’s George who comes to believe that there’s something more sinister even than post-traumatic stress shaping Jack; to her, his obsession with the old sailing boat, the DRACA, becomes possession; the boat owns the man.
So to redress the balance, I’ve posted another extract from the book. Here’s George, getting her first glimpse of Jack’s family at his grandfather’s funeral, and showing the feisty attitude that defines her character.
You can help
Please support DRACA at Unbound now. Think of it as a pre-order. Pledges range from a single ebook to a book group bundle, and every sponsor’s name will appear in every edition of the book. Help me to help those, like Jack, whose wounds are more than physical.
Thank you for making a difference.
I’ve been enthusing to friends about Thursday’s crowdfunding launch of my novel DRACA with publisher Unbound, in support of the veterans’ charity Combat Stress. Not everyone ‘gets’ it. Typical conversation:
FRIEND: “Great! Sounds fantastic. I’ll buy a copy. In fact, put me down for four. Presents for the family.”
[MEANINGFUL PAUSE BY AUTHOR]
FRIEND: “Oh, you mean I need to buy them now?“
AUTHOR, OPENING IPHONE: “Yup. Let me show you. Click here “
So here’s how crowdfunding publishing works:
Unbound select a manuscript (and with a Man Booker longlister to their credit they’re VERY selective!) but like all publishers they can never be sure which books will succeed. We live and write in an age of huge publishing ‘noise’; about 500,000 English language titles a year hit the market.
So Unbound make the author build support before they publish. In my case, that means ‘pre-selling’ about 500 books. With that lower risk, they pay high royalties, which is excellent news for the veterans charity Combat Stress, who get 50%. (The rest is the budget for fees, taxes and promotion.) The bad news is that I don’t even know 500 people, and I’m staring at Pledge Mountain.
What you can do:
- Click on Unbound here
- Pledge your support. Think of it as a pre-order.
- Spread the word.
Thank you for helping me to help those whose wounds are more than physical
In case you missed the announcement:
DRACA is the story of a war-damaged veteran of Afghanistan who struggles to rebuild his life by restoring an old sailing boat, while his dysfunctional family push him ever closer to the edge. It is a subtle, ambiguous ghost story in that the reader must decide whether he is haunted by his past, or just haunted. Half the royalties to to Combat Stress. I’m crowdfunding so that contribution is financially meaningful. See full post here.
Publishers Unbound have accepted DRACA. I’m sharing royalties with veterans’ charity Combat Stress. You can help make it happen.
Unbound are a new and fast-growing force in publishing. They won the Bookseller Book of the Year Award in 2015, and their recent successes include the Sunday Times Bestselling ‘Letters of Note’ and the Man Booker long listed ‘The Wake’. Unbound have a revolutionary publishing concept; they team with an author to build support before publication, which lets readers decide what is published. You can join the DRACA community – and see your name inside the cover.
Draca: supporting Combat Stress
Combat Stress help former servicemen and women deal with issues like post-traumatic stress, providing specialist treatment and support to give veterans hope and a future.
Early endorsement has come from Vice Admiral Charles Style, a former Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, who says Draca is ‘a powerful and gripping story, wonderfully told. It’s brilliant that a book of this calibre is offered in support of Combat Stress.’
Building the DRACA community
You can subscribe to the publishing of the book, secure your own copies and other privileges by clicking here:
You’ll find a synopsis, an extract, and a video. There’s a Q&A, so go on… challenge me! Naturally, there’s also a chance to pledge your support. This can be as little as one ebook, or as much as a bundle of signed copies for a book group. All supporters will see their names inside every edition of the book.
So please help me to help the heroes like Jack whose wounds are more than physical.
AND! Share this post, reblog, tweet… let’s get the word out.
Thank you for making a difference.