Monday, 15 August 2016


There’s plenty of great fiction around these days yet I still adhere to the old statement that fact is always more fascinating than fiction, and to me that makes it more entertaining. Why? Because these things actually happened. As a writer who loves researching the odd corners of history, I have a penchant for American writers who reveal the underbelly of their country’s colourful
development. So when it comes to both modern and 19th century history, a good starting point was Stephen Ambrose, the author of Band of Brothers and the brilliant Crazy Horse and Custer. However, one of the greatest of them all, in my humble opinion, is Nathaniel Philbrick. Even his name makes him sound like the Chief Mate on a 19th century whaler, and if you check him out on Wikipedia, you’ll see that’s not far off the mark - he’s even a skilled sailor. As an avid devotee to Herman Melville (I still think Moby-Dick to be one of the greatest books ever written), when I came across his In The Heart of the Sea three years ago, (the very bones of Melville’s marine inspiration) I wanted more, and thankfully, from the Philbrick treasure vault there’s plenty to choose from. Reading the masterful Sea of Glory,
the story of the US Navy’s huge voyage of exploration in the 1840s, led by Lieutenant Wilkes, who makes the Bounty’s Captain Bligh seem like a Teletubby, I was trapped in a nightly page-turner of sheer fascination and wonder.

I’m currently discovering an equally skilled and dedicated scribe by the name of Hampton Sides. Another unsung story of an expedition, In the Kingdom of Ice, the grand and terrible voyage of the USS Jeanette
simply has to be read in bed, late at night, when you’re warm. It’s a tragic yarn filled with Arctic ice, frostbite, struggle and deprivation, and with each chapter you’re glad to be cosily tucked in and living in the 21st century. I shall be seeking out more works by Hampton Sides; like Philbrick and Ambrose, he too is a great writer. Next on my reading list after Kingdom of Ice I’m about to delve into Philbrick’s fascinating revelation of the truth behind the voyage of the Pilgrim Fathers, Mayflower: A Voyage to War.

All these engrossing tomes came hot on the heels of both volumes of autobiography by Alexei Sayle, Stalin Ate My Homework and Thatcher Stole my Trousers. Add to these Danny Baker’s hilarious Going to Sea in a Sieve and it becomes clear that for me, it may be a while yet before I get back to reading fiction, but watch this space…

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