More on research for a fantasy novel…

If you have been reading my blog, you will know that I have temporarily shelved the book I was writing to plan another trilogy instead. I have not yet signed any contracts, so at the moment I am fancy free. Am a writing? Yes. Can’t ever stop. And I am researching the story I am writing because it concerns many things I don’t know too much about…(and some I know a lot about but want to know more.) No, it will not be set on our earth, but still – I aim for authenticity.

Here are some words to (I hope) intrigue you: spices, the wicked twin, birds of paradise, scurvy, arranged royal marriages, aromatic bark, kora-kora, trade wars, buccaneers, archipelago, witchery, faustian pact, 17th century galleons, bloody flux, pomanders, milliners, trepang, massoy, plumed cloaks, lost heir, deception and mayhem … need I go on?


Needless to say, I am adoring writing this story. Ideas and words are just coming too fast!

The Ship: Retracing Cook’s Endeavour Voyage

 So where do I start the research? Shipping plays a big part. And this book is handy, even though it deals with an 18th voyage, rather than a 17th century one, by Captain Cook on the Endeavour.

The book, written by Simon Baker, belongs to me: I bought it, not for this research, but because that voyage was part of my history. It tells a fascinating story, not just of the voyage of the original Endeavour but of a 20th century version of that voyage in a replica ship. It’s a wonderful book to own.

Take a look at the map below, dated June 10th, 1770. It shows part of the Endeavour River in Queensland

It was drawn by a young man – he was only 19 when the voyage began – but he was already skilful at chart making. His name was Richard Pickersgill. If he had not sailed on this ship as master’s mate, if he had not returned safely to England, I would not have been born.

Don’t you love the expression “”repaired her Bottom”?
Many years after this voyage he told some children in his family about his experiences in Australia, and one of those children, my grandfather’s father, listened to those stories and much later set sail for Australia himself, to settle. He wasn’t much of an ancestor to have – by all reports, he was a drunkard and a gambler – but he’s the reason that my mother was born in Australia. Her name was Jean Pickersgill.
Family legend says that Richard died falling in between a ship and the wharf while drunk…
Records state that there is a will belonging to a Richard Pickersgill of the HMS Dolphin dating to 1779 lodged in the British National Archives, but I’ve no idea if it is the same person.
Anyway, the book is now proving to be a wonderful fund of information about life, health and hardship on board a sailing ship…

If you want to know still more about the harrowing experience of being a British sailor in the 19th century, then try this website. Oh, yuk.

If you want something about sailing ships in general then this is a great website to start on, by a chap called Rob Ossian, one of those wonderful folk who so willingly share their passion.


More on research for a fantasy novel… — 8 Comments

  1. Having lived on a boat/yacht for a large portion of my life, I know a lot about boats and ships. I have even helped to clean a ship's bottom although mostly we did it with scuba gear on. However, if you ran aground, it was easier to get at the bottom of the hull. If there is ever anything you want to ask me, that I might know, don't hesitate. I know a lot of things that writers of books might not explain because they are so familiar with various terms etc.

    Your new trilogy sounds exciitng I will look forward to it.

  2. Thanks Glenda, I'm already a big fan of Rob Ossian's site but hadn't yet tapped in to the British National Archives. I'm doing a fair bit of nautical research for one of my books too.

  3. How wonderful that you are able to peruse your great-great-grandfather's take on a subject you need to research, by looking at his map. I'd like to think I could leave something valuable like that for my great-great-grandchildren to read!

  4. Cook was an extraordinary navigator given that chronometers were yet to be invented (to determine longitude).

    I recommend a good book that explains, in layman's terms, the problem of determining longitde in navigation and the genius who invented a reliable and portable chronometer.

    Longitude by Dava Sobel.

  5. That is unbelievable neat. My only claim to fame is that one of my ancestors fought alongside William the Conqueror, I share this honour with about 60,000 Scandinavians though.

    My wife though is somewhat more closely related to John Law the Controller General of Finances of France under King Louis XV.

    The book looks great though with pictures and maps

  6. It's interesting how these tales are passed down through families, isn't it? My grandfather's middle name was Starling. The name was a family tradition because an ancestor had been a sailor on a ship that fought in the Battle of Trafalgar, and the ship's captain's name was Starling. The ancestor was convinced that he only survived because of the captain's skills, and he started the tradition.

    So the family story goes. I've never checked it out!

  7. Peter, I think back in those days, it really was important to have a good captain or first officer – it could really make the difference between life and death. Navigation was so difficult with unreliable equipment, but some people seemed to have a flare for it… Another remarkable navigator was Captain Bligh. Oh, and Matthew Flinders, too.

    "The Ship" talks about this too. The Modern crew was trying to replicate the 18th century methods – not so easy!

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