Awhile back, I interviewed Michael Cadnum, an award-winning historical fiction novelist. I'm just posting the review now, to coincide with the release of his new book Peril on the Sea.
Michael Cadnum is an award-winning poet, a professional photographer, an amateur archaeologist, and he is learning new respect for spiders. He lives in Albany, California, with his wife Sherina.
1. How much of Peril on the Sea is fact and how much is fiction?
In terms of time and place, duration of violence, strength of the storms, and the outcome, this is a true story. Many of the characters are actual people, and they stride forward in my novel as history records that they did. My own fictional characters allowed me an extra gift-- they gave me the power to see through their eyes, and smell the battle, and feel the salt gales. I have discovered in my travels and my reading that very often fiction can deliver true events more vividly and accurately than the historical record.
2. Why did you choose to write about pirates battling the Spanish Armada?
I have always felt that the nimble, smaller vessels of the English should have been dominated by the soldier-heavy warships of the Spanish. My amazement continues that this sea battle--which took many days, and cost many lives--turned out the way it did. In Fletcher’s era, much of government was on-the-cheap, with the crown hiring pirates instead of investing in a far-flung navy. I was reminded of the way Americans have hired private security companies to supplement regular armed forces in the Middle East. Such mercenaries are hard to control, then and now.
While there is much to admire about her reign, Queen Elizabeth’s government profited by the proceeds of professional, licensed pirates. It was an open question in my mind who was more criminal--the queen, or the sailing men who served her.
3. How much research did you have to do for the writing of this book?
I think of my writing as being based on my life. I love to travel and I love to read. I visited all the places mention in Peril on the Sea, but I had no idea that I was getting ready to write a novel. I was simply doing what I enjoy. Likewise, I have fooled around with foils and fencing, for fun. (I found the experiment painful, by the way--no wonder fencers wear heavy padding!) There comes a time when I realize that I know enough about a subject, a place or an event to write a novel or a poem.
I don’t think I choose my subjects--I think they choose me.
Incidentally, there is an example of a historical on my Poems and Pictures page. The poem is called Concrete, and is written in a voice nothing like my own personal voice.
Sometimes writing is like a séance. Every so often I feel that I am more medium than writer.
4. Captain Fletcher was a multi-faceted character: a pirate with a sense of morals. What was your inspiration for him?
It is a fair question to ask what possessed Captain Fletched to pay me an imaginative sojourn and allow me to write about him.
I owe my characters a great deal, and I color-in their lives with a feeling that I am the fictional being--these imaginative creatures are the ones who are alive.
Fletcher is exactly the kind of captain I would like to sail with--he loves adventure, is protective of his men, he designed his own ship and cherishes her, and he is capable of great sorrow when he loses a friend.
5. I especially liked the name Rosebriar for Katharine's family's ship. Where did you come up with the names for all the ships?
This is a wonderful era to visit--everything the Elizabethans touched seemed to flower into poetry.
The harbors of the era bristled with ships named things like the Bull, the Dainty, and the Delight. Not to mention the Foresight and the Fancy. Add a few well-known names like the Golden Hinde and the Mayflower, and you have to wonder why we have such dull names for ships in our own era.
This rich invention extended even to practical items like door knockers and the arms of chairs. The Elizabethan designers were apparently unhappy unless everything from fireplace pokers to sword hilts were decorated with fanciful lions or eagles, griffins or whales.
6. How long did it take you to write Peril on the Sea?
Because this novel was rooted in my love of the ocean, my respect for friendship, and my keen interest in ships and adventure, there is no starting point for the creation of this novel. In a way, I bid this novel farewell into the hands of readers only conditionally. In deep personal sense, I never began this novel, and I never ended it.
Thanks to Michael Cadnum for taking part in my interview. If you want to find out more about Michael or his books, visit his website.