Book Ten in the Carlisle & Holbrooke Series is now available

This is something of a landmark. 10 books published, 100,000 copies sold, 1,000,000 words written. We’ll be celebrating!

Nor’west By North

By late 1759 it is clear that France is losing the Seven Years War. In a desperate gamble, the French Atlantic and Mediterranean fleets combine to dominate the Channel and cover a landing in the south of England, but they are annihilated by Admiral Hawke at Quiberon Bay.  Meanwhile, a diversionary landing is planned in the north of Britain, and it sails from Dunkirk before news of the disaster at Quiberon Bay can reach its commander. The ill-fated expedition sets out to circumnavigate Britain in an attempt to salvage something from the failed strategy.

George Holbrooke, newly promoted to post-captain and commanding the frigate Argonaut, joins a squadron sent to intercept the French expedition. The quest takes him to Sweden, the Faroes, the Western Isles of Scotland and then to Ireland and the Isle of Man. The final act is played out at a secluded anchorage in the Bristol Channel.

Nor’west by North is the tenth Carlisle and Holbrooke novel.  The series follows Carlisle and his protégé Holbrooke through the Seven Years War and into the period of turbulent relations between Britain and her American colonies prior to their bid for independence.

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Ligurian Mission – Book 9

Carlisle’s ship Dartmouth joins the Mediterranean Squadron in the late spring of 1760. As the smallest class of ships-of-the-line, Dartmouth isn’t wanted in the squadron’s line-of-battle and is sent to the Kingdom of Sardinia to deliver the British Envoy, then to cruise the Italian coast. It sounds like a simple task but Carlisle falls out with the envoy, is attacked by a vastly superior French seventy-four gun ship, and finds that all is not well with his wife’s Sardinian family. The Ligurian Sea – the area between Corsica, France and what is now northwest Italy – is the scene of Captain Carlisle’s greatest challenge so far as he balances politics, family and the enemy; and finds it difficult to disentangle the three.

Follow the links below to obtain your copy.

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Book Eight is Now Available

I’m pleased to let you know that Niagara Squadron is now available on Amazon.

This is the eighth book in the Carlisle and Holbrooke Naval Adventures. The year is 1759 and Holbrooke is without a ship. He is sent to North America to join the army that is setting off across the wilderness to capture Fort Niagara from the French. Although Holbrooke’s orders are merely to manage the six hundred boats that will carry the army across rivers and lakes, he knows that he will also have to deal with the French navy, which operates the only men-o’-war on Lake Ontario.

Follow the links below to obtain your copy.

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What Did Carlisle & Holbrooke Look Like?

Many of us have a mental image of the characters in the books that we read. I asked my friend Bob Payne to create pictures of the two main characters in the Carlisle & Holbrooke naval adventures, principally so that readers could see what the uniforms of the time looked like.

Captain Edward Carlisle

The first uniforms for British sea officers were instituted by Admiralty Order of 13th April 1748, and they applied only to admirals, captains, commanders, lieutenants and midshipmen; warrant officers were not included in the initial order and it would be very many years before a uniform existed for the common sailors.

These pictures show the working uniforms (or ‘frock’ coats). There was a more elaborate dress uniform for formal occasions. For daily wear aboard ship the coat would often be discarded, and in hot weather the long waistcoat may also have been removed.

Commander George Holbrooke

This uniform was replaced by a new design in 1767, so it had a relatively short life that nevertheless covered the Seven Years’ War and a few years beyond.

The original patterns for the uniforms no longer exist and we can’t be sure how universally the uniform was adopted and how slavishly the patterns were followed. The portraits and examples that still exist suggest that there was a fair amount of personal choice in the details.

You can find biographical details of the two men here:

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Quarterdeck Magazine Spring Edition

The latest Quarterdeck magazine is now available for free download. It’s packed with news about nautical writing and on page 21 you can read a review of Perilous Shore by the editor of the magazine, George Jepson.

On page 8, you can read all about Antoine Vanner and his Dawlish Chronicles, set in the Victorian Navy

If you ever wondered about the story of carronades, then Philip K. Allan, the author of the Alexander Clay novels has written an excellent article on page 18.

Click the link below to read the magazine:

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The Seventh book in the Carlisle & Holbrooke Naval Adventures

I’m delighted to let you know that the seventh in the Carlisle & Holbrooke series of naval adventures has now been published.

Rocks and Shoals takes Edward Carlisle to Quebec in 1759 and the battle that will seal the fate of the French empire in North America

Rocks and Shoals is the seventh of the Carlisle & Holbrooke naval adventures. The series follows Carlisle and his protégé George Holbrooke, through the Seven Years War and into the period of turbulent relations between Britain and her American colonies in the 1760s.

Rocks and Shoals is available now on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

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Aggie Weston: The Victorian Sailor’s Philanthropist

Antoine Vanner, who writes the nautical fiction series ‘The Dawlish Chronicles’ set in the Victorian era, invited me to contribute a story to his blog, Here it is in case you missed it on Facebook and Twitter.

Guest Blog by Chris Durbin

Author of the Carlisle and Holbrooke series

Introduction by Antoine Vanner:

As author Chris Durbin tells in the introduction to the article he contributes below, I met him at the Weymouth Leviathan Literary Festival in 2016, at which I ran a workshop on plotting of historical novels and he was a participant. Since then, Chris’s literary career has taken off with a series of naval adventures set in the Seven Years War period (1756-63) – more details at the end of this article – and he now publishes, as I do, through The Old Salt Press. When we met for lunch a few weeks ago, Chris noted that I had introduced the real-life character of Miss (later Dame) Agnes Weston (1840-1918) as a subsidiary character in my Dawlish Chronicles  fiction. She was one of the great – and unlikely – Victorian philanthropists, a dauntless spinster who devoted her life to the welfare of seamen. As an ex-Royal Navy officer, Chris was familiar with her continuing legacy and  he told me the story of his own debt to her. I was so taken with his tale that I suggested that it could be the basis for a guest blog. He has obliged, and you’ll find it below.  I hope you’ll like it.

The Tale of the not-so-Ancient Mariner by Chris Durbin

              Chris Durbin

I first met Antoine back in 2016 at the Weymouth Leviathan Festival where I attended his workshop for aspiring writers of historical adventure novels. He called it ‘From Idea to Plot,’ and I learned how to weave together an historical incident and fictitious characters to make a compelling story. Sadly, we lost contact over the next few years as Antoine continued his brilliant Dawlish Chronicles series and I retired from my industrial job and took my first steps into authorship with the Carlisle and Holbrooke series of naval adventures.

We met again in January 2020 at a remote pub in rural Wiltshire. So remote that I could see no way of getting to it until I realised that there was an alternative approach road – nothing more than a lane really – that avoided the ford through a roaring spate, the hazards of rural England in the winter.

As we talked, Antoine let slip that he was considering again using Dame Agnes Weston as an historical character in one of his future books, she had already made brief appearances in Britannia’s Spartan and Britannia’s Amazon. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, ‘Aggie’ Weston was a Victorian philanthropist who founded the Royal Sailor’s Rests, one of them at Portsmouth. The building was destroyed by bombing in the second world war, and much of its good work and all of Aggie’s spirit was transferred to another building, in Queen Street, now officially called ‘The Royal Maritime Club.’ However, it can’t so easily shake off the name given to it by generations of grateful sailors who stubbornly still refer to it as Aggie Weston’s.

It reminded me that I am one of those grateful sailors. Pull up a bollard, swing the lamp, and let me tell you a story…

Forty years ago, I was coming to the end of an appointment as a fighter controller and watchkeeping officer in HMS Hermes, then fitted out to carry helicopters in the dual roles of anti-submarine and amphibious warfare.

Centaur Class Aircraft Carrier, HMS Hermes (HU 101347). Ranged on her deck are Westland Wessex HU5s and Westland Sea King HAS.1s. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Hermes had spent the first few months of the year across the Atlantic and was coming home for the refit that would transform her into a fixed-wing carrier again, flying the new short take-off, vertical landing Sea Harrier aircraft. The families of the ship’s company were in for a treat. Hermes was to anchor at Spithead before entering harbour to embark around a thousand people by boats so that they could experience the grand old ship passing between the Round Tower and Fort Blockhouse into Portsmouth. Being the most junior lieutenant in the ship, I was naturally ordered to organise the families at the dockyard. The day before the ship’s arrival, I disembarked by helicopter to a naval air station in Cornwall and took the long rail journey to Portsmouth. By the morning of the great event, I was standing in the Port Admiral’s office clearing up the final details, having left a Chief Petty Officer in charge at the jetty. The families were starting to arrive; by car, by train, by bus, on foot and by harbour ferry. All appeared to be going well, except for one small detail: the weather!

Overnight, a tight depression had moved towards the Midlands, bringing gale force winds and a cold, hard rain to the channel and the southern counties, Spithead was an angry wasteland of grey sea and white blown spray. The Queen’s Harbourmaster looked doubtful, as well he might. He had two principal problems: first, the conditions were marginal for boatwork, and second, the wind at that point was too strong to risk bringing the navy’s biggest ship in through the narrow entrance.

Meanwhile, the families, ranging in age from new-born babies to octogenarians were gathering at the Jetty, almost in the shadow of Nelson’s HMS Victory and a short walk from the dockyard gate. There was little cover, as I remember it, just a Victorian railway station shelter, a hangover from the days when trains ran all the way into the dockyard. The families were becoming cold and wet but none of them wanted to leave for fear of losing their place on the boats.

RMAS Forceful – appropriately-named paddle tug

In those days, the navy had a class of big paddle-wheel tugs built specifically to move aircraft carriers. The harbourmaster decided that it would be safe to use one of those – RMAS Forceful, I seem to remember – and she duly embarked the first wave of intrepid voyagers at the King’s Stairs. We all held our breath, clustered around the VHF transceiver. First, we heard that the tug had been forced to abort the approach, then on the second attempt she manoeuvred successfully alongside Hermes. I breathed a sigh of relief as I heard that a dozen or so passengers had made it onto the carrier, but then disaster struck. The ship’s accommodation ladder just wasn’t strong enough for the pressure that Forceful (how aptly named!) exerted to keep herself alongside and a particularly strong lurch broke the whole boarding apparatus. There was nothing for it but for the tug to return to harbour with those of the passengers that hadn’t made it onto the carrier. There would be no more boat trips that day, and furthermore the deteriorating conditions had put an end to any thoughts of Hermes entering harbour until well into the afternoon or dog watches. But what to do with the families?

With reluctant steps, I made my way to the Jetty, the bearer of the bad news and expecting to be treated accordingly. It was a curious scene. The near-horizontal rain had long ago soaked everyone, but they were singing! That Chief Petty Officer would have made a professional game-show host look like a glum old stick. He was walking up and down with the half-dozen sailors from the barracks at HMS Nelson, telling stories and jokes, starting singsongs and generally keeping up morale. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but I was still faced with the daunting prospect of telling all these people that they wouldn’t be going out to the carrier and that it wouldn’t be berthing for at least another six hours.

‘Don’t worry, sir,’ said the Chief after a moment’s thought, ‘just keep them happy for a few minutes, I’ll be right back,’ and he strode off in the direction of Victory Gate.

It was all very well him telling me not to worry, but it was the longest twenty minutes of my life. I had no idea what I would do with these people if he didn’t come up with a solution. I reckoned that at a push we could squeeze everyone into the various dockyard buildings, but few of them were heated and none had the facilities that were needed.

I was just starting into the tenth rendition of ‘Roll Out The Barrel,’ the only song I could think of, when the Chief returned at a jogtrot.

‘Aggie Weston’s!’ he declared in triumph.

I looked at him blankly.

‘They’ll take ‘em all, and it’s only a ten-minute walk away.’

And they did. The blessed Aggie Weston’s staff put on beans on toast and Mickey Mouse movies for the whole lot of them. By four o’clock the weather had moderated enough for the Queen’s Harbourmaster to allow Hermes to enter, and by six o’clock they were all united with their fathers, sons, husbands and boyfriends. Victory from the jaws of defeat!

Thank God for Aggie Weston!

First published as a guest blog by Antoine Vanner. February 2020.

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Colonial Post Captain is a Best Seller!

I’m happy to report that ‘The Colonial Post Captain’ is in the Amazon UK Best Seller List (#24) for Historical Fiction. In good company with Bernard Cornwell and Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s been there for a few weeks now. Let’s hope it stays for a while longer.

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Quarterdeck Magazine Winter 2020

Quarterdeck magazine is a must for anyone interested in maritime literature and art.

The winter edition includes an article that I wrote describing the development of the first purpose-built landing craft for the Royal Navy in 1758.

Among the other delights is an interview with my friend Alaric Bond who describes his latest book ‘Hellfire Corner,’ the first of his new Coastal Forces series.

There are previews and reviews of books by Philip K. Allan, Antoine Vanner and Julian Stockwin, to name but a few.

Click below for a free copy of Quarterdeck Winter 2020 magazine:

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Perilous Shore

I’m delighted to tell you that the sixth of the Carlisle & Holbrooke series of naval adventures, Perilous Shore, is now available on Amazon.

In Perilous Shore, Holbrooke’s sloop Kestrel is attached to the Inshore Squadron of the Channel Fleet to support the campaign of landings on the coast of Brittany and Normandy in 1758. The raids start well but are ultimately an expensive way of annoying the French; like breaking windows with guineas, as one politician put it.

Carlisle and Holbrooke are in a cycle of alternate victories and defeats, which fairly well sums up the British Navy’s experience in the first half of the Seven Years War. From here on, it gets better for Britain as we approach 1759 – the year of victories – when the church bells wore out with ringing. But that’s for future adventures. For now, you can follow George Holbrooke as he learns the new and dangerous art of amphibious warfare and feels his way forward in his exciting career.

I hope you enjoy the story, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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