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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 Spartanand 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.
reminded me that I am one of those grateful sailors. Pull up a bollard, swing
the lamp, and let me tell you a story…
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Weston’s!’ he declared in triumph.
at him blankly.
take ‘em all, and it’s only a ten-minute walk away.’
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.
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.
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.
If you subscribe to the U.S. Naval Institute’s excellent magazine Naval History, you’ll be able to read an article that I wrote on the trial and execution of Admiral Byng. I’ve set the affair into the context of the navy, the government, the monarch and wider eighteenth-century society.
I hope to reproduce the article in this website in a few weeks.
Quarterdeck magazine is a must for anyone interested in maritime literature and art. The summer edition includes a preview of The Cursed Fortress on page 29 and reviews of Philip K. Allan’s The Turning of the Tide (page 24) and Alaric Bond’s Sea Trials (page 25).
I particularly enjoyed the feature article on the master model shipwright Malcolm Darch. Such amazing detail and historical accuracy!
You can download a free copy of Quarterdeck Magazine here:
The French called it La Forteresse Maudite, the Cursed Fortress.
Louisbourg stood at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, massive and impregnable, a permanent provocation to the British colonies. It was Canada’s first line of defence, guarding the approaches to Quebec, from where all New France lay open to invasion. It had to fall before a British fleet could be sent up the St. Lawrence. Otherwise, there would be no resupply and no line of retreat; Canada would become the graveyard of George II’s navy.
A failed attempt on Louisbourg in 1757 had only stiffened
the government’s resolve; the Cursed Fortress must fall in 1758.
Captain Carlisle’s frigate joins the blockade of Louisbourg
before winter’s icy grip has eased. Battling fog, hail, rain, frost and snow, suffering
scurvy and fevers, and with a constant worry about the wife he left behind in
Virginia, Carlisle will face his greatest test of leadership and character yet.
The Cursed Fortress is the fifth of the Carlisle & Holbrooke naval adventures. The series follows the two men through the Seven Years War and into the period of turbulent relations between Britain and her American colonies in the 1760s.
Welcome to the Carlisle and Holbrooke naval adventures. The series follows Edward Carlisle, a native of Williamsburg, Virginia, and his protégé George Holbrooke of Wickham, Hampshire, as they navigate the political and professional storms of the Seven Years War through to the War of American Independence.