An Interview with Antoine Vanner

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Britannia's Reach Front Cover less spine Britannia's Wolf Book Cover ImagePlease welcome author Antoine Vanner who answers questions about his impressive seafaring series, the Dawlish Chronicles. He discusses historical naval fiction and writing in general.

What do you write?
I write historic naval fiction and I’ve wanted to break new ground in the genre, most of which is set in the 1775-1815 period. I’ve chosen instead to move on to the second-half of the 19th Century. The period was one that saw the advent of a huge range of new technologies, great social change, unprecedented economic growth and massive shifts in political power balances. There were many minor wars in remote locations but few really big ones and nobody guessed that the world was sliding towards disaster in 1914.

This era provides the background to my “Dawlish Chronicles”, which are firmly grounded in historical reality. They represent episodes in the adventurous life of Nicholas Dawlish, a British naval officer who was born in 1845 and who died 1918. In Britannia’s Wolf we meet Dawlish in Turkey in 1877/78 and Britannia’s Reach finds him in Paraguay in 1879/80. In both books he faces not only desperate armed conflict but daunting moral dilemmas.The importance of technology in these books has led to my being described as “The Tom Clancy of Historical Naval Fiction.”

The third book in the series is undergoing its final revision and will be published before December 2014. Like the others it will have a “Britannia’s X” title, with X to remain unrevealed until publication. Number Four is on the back burner and the first draft of Number Five was completed in June 2014. I’m now starting on detailed research for Number Six – the plot exists in outline. I’ve some vague ideas about what comes after for later books!

What impelled you to create the Dawlish Chronicles series?
I’ve always been fascinated not just by 19th Century history but by how the new technology of the time influenced social, economic and political developments. I’ve always had a particular interest in matters nautical and naval power was a key consideration in that period. I’ve been lucky to have lived in eight countries long-term, and have visited some fifty, so that I’ve been exposed to history “on the ground” – this can give a much different perspective on events.

I always wanted to write and the idea of a character whose life spanned the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and who was both actively and passively exposed to the changes, was a natural one. The starting point for the series was to block out a birth-to-death timeline for my character, Nicholas Dawlish, and to synchronize his possible adventures with actual historical events. Plotting followed – that can be painful, but great fun too – and then it became a matter of writing, and rewriting, and rewriting yet again.

Why do you think that historical naval fiction novel has such wide appeal?
Whether you read the acknowledged masters of the genre – C.S.Forester and Patrick O’Brian – or their many successors, almost all of whom set their work in the “Age of Sail” – or you read my work, which is set in the “Age of Steam”, you will be guaranteed an exciting read. You’ll also get an introduction to a world that has many similarities with our own, but many massive differences as well. It’s an easy way to learn history and it also gives insights into how our forebears thought and reacted to the challenges of their time. Human nature doesn’t change but the past had constraints – and freedoms too – which we don’t have. At its best, historical fiction provides a “time-machine” that immerses the reader in a past but real world. That’s what I hope to achieve, not only as regards the naval aspects of my stories but the social and political aspects as well.

You seem to be fascinated by Victorian Era. Why?
As a Baby-Boomer the second half of the 19th Century is interesting because it’s ‘the day before yesterday’. It’s history that you can almost touch. Our grandparents grew up in that period – my grandfather was born in the 1875, two years before Britannia’s Wolf – and you heard a lot from them about that time. My grandmother could recall seeing Queen Victoria, and my grandmother-in-law saw Paul Kruger, the exiled president of the Transvaal, who as a boy had been on the Great Trek in 1835.

So much in that period was similar to what we still have that you feel you could live easily in it, and then you hit some aspects – especially those associated with social conventions and attitudes – that make it seem wholly alien. It was a time of change on every front – intellectual, scientific, medical, social, political and technological – and yet people seem to have accommodated to this change very well. And there’s also a horrible fascination that period which saw so many improvements which ensured better lives for so many people, and which was imbued with such optimism, yet the Armageddon of 1914 was just around the corner. So many lives were to be cut short, so much hope and private happiness to be destroyed, so much turmoil and suffering. Yet nobody foresaw it.

Have you a message for new readers?
As it says on my website: “Welcome to the Adventure!”

The Dawlish Chronicles are set in a world of challenge and danger. In these books men and women face difficulties, self-doubt and ghastly ethical dilemmas. Some are successful, some fail, some compromise, some remain true to what they stand for. In this they’re similar to people of our own time but the ones who have inspired me – and I’ve met them all over the world in the course of my own somewhat adventurous life – are the ones who grit their teeth, face the storm and are never conquered even if they’re sometimes beaten.

I maintain a large website and I blog weekly. Much of the material which I discover in my research, but which may not be directly used in my plots, appears in short articles on these sites. It’s material too good to miss and my readers enjoy it, as it provides general background concerning the period I write about.

So, to finish: “Welcome to the Adventure”

Antoine in LibraryAbout The Author
Antoine Vanner spent many years in the international oil industry and has also lectured in academia in North and South America, Europe and the Far East. He has lived long-term in eight countries and spent some eleven years in Sub-Saharan Africa. He has also travelled extensively on a private basis “in every continent except Antarctica”. His life has been adventurous and he has particularly relished his exposure to developing countries in which there are few certainties as regards security or social stability. This experience has given him a particular interest in situations of moral ambiguity, concerns that are reflected in his writing. The First two novels in his “Dawlish Chronicles” series, “Britannia’s Wolf” and “Britannia’s Reach“, have already been published and the third is due at the end of 2014.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I have had the pleasure of reading both of Antoine’s books. Both are fast paced adventures that lead an unusual hero into very unusual and unexpected situations.

    Dawlish is a thoroughly modern man of his time. Vanner does not impose modern sensibilities on his Victorian hero but allows us to experience life through the eyes of a Victorian.

    Vanner has a good feel for the technology of the time and writes about it convincingly. He uses it wisely and well, however, and at no time does it get in the way of a good story – serving to enhance rather than subsume the tale.

    The character are well drawn and I missed them when I had finished the book – this goes not only for the main characters but for the supporting cast as well – all rich shades of grey, complex individuals with likeable and lothable aspects. I look forward to Britannia’s X.

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