Maria and the Admiral is my first historical fiction. I’d been thinking about writing Maria’s story ever since I visited Chile in 2004. She was an extraordinary woman, an opinionated blue-stocking, originally married to a captain in the British navy with whom she sailed the world. Her journals were published in the early eighteenth century which makes her one of the first female travel writers. Indeed if she’s known anywhere now it’s in feminist travel circles. The Chilean connection came when she arrived in Valparaiso in 1822, now a widow as her husband had died as they sailed round Cape Horn. There she met the Napoleonic war hero, Admiral Cochrane, leading a new life as head of the Chilean fleet. The two immediately became close friends. My novel takes off from there: Maria’s story but in relation to a man whose independent spirit matched her own. His marriage, earthquake, civil war, their flight to the new Brazilian court at Rio de Janeiro and her own second marriage never diminished her passionate devotion.
- The Wild Cherry Tree
- The cuckoo loved with true passion the Cherry tree’s silky pink-purplish trunk, its cascade of wedding-white fl… Read more
- ‘We’re dancing to the moon,’ said Arthur, moving, it has to be admitted, a little stiffly like the old man… Read more
- The Man who tried to Kill his Wife with a Goose
- Christmas Eve started early for Lawrence. Daisy, given special permission to club till midnight, arrived ba… Read more
- It can start in all sorts of strange places: in a pram, up a climbing frame, over a desk, in hospital, unde… Read more
- A Year in My Life
- Can I have really made so many decisions in one year? Looking back, it seems almost impossible. In April I l… Read more
Why I am writing ‘Glory’
RB beside a ‘spiked’ gun on Gallipoli
My grandfather died at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli on August 21st 1915. He led his men across a dried salt lake towards a well-armed, well led enemy who held all the upper ground, including Scimitar Hill where my grandfather was killed. His body was never found and my grandmother who had six young children, continued to believe that he would emerge from a Turkish hospital or prison camp. Most probably he was burned, dead or alive, in the fires all around.
I was born during the Second World War and grew up in its aftermath and later lived in New York during the Vietnam War. War was always an important part of my consciousness. But this family loss in the First World War is the inspiration for the novel I’m working on, ‘Glory’. I have archive letters and diaries to bring the events alive. But when I travelled to Gallipoli and walked the jagged cliffs and gullies for myself, I soon realised that my grandfather’s experience was a very small part of that tragic and pointless campaign.
In ‘Glory’, as well as basing the older soldier on my grandfather’s military history, I am creating other characters, young soldiers who endured all the misery and horror of the campaign. It is taking me from Gallipoli to England where wives and lovers have their own struggles, and to Egypt and Malta where men were held in reserve or lay in hastily commandeered hospitals.
The dream of snatching Constantinople and opening the gateway to Russia was a powerful one. But as I continue to research and write the story, I am more and more clear that it really was only a fantastical dream, hatched up by politicians in London with no real understanding of the enormous difficulties. Unfortunately, it had to be fought by brave men like my grandfather, Brigadier-General Thomas, Earl of Longford, who gave their lives out of duty or patriotism. If there is any glory, it is all theirs. Sometimes I find the waste of lives almost unbearable.
‘Glory’ will be published by Orion in 2015, the centenary year of the landing of allied troops on Gallipoli.
- May 21
I was very excited to win the Leeds Book Award in the 9-11 category for Poppy’s Hero. Some 420 children from the 52 schools who participated celebrated with me in Pudsey Civic Hall. Huge thanks to Deborah Moody and her team of fellow librarians who organised the event. The winner was voted for by the children themselves which made it extra special. If you want to learn more follow the link Leeds Book Awards