April 2012

Photo: RB at Admiral Cochrane’s house, Quintero, Chile.

A Hidden Year

Maria and the Admiral is my first historical fiction.Why does anyone write historical fiction? Isn’t history interesting enough without making stuff up? I used to believe that historical fiction was for novelists who didn’t have enough imagination to invent their own characters and story.

Then in 2004 I went to Chile and met (in history) two extraordinary figures who so captured my imagination that I knew I would have to write about them. My new novel Maria and the Admiral is the result. Maria is Maria Dundas/Graham/Callcott and the Admiral is Admiral Cochrane, the Tenth Earl of Dundonald. If you google them, you’ll find she was a writer published in the early eighteenth century who married twice but had no children and he was a Napoleonic naval hero who antagonised the Admirality, then the House of Commons as an M.P. and was imprisoned for stock exchange fraud. Abandoning England, he became a Chilean hero of as head of their navy. He has just successfully defeated the Spanish colonialists when he met Maria Graham in Valparaiso whose captain husband had died as they rounded Cape Horn. She fell under his spell immediately and her devotion never wavered through earthquake, civil war, their flight to Brazil and their marriages to others.

I did so much research both in Chile where the photo above was taken and in libraries in the UK that I might as easily have written a history book – except that then the TRUTH would have remained hidden. Maria’s voluminous journals and letters which gave me much of the material for the book fall completely silent for an entire year. As I followed her story, I realised that that hidden (or secret) year when she was living alone in Brazil was the key to my story. An historian could only state the absence of information but I could fill the gap.