Updated: Sep 7
“Your speech inspired me and your reading generated vivid visual pictures in my head... In your first book, I really enjoyed the drama, intrigue and well-developed characters. As I can hear from your talk today, that all continues on a new level and in new exotic locations and situations – it’s exciting because you make it easy to image oneself there too.” – excerpt from Thank You speech by President RACA Ladies Committee Margaret Dawes-Smith.
Historical author Oliver Greeves revealed his understanding of psychology and economics as well as writing and history during his presentation at the luxurious Royal Automobile Club of Australia literary luncheon in Sydney’s CBD recently. He had been invited back to share about his new novel Nelson’s Lost Son, after the success of his talk about Nelson’s Folly last year. The Q/A participants were particularly focused on the process of writing and the exotic and historical context of his latest instalment in his Nelson and Son series.
Process of Writing
Oliver told the luncheon guests that his goal was to ensure two key elements worked well together: historical context and the personal story. He could then use fiction to explore interesting questions unanswered by history.
When writing Nelson’s Lost Son, the key question was how Josiah Nisbet, Oliver’s ancestor, the abandoned son of Britain’s revered naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson, could redefine and redeem himself. As his father continued to show courage and skill in saving Britain from Napoleon, Josiah felt washed up. He had inadvertently made too many powerful enemies by the age of 21.
Oliver said he started to develop his plot, not by just ‘writing, but by asking: ‘What options were interesting and exciting for his key character, while still preserving the historical context of the early 1800s’? He then researched and explored where they could lead.
Selecting the Right Location
He wanted to set the novel amidst the beauty and horrors of the Sugar Island in the Caribbean. He said it was because of their social, economic and historical challenges, however didn’t deny it was a pleasant place to do some thorough research. Oliver said Fanny and Josiah’s former homes were still there, now converted to luxury boutique hotels.
In the 1800s, the islands were a source of British wealth and financial power integral to the war effort, therefore a valuable target for the French. The historical Caribbean campaign’s "Great Chase" made for a dramatic naval encounter for his characters.
Meeting Audience Needs
Although it could stand alone, the novel still had to work as a sequel, so key relationship questions such as what would happen with the difficult relationship with his famous father Horatio, also needed resolution. How did his father’s socially inappropriate relationship and treatment of Josiah's mother impact on the son’s approach to potential lovers? Addressing this issue also added an extra dimension into the adventurous plot, although Oliver has been clear that he never aimed for a spot in the Bridgerton stable.
Then it was time to consider if the plot could explore some of the unanswered questions of the era – which was part of the fun of historical fiction, said Oliver, who has a PhD in History.
He considered what happened to sailors kidnapped and forced into service as well as the naval battles of the time. He said at the time, paralleling the war, there was another struggle taking place – the efforts to abolish the slave trade and slavery. And not everyone on the island is either a slave or a planter. “There are freed men and women. There are people at war with the very idea of slavery and they are attracting attention. They have friends in London and there are stirrings of change,” he said.
“Above all, Nelson’s Lost Son is an adventure story and it carries you along swiftly. I promise you there will be information you have never known and events which will astonish you and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it,” he said.
By Nadja Leffler
If anyone knows of any groups who would welcome a historical author as a guest speaker, please share in the comments below or email Oliver at email@example.com.
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To purchase Oliver’s books in hard copy or as e-books, find the links on the home page. Nelson's Folly is also available as an audiobook.