Seth Hunter is the pseudonym of Paul Bryers pictured here aboard the square-rigger Earl of Pembroke off the coast of Cornwall while make the docudrama Nelson's Trafalgar. You can learn more about him and his work as a writer and filmmaker on www.paulbryers.com
Seth Hunter was born in 2006 in the London offices of Headline, an imprint of the Hachette publishing empire, shortly after I had been invited to write the first of the Nathan Peake series - A Time of Terror.
It was felt that as these novels were different from anything else I had ever written I should use a pseudonym.
I went along with this partly I guess because I wasn't sure they'd be any good and I reckoned that if the critics and the readers decided they weren't, I could bury Seth quietly at sea and move on.
I was a great admirer of Patrick O'Brian and I knew I could never be as good as him. But I could at least try to be counted a follower and to write to a standard he would not have dismissed with a weary sigh. I chose the name Seth in homage to the master. Other of his admirers will recall that Seth was a biblical prophet whose followers served aboard the Surprise during its rebirth as a privateer in The Letter of Marque. Hunter was my my mother's maiden name.
I had an idea of what Seth Hunter was like. He was not exactly my alter ego, but when I was feeling particularly wussy in my 'real' persona, I would imagine how old Seth would handle things. He was the part of me that had sailed a small boat from the Hamble during my years at University and went adventuring in Africa and South America when I was a free-lance journalist and film-maker. He was not the person who panicked when his girlfriend jumped on his back in a swimming pool and held his head under water, or who wept watching Truly Madly Deeply.
I have to say I was never been a very good sailor, but I had from an early age been a great reader of historical naval fiction. I spent most of the sixth form in the school library reading Hornblowr. Later I read Alexander Kent and Dudley Pope among others. Then came Patrick O'Brian who for me and for so many other readers is simply the master. I’d read every one of the Aubriad - as the Aubrey-Maturin novels are called -and when POB died a few years back I read them again.
I’d directed several documentaries about sailing and the sea, I’d written plays with a nautical theme, including the Floating Republic for BBC Radio 4 (about the great naval mutiny of 1797), and I’d written, produced or directed a couple of television dramas – Nelson’s Trafalgar about the life and battles of Britain’s greatest naval hero and Mary Bryant, the story of the First Fleet to Australia and a woman highway robber who was among the first convicts sent there.
I did think of writing a naval novel. But I wasn’t confident enough to set it entirely at sea. I didn’t think I was good enough. So although I had a naval commander as my main man – Nathan Peake – he was more of a spy, or an agent, than a seafarer.
I sent him to France at the time of the Revolution and the book was mainly set on land. A lot of it underground – in the catacombs under Paris, known as the Empire of the Dead, where all the bodies are buried. In fact, I won an award from the English Arts Council to go to Paris and explore the catacombs and do other necessary research.
The book was going to be Patrick O’Brian meets John Le Carré in Revolutionary Paris. A modest ambition.
It was Martin Fletcher, commissioning editor at Hodder Headline, who persuaded me to turn it into naval fiction. There were one or two chapters set in the Channel, including a fight with French privateer, and he said I could do it. Or at least, have a bash.
So I had a bash.
In making the two naval films for television, I’d used the facilities at Square Sail, based at Charlestown in Devon, where there is an old harbour and three square-rigged sailing ships, often used for filming. So I hired one of them - with a crew of twelve and a couple of friends of mine who'd been in the Navy - and we practised manoeuvres off the coast of Cornwall.
I'd also met naval historians such as Colin Cross and Brian Lavery, whose expertise and books on 18th century naval warfare were an enormous help in getting me started on my first book in the Nathan Peake series, The Time of Terror.
And I guess I thought, if I fell flat on my face I could go back to writing under my own name - about women. Some people may feel I should never have stopped. But the initial reviews have been encouraging as so have the sales, so... I've come out of the closet, so to speak.
I've had a great time writing them over the last 10 years. I bought a sailing boat - called Papagena - and I sailed in the English Channel and the Med - where three of the six novels are set. In other parts of the world, like The Gulf of Mexico, the Arabian Sea, the backwaters of Kerala and the Sea of Andaman, I hired boats, and usually crews becdause I'm still not a very confident sailor. I'm okay at haauling on sheets and even taking in sail, but I can't navigate to save my life, or anyone else's. Friends will tell you, usually without prompting, that I couldn't navigate my way round Sainsbury's. This is slightly unfair. I'm okay in Sainsbury's.
If you click on Blog you can read about the research and writing of the books, some of the travelling involved, and something of the private lives and secret histories on which they are based. I hope to make this a regular column and to include feedback from readers.
And, of course, there are the books...