May 5, 2017 @ 11:23 PM

Seven sensible steps to success as a writer

Step 4 (Continued): Social landscapes

I mentioned the importance of landscape to literary research. And by that I mean not only the physical setting, but also the social landscape in which the action takes place.

Class, social morés, expectations, education, history … all can influence the inner and external life of any character. A visit to the locations will often provide the writer with important clues as to motive.


With Captain Cook’s Apprentice, for example, I often wondered why, having learned to sail with Cook and been at sea for twenty-three years, Admiral Isaac Manley never again commanded a ship after he became a post-captain in 1792.

Instead he married a wealthy heiress, bought a country estate, and all through the great naval years of Nelson remained a landlubber.

Well, after I spent a few days living in the elegant Georgian gothick house called Braziers that Isaac built in Oxfordshire, I could see pretty clearly why he stayed ashore. He'd gone back to his roots.


Isaac had spent two-thirds of his life at sea. As a second son he'd made and married his own fortune.

With his elegant new house I’ve little doubt Isaac wanted to enjoy it in the manner of his forebears, who'd also descended as younger sons from a landed family in Wales.

And who could blame him? Isaac Manley was one of those people on whom Fortune smiled throughout life.

He married his heiress. Received an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Laws from Oxford University. His elder brother died without issue, so that Isaac inherited the lot from their wealthy lawyer father.

And as I wandered through the comfortable rooms of Braziers, among the gardens, woods and fields of the property which is still very much a working estate, it occurred to me that, after twenty-three years at sea, I'd be quite content to drop anchor and remain in harbour there as well.

Next: Stone Mansions

Photos show me on board Endeavour during the research voyage, and Braziers' garden front.