Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Dragon's Bride

"May 1816 The south coast of England

    The moon flickered briefly between windblown clouds, but such a thread-fine moon did no harm. It barely lit the men creeping down the steep headland toward the beach, or the smuggling master controlling everything from above. It lightened not at all the looming house that ruled the cliffs of this part of Devon -- Crag Wyvern, the fortresslike seat of the blessedly absent Earl of Wyvern.
         Absent like the riding officer charged with preventing smuggling in this area. Animal sounds -- an owl, a gull, a barking fox -- carried across the scrubby landscape, constantly reporting that all was clear.
         At sea, a brief flash of light announced the arrival of the smuggling ship. On the rocky headland, the smuggling master -- Captain Drake as he was called -- unshielded a lantern in a flashing pattern that meant "all clear."
         All clear to land brandy, gin, tea and lace. Delicacies for Englishmen who didn't care to pay extortionate taxes. Profit for smugglers, with tea sixpence a pound abroad and selling for twenty times that in England if all the taxes were paid."

My book The Dragon's Bride has just been reissued in trade paperback and e-book, and it involves smuggling in the period after Waterloo. Times were getting harder for the smugglers because the navy had excess men and ships to put against them, and ex-army officers often took jobs as Preventive Officers, though it was not a happy trade.

Many coastal communities supported their local smugglers, welcomed the tax-free goods, and were cold to the men sent to stop the trade. The tax on many items such as tea and brandy had been raised to ridiculous degrees, mostly to pay for the war, and even law-abiding people didn't see anything wrong in avoiding what they saw as outright thievery. Smuggling of this sort only ended when the government reduced the taxes to a level that people thought of as fair.

(The original cover, with modern wedding dress, complete with zipper!)

My hero, Con, is not a smuggler. He's an ex-military officer who's sternly set against the trade and sympathetic to the local Preventive Officer, also an ex military man. The only reason he gives the local smuggling band a break is because his ex-love Susan Kearslake is involved, and her brother is probably the local smuggling master.

When writing this book I traveled along the Dorset-Devon coast looking for a good location and settled on the interesting small fishing village of Beer, right on the border between the two counties. Old cottages and inns, looming headland, caves.... Ideal. The caves, BTW, exist because excellent stone was mined at Beer from the middle ages and Beer stone was used for much of Exeter Cathedral.

Alas, with all those attributes, smugglers had been there before my fictional ones, and when I researched I found that one of the most famous, Jack Rattenbury, had been operating there around the time of my story. I couldn't see a way to involve him in the book, so I changed the name, but kept most of the details the same.

Jack Rattenbury was famous because he left his memoirs, and you can read them on line. He starts his story this way.

"I Was born at Beer, in the county of Devon, in the year 1778. My father was by trade a shoemaker, but he went on board a man-of-war before I was born, and my mother never heard of him afterwards; she was, however, frugal and industrious, and by selling fish for our support, contrived to procure a livelihood without receiving the least assistance from the parish or any of her friends. Beer, where we resided, lying open to the sea, I was continually by the water-side; and as almost all I saw or heard was connected with that element, I early acquired a partiality for it, and determined, almost from my infancy, when I grew up, to be a sailor. When I was about nine years of age I asked my uncle to let me go fishing with him, to which he consented; and as there was another lad about the same age who went with us, we were continually trying to outvie each other in feats of skill and dexterity. I mention this circumstance, as I conceive it had a considerable effect in deciding the cast of my character, and probably influenced many of the subsequent events of my life."

 You can read more about Rattenbury and smuggling in general here.

 What about the vicious thugs? They definitely existed, but the smart smugglers realized that they needed the local people on side, both to help with handling the goods and with deceiving and deflecting the poor Preventive men. Rattenbury was part of the community and ended up owning a tavern in Beer. I based my heroine's father, the smuggling master Melchisadeck Clyst, on Jack Rattenbury, except that Mel was caught and transported to Australia. I feel sure that he did well over there, however, as Rattenbury would have done.

The Dragon's Bride was a RITA finalist, and you can read more of the beginning here.

It's part of a trilogy called Three Heroes, and the first story, a novella called The Demon's Mistress, is available as an e-book special.

In the UK, you can buy both in a print copy or e-book on line, though right at this moment the e-edition seems to have disappeared! I'm in pursuit.
To buy a print copy from Amazon, go here.

Know any good smuggling fiction? I think I remember Dr. Syn. Am I right?

Visit my website here.

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