Confessions of a newbie historical author
First off I feel that title requires clarification. I’m not a newbie author, I have 11 contemporary novels, novellas, and short stories to my name and 1 contemporary paranormal. The paranormal is a past lives story and has historical elements, so I already knew a lot of work would be required to get this new book right, I just didn’t realise how much would be needed to get it to a point I was happy with.
Under the Radar started life about 10 years ago—long before my first book was published in 2012—after a visit to the Submarine Museum at Gosport. The cramped quarters and claustrophobic atmosphere would be perfect for a developing love affair my brain provided as a crusty former submariner escorted our party around the A class in dry dock. A forbidden love. The A class was a post-war, pre-nuclear vessel, but if I placed my characters in an earlier class submarine there would be a war on and… and the seed of the idea for Under the Radar was born.
But while the first draft with plot and characters came easy, later drafts became progressively more difficult. I knew how cramped quarters were with a handful of tourists but how many men were crammed onboard, where did they sleep, what did it smell like, sound like, all those men talking, whistling, all those machines running. The lack of water, the stink of diesel, the carbon dioxide.
BOOM. *This was my brain, exploding.*
What had I done?
But I loved this story, the very bones of it. I wanted it to be as good as it could be. I watched old black and white movies where everyone spoke like David Niven (including David Niven). I read websites where people reminisced about their war, and I tried to catch the flavour of the times. I thought I had it right.
It was late 2014. I submitted to a publisher. By early 2015 I was back where I started. It wasn’t good enough. Didn’t feel historically accurate enough. Despondent I put it to one side, sent it to one of my most trusted betas for their opinion and concentrated on something else. Six months later, with beta comments in hand, I dusted off my melancholy and pulled up my big person pants. I could do this.
I pulled books from the library; The Sea Wolves, in particular, provided me with snippets of life on a wartime submarine that helped immensely, not just with the way they lived but the way they spoke and acted. I added something of a redemption arc, because believe me Zachary is not the nicest character at the beginning of the book. I got a Royal Navy specialist to help point out where I was going wrong. I bought Navy officer and ratings handbooks. A copy of Jackspeak. I went back to the submarine museum with a son now as tall as the men I was writing about (they grow a lot in 8 years—son’s, that is) and got perspective as he hit his head, ducked through doorways, measured himself against the tiny berths, and pondered whether he could fit his broad shoulders into the solitary tiny shower.
The more I read the more I wanted to say. I scrapped over 25,000 words of superfluous stuff and added more and more details of Navy life. I was still adding and rewriting in March. Honestly, I could have played around with this story forever. Finally, Clare (London) put her foot down, eased the metaphorical pen from my hand, and said ‘No more. It’s ready.”
And she was right. It’s done and I’m happy. It has the perfect cover (thanks Tif). It still has the romance that was an integral part of the first draft, but now that slides in alongside into the story of the spies and life on a submarine, rather than the submarine being a backdrop to the romance.
I don’t expect every reader to like Zachary, he’s a bit of a bastard after all, but I do hope the one thing they feel is that I’ve done the era and people justice. These were ordinary people, who managed to do extraordinary things.
It’s 1942 and after a sexual indiscretion, US Navy pilot Zachary MacKenzie is sent to serve in the Royal Navy’s submarine service—a shockingly harsh punishment for a man who loves to fly. The submarine is oppressive and frustrating for him, and he’s marked out from his peers, publicly by being American, and privately by his attraction to men.
The only bright spot is the company of his steward, sonar operator Gethin Llewelyn. Despite the differences of rank and background, they’re drawn to each other. Gethin’s integrity complements Zach’s casual joie de vivre, and soon the friendship develops into something much more.
As the threats of war increase, the submarine is plagued by potentially hostile vessels, and circumstances lead them to suspect there’s a spy amongst their own crew. Being forced even closer together as they work for the greater good reveals a new awareness, and Zach doesn’t know what is in more danger, the vessel under his charge or his heart.
“From Polari to Polaris, it’s never been just the nice girls who love a sailor. Lillian Francis effortlessly evokes the claustrophobia and camaraderie of life—and forbidden love—aboard a WW2 submarine.” – JL Merrow
Lillian Francis is a self-confessed geek who likes nothing more than settling down with a comic or a good book, except maybe writing. Given a notepad, pen, her Kindle, and an infinite supply of chocolate Hob Nobs and she can lose herself for weeks. Romance was never her reading matter of choice, so it came as a great surprise to all concerned, including herself, to discover a romance was exactly what she’d written, and not the rollicking spy adventure or cosy murder mystery she always assumed she’d write.
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