9th May 2015: I have just heard
that Cdte Mario Rossetto, commander of the Italian submarine Finzi during the Second World War, died today. He was a great
help to me when i was writing 'Submarine', and I had the pleasure of meeting him in Milan and of corresponding with
him. He celebrated his one hundredth birthday in January.
A little bit about me....
I'm primarily a maritime and naval author, though
my books have included an illustrated history of Trafalgar Square, a companion to the Imperial War Museum's War Correspondent
exhibition, and the TV-tie in for Dan Snow's three-part Dig WW2, which took me into land conflict and air
warfare (though I had covered a century of naval aviation while writing Carrier) as well as naval aspects.
I've set up the website in order to provide information about my current and forthcoming books, post corrections and extra
information, and to build up a list of resources and material you may find useful. My most recent commission was
to co-edit Shipwright 2013, which came out in June (2013).
Occasionally people ask for advice on writing a history
book, and I am sure there are many people better qualified than me to provide it. But two things I would say from experience.
Firstly, there is a great deal of goodwill out there, certainly in the fields in which I have researched, and people will
help. When I started writing Marked for Misfortune I was terrified of letting anyone know what I was doing,
afraid that someone would steal the idea and beat me to completion of the research. Eventually it became essential.. Not only
did nobody steal the idea, I also received a lot of guidance. In writing subsequent books I never hesitated
to share problems with amateur and professional experts - and did not forget to give them an acknowledgement in the book for
their kindness.Secondly, if you are touching on historical subjects with a foreign dimension, it is essential to
have some level of competence in the appropriate foreign language(s), or a friend who can support you in that area. Many
books and most papers are written in English these days, and some will contain translations of key quotations from foreign
documents, but a reliance on English cuts you off from those earlier primary resources. Furthermore, if can actually
approach foreign experts in their own language, it can help to establish fruitful contact. Internet translators
have their uses but you need to be able to read the language reasonably well in order to check whether they have
translated your meaning accurately!
At the moment I am editing the memoirs of a Fleet Air Arm pilot
(who is also a good friend). and sporadically assisting an Italian documentary producer who is developing what
looks to be a really exciting project. I may not have any Italian blood in my veins, but I have plenty of Italian wine
in them, and I have long been attracted to all things Italian, including aspects of its naval history. I very much hope it
comes to fruition, but I know that the idea has to be 'sold' to the people who put content in front of the viewer,
especially foreign networks, in order to make any project financially viable.
You may be surprised to find a big
article about antique mercury barometers and the Ortelli family who made them, in BritainThis is my guilty pleasure. There
is something very special about these beautiful, unique and useful creations that were handcrafted and signed by
Italians who, more than two centuries ago, began crossing the Alps and travelling some 750 miles across Europe to
bring their skills to Britain. It's work in constant progress. It is also a chance to write in a friendly
style, with little digressions here and there, speculation, admissions of ignorance, not to mention well-intentioned promises
to find out missing information at some unspecified time in the vague future. Freed from all the commercial considerations
and pressures, I can indulge myself and, I hope, revive interest in, and acquisition of, mercury barometers. I have
also tried to show more than the fruits of research in their final form: I wanted to explain something of the process of research,
the false starts, the blanks, the way connections were made, the sources used and the thought processes involved, because
the research is, for me at least, the best part of it, the part that leaves a writer alternately frustrated or euphoric.