Author spotlight - Peter C Smith

Posted on Thursday 14th March 2013

Your title Heritage of the Sea was published at the beginning of this year, tell us more about it.
The book gives descriptions, along with full colour photographs many taken by myself, of the most famous ships, both Royal Navy and Mercantile, which have been preserved for the nation all around the United Kingdom. The Victory, Cutty Sark, Discovery, Great Britain, Belfast, Cavalier and Warrior are there of course, but a whole host of other ships that made their mark on the history of this island nation and have survived the breakers yard, are there. They deserve to be visited and they form a unique insight into our glorious sea-going past, now, alas, just a fading memory. I first wrote this book back in 1974, and since that time many ships that were included then, have been scrapped for various reasons. They will never be seen again and it is hoped that my book will, in its own small way, help to ensure that such needless loss does not occur again.

How did your interest in this area come about?
I have always been interested in ships and the sea and especially the maritime history of Great Britain. Once, not too long ago, our nation took pride in both its Royal Navy and in its Merchant Navy and both were the world’s largest. Since 1922 that solid foundation has steadily been eroded by uncaring politicians and short-sightedness and now only a tiny proportion of citizens could name any of the ships in this book. Four hundred years of history has been collectively erased from the nation’s education and common memory. I have attempted to preserve the history of many of these vessels in other books, and this volume brings all those still on view, together in one collection and souvenir for posterity.

You have written many books over the years, what inspired you to begin writing?
As a lad I detested school – the more I showed interest in History, Geography and English, the more they tried to cram my head with Algebra, Maths and Geometry, subjects that I abhorred. I only had one ambition, to get away and go to sea. However, fate, via poor eyesight, decreed otherwise and after two attempts to join up and being rejected I decided that, if I could not join the Navy then I would write about it.
I chose one small ship, the wartime destroyer HMS Faulknor, as my subject and researched her and spoke to her former crew members. I assembled her unknown story in detail. The result was Destroyer Leader, my first book published in 1968. I have continued to research and write subjects that I felt had been neglected by other historians ever since and, 76 books later and at an age of 72, am still finding fresh subjects to delve into and present to the world.

What challenges did you face (if any) when writing Heritage of the Sea?
No real challenges – most of those charged with the care of these famous vessels were of similar mind-set to myself and it was a pleasure for them to allow me to share their enthusiasm with my readers. Without that enthusiasm, plus dedication and their considerable skills and time, most of these ships would long have vanished. So for me it was a task undertaken with the greatest of pleasure.

What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?
I hope that some of my enthusiasm rubs off – also that, perhaps, the reader might come across ships that he or she had not realised still existed to be visited and enjoyed. They do not enjoy vast media attention (other than when things go amiss, like the fire aboard Cutty Sark) otherwise organisations like the BBC largely ignore them, which is a great pity. So I hope many of my readers will take the opportunity to follow in my footsteps and appreciate just what we have here.

Heritage of the Sea contains every major preserved ship in the UK, which ship did you enjoy researching the most and why?
I suppose the Cavalier. After all, she was a destroyer, and my writing career had started with destroyers and their history. Also, when she had paid off from the Royal Navy all those years ago, I had been the only writer aboard her for her final voyage up the Medway to Chatham Naval Base and I had been shown all over her then and had taken many photographs. Forty years on she was back at Chatham once more and so was I. They have done a magnificent job in restoring her to pristine condition and the long decades in between my visits seem to fall away. She is home and that, I felt, was how it should be. So it gave me much satisfaction.
Peter C Smith.

'After two failed attempts to join up and being rejected I decided that if I could not join the Navy then I would write about it.'

Can you offer any advice for any authors who are just starting out?
People often say to me how do you write a book? Many say they have an idea for a book how to go about it? To both questions my answer is invariably the same, just stop talking about and sit down and write it! If the result is bad nobody will publish it anyway and authorship is not for you, but if you take advice, listen and apply yourself, and above all, have faith in your ability and knowledge, it may happen. I have never self-published any of my books. Many have been initially rejected but, sometimes, decades later, their time has come and they have finally appeared in print. If a book is worth publishing, someone will publish it.

You have already had an extensive list of books published, are there any more in the pipeline?
Yes, a great many! For Pen and Sword I have just completed Cruise Ships 2 about the smaller Cruise Liners around the world today. I am working on a book about the Kamikaze attacks of the late Pacific War and another about the Japanese Zero fighter. Others on their way include Combat Biplanes of World War II and Sailors on the Rocks, the latter telling the stories of some of the famous shipwrecks of the Royal Navy down the centuries and how they came about. As long as I am able, I will continue to delve into obscure corners and ferret out facts others have ignored. It is what I do and, after 50 or more years, I still find it fascinating.

Further Reading

Heritage of the Sea
(Hardback - 176 pages)
ISBN: 9781848846463

by Peter C Smith
Only £25.00

During the period from Sir Francis Drake to the 21st century the naval power of Great Britain rose from that of an obscure island to that of a world-wide empire. British shipping and seamen dominated the globe for four centuries and the ships that explored the world and those which guarded them represent a unique treasure-house of maritime history, unrivalled anywhere in the world.

This book lists all the major vessels, from the Museum ships to the exhibitions and replicas all of them evoke pride and diversity…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

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