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Time Travelling Aboard HMS Lady Nelson!

Updated: 3 days ago

How I researched 'Fifty Degrees South.'


Hello again!


After reading my novels, ‘Fifty Degrees South’ and ‘Protocol,’ some readers asked whether I’d ever served in the navy.

The answer is yes, but only in my imagination, and the navy was the Royal Navy in the early 1800s.

Aboard The Lady Nelson

This is due to the brilliant 20-novel series about the Napoleonic war by Patrick O'Brian. Over the past fifteen years, I've read all of the books, some of them three times. One of the best of the series was made into the movie, 'Master and Commander: The far side of the world.' But in researching 'Fifty Degrees South,' I got far more hands on than just reading. I had the pleasure of sailing on a replica of HMS Lady Nelson, a two-masted brig built in 1799, and which is actually referred to in Patrick O’Brian’s fifth novel, ‘Desolation Island.’


On board the ship, I thought of the story in 'Fifty Degrees South,' and did my best to time-travel in my mind to the Atlantic Ocean in 1803. I imagined the ship in the throes of a sea battle.

I heard the shattering boom of each broadside. I saw the smoke drift through the sails. And I heard the gunner bawling at the gun crews to reload, damn your eyes.

And if I really tried, I could imagine the cannonballs curving away over the sea towards their target, which was not an enemy ship, but a dark and mysterious shape concealed by the low clouds, a cable length from the port bow.

Until next time,

M.M. Holt




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tonyarcher88
Jun 27

Dear MM Holt,

I really enjoyed 50 degrees South, it also motivated me to read a book by David Grann the Wager. He nearly writes as well as you, his description of sailing around Cape Horn was terrifying, and helped me to better appreciate the challenges to Alex Burn's grandfather sailing in the dangerous Southern ocean. You have motivated me to also read some Patrick O'Brien novels. BTW congratulations on Octavia, i loved all four books of the Burns Series, but feel Octavia maybe the best. Nevertheless, i am dying to reconnect with Alex Burns, the Jack Reacher of Sci Fi. I guess you need a break from writing for a while, but when you have had a well ea…

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mmholt548
Jun 29
Replying to

Dear Tony,


Thanks for your kind remarks about ‘Fifty Degrees South’ and ‘Octavia.’ I’m so glad you enjoyed them and took the time to say so in your very astute reviews on amazon and Goodreads.


‘The Wager.' Yes, what an amazing story. The passage around Cape Horn must have been a long and terrifying ordeal of constant heavy seas, and the threat of death with every roll of the ship. The author, David Grann has meticulously researched shipboard life at the time. HIs attention to detail makes the story even more fascinating.


The Patrick O’Brien novels! Yes, they are a real treat. Some critics say they are the best historical novels ever written. Fans of the series are devoted. I’ve…


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Bill Schwan
Bill Schwan
Mar 26

Must be nice to have a ship you can base the story upon. I had to design the ship , engines, the physics they operate upon and then modify the gravity generator to allow for the compression of space time so the trip does not take forty years. Thanks for sharing your experience. It is helpful to other writers.

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mmholt548
Jun 29
Replying to

Hi Bill,


Yes, a visit to a working, eighteenth century sailing ship was invaluable. I enjoyed spending time aboard the Lady Nelson and I even got to join the crew in some of the manoeuvres. A great experience!


The ship in your story sounds fascinating. You have obviously thought long and hard about the ship’s operation and construction. I’m sure you readers will appreciated the attention to detail.


Best regards, M.M. Holt

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