Interview with David Wesley Hill, author of At Drake's Command


Publisher: Temurlone Press 

Publish Date: November 2012

Order From:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: It was as fine a day to be whipped as any he’d ever seen but the good weather didn’t make Peregrine James any happier with the situation he was in. Unfairly convicted of a crime he had not committed, the young cook was strung from the whipping post on the Plymouth quay side when he caught the eye of Francis Drake and managed to convince the charismatic sea captain to accept him among his crew.

Soon England was receding in their wake and Perry was serving an unsavory collection of sea dogs as the small fleet of fragile wood ships sailed across the brine. Their destination was secret, known to Drake alone. Few sailors believed the public avowal that the expedition was headed for Alexandria to trade in currants. Some men suspected Drake planned a raid across Panama to attack the Spanish in the Pacific. Others were sure the real plan was to round the Cape of Storms to break the Portuguese monopoly of the spice trade. The only thing Perry knew for certain was that they were bound for danger and that he must live by his wits if he were to survive serving at Drake’s command.


Author Interview: Q. Please tell us about your current release.

At Drake’s Command tells the story of Peregrine James, a young cook in Plymouth, England, who signs aboard the Pelican, a galleon commanded by Francis Drake, in 1577. The Pelican is the flagship of a fleet of five vessels bound ostensibly for Alexandria to trade in currants. Soon, however, Perry learns that the real destination of the adventure lies elsewhere, although the exact particulars are secret. Some men suspect Drake is planning a raid across Panama to attack the Spanish in the Pacific. Others are sure the real plan is to round the Cape of Storms to break the Portuguese monopoly of the spice trade.  As the expedition sails down the coast of Africa toward the Cape Verde Islands, however, one thing becomes very clear to  Perry: He has joined a pirate band rather than a peaceful company of merchants. And after being kidnapped by Moors, marooned in Barbary, and hung three times from the mainmast spar, it also becomes clear to him that it is unwise to be both insignificant and expendable when you are serving so perilous a master as Captain Francis Drake.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your book? Can you tell us about the journey that led you to write your book?

In 1999 I was one of the winners of the Writers of the Future Contest, which was created by L. Ron Hubbard, who was a science fiction writer before he founded the religion of Scientology. Each year winners of the contest are invited to Los Angeles for a black-tie awards ceremony and a week-long writing workshop conducted by a professional science fiction writer.

Hubbard believed in research. Thus one morning we were let loose in the aisles of the LA Library to browse the shelves in search of inspiration. I was mildly interested in pirates and began reading a facsimile edition of The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake.

This was not written by Drake himself but published by a nephew thirty years after Drake’s death in an effort to keep alive Drake’s reputation. While thumbing through the book, I came across an interesting passage:

On an island off the coast of Patagonia, Drake charged one of his crew with  treason and mutiny. Forty men were chosen as jurors and a trial was held. The accused, Thomas Doughty, was found guilty. Drake gave Doughty three options:

"Whether you would take," he asked Doughty, "to be executed in this island? Or to be set a land on the main? Or to return into England, there to answer for your deeds before the lords of her majesty's council?"

To which Doughty replied: "Albeit I have yielded in my heart to entertain so great a sin as whereof now I am condemned, I have a care to die a Christian man . . . If I should be set a land among infidels, how should I be able to maintain this assurance? . . . And if I should return into England, I must first have a ship, and men to conduct it . . . and who would accompany me, in so bad a message? . . . Further, the very shame of the return would be as death, or more grievous if it were possible, because I would be so long a dying, and die too often. I profess with all my heart that I do embrace the first branch of your offer, desiring only this favor, that you and I might receive the holy communion again together before my death, and that I might not die, other than a gentleman's death."

Drake obliged. The next morning, after breakfasting and praying together, he cut off Doughty’s head. Then Drake held it up by the hair and said, “Lo, here be the end of traitors.”

Upon reading this, I said to myself, “This story cannot be true.” So I embarked on a course of research for the next four years to uncover what really happened on that bleak island (Drake called it the “Island of Truth and Justice” but the crew had another name for it: “The Island of Blood”). Eventually, I succeeded—at least, to my own satisfaction. My first inclination was to write a non-fiction book about the Doughty affair. I am, however, a fiction writer, so I decided to tell the tale in novel form.

Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about the book?

Frankly, no. I stand by every word in At Drake's Command and believe the story is well worth reading!

Q. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

The hardest part of writing At Drake's Command was doing the research. When I began the project back in the late nineties, the Internet was not as sophisticated as it is now. I had to hunt down physical copies of the source material I wished to review—much of which is on-line these days. Once I wrote to the British Library and had them send me photocopies of manuscripts pertinent to the voyage, and then I had to decipher the writing letter by letter, not an easy task but a thrilling one—it was an amazing experience to hold in my hands the actual signatures of the men about whom I was writing.

Q. Do you have a musical playlist you listen to when writing? If so, what kind of music?

While writing At Drake's Command, I immersed myself in Medieval and Renaissance music, particularly the work of Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, and, of course, John Dowland. The Sting album, Songs from the Labyrinth, is an exquisite paean to this immortal composer.

Q. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I can’t say that I have any real writing quirks. I like to simply shut myself away from all distraction and put my fingers to the keyboard.

Q. Do you plan any subsequent books?

Absolutely! At Drake's Command ends when the adventure is about to depart the Cape Verde islands. The story will be picked up in Desperate Bankrupts, which will take the adventure across the Atlantic to Patagonia, where Thomas Doughty is executed. Finally, Beyond Dreams of Avarice will complete the trilogy, returning the expedition to England laden with one of the greatest pirate treasures in history.

Q. Please tell us your latest news.

At Drake’s Command has been receiving many good reviews from readers and critics. A representative sample may be accessed from the publisher’s website, www.temurlonepress.com.

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Being the author, I am, of course, biased about the book’s qualities, but I can safely assure readers of an enjoyable entertainment. If you like historical fiction—if you like adventure—if you enjoy culinary flavor—then At Drake’s Command should be for you!



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