Navigating Literary Horizons with Paul Weston – A Seafarer’s Odyssey in Writing and Engineering

Embark on a literary voyage through the balancing act of Paul Weston’s dual life – a mechanical engineer by day and historical fiction writer by night. Discover how his technical career enriches his storytelling and provides unique insights into the non-literary world.

Certain authors emerge as unique voices, weaving tales that draw from the rich tapestry of their diverse life experiences. Paul Weston, a seasoned merchant seaman, mechanical engineer, and prolific inventor, stands at the helm of this literary voyage.

Paul Weston’s journey unfolds like a well-crafted narrative. Eleven years navigating tankers, offshore oil support vessels, and ferries with the BP Tanker Company provided the raw material for his maritime tales. After earning a mechanical engineering degree, Weston’s career evolved from the Bermuda Electric Light Company to Lloyds Register Technical Investigation Department. His entrepreneurial spirit led to the establishment of Weston Antennas Ltd, a venture spanning the design, manufacturing, and installation of large satellite earth station antennas globally. Today, he sails new seas in his role at Yunex Traffic in Poole.

However, Weston’s narrative prowess doesn’t end with his professional endeavors. Sailing since childhood, he has embarked on daring voyages across the Atlantic, to the Azores, and through the Mediterranean with his wife Sally. His vessels, from a 26-foot home-designed boat to the current 40-foot aluminium lift keel yacht named Kim, have become vessels not just on the water but carriers of his stories.

In this exclusive interview with Reader’s House magazine, Weston shares insights into the intricate interplay between his maritime adventures and literary creations. The trilogy of “Weymouth Bound,” “Not by Sea,” and the thrilling “Cape Corse” delve into historical waters, inspired by personal experiences and a keen sense of history.

As a storyteller, Weston masterfully navigates the currents between his technical career and passion for historical fiction. His reflections on the balance between engineering precision and literary creativity reveal the intricate parallels between crafting a narrative and designing an invention.

“Cape Corse,” inspired by a 2022 Corsican odyssey, stands as a testament to Weston’s ability to blend vivid personal experiences with historical intrigue. The tale unfolds against the backdrop of a thrilling naval operation against Napoleon, seamlessly merging fiction with the accurately depicted geography of Corsica.

Sailing enthusiasts and literary connoisseurs alike will be drawn into Weston’s intricate descriptions of maritime actions. His vivid accounts of impending boardings in “Not by Sea” resonate with authenticity, drawing from his own encounters on the open water.

Meet Jack Stone, a character from “Weymouth Bound,” whose life takes a dramatic turn after the capture of the merchant ship Cicely. Weston unveils the inspirations behind this character and the imaginative scenarios that drive his historical narratives.

In a thoughtful exploration, Weston draws parallels between the creative processes in writing fiction and his experiences as a prolific inventor. Both endeavors share the common thread of imagination, design, complexity, review, and the ultimate test of audience reception.

The interview provides a glimpse into Weston’s latest vessel, Kadash, a 42-foot aluminium lift keel sailing yacht. This new addition to his maritime fleet brings a fresh perspective, influencing his understanding of maritime history and storytelling.

Paul Weston’s commitment to historical accuracy shines through as he shares his writing process. Immerse yourself in his world of extensive research, where history becomes a living, breathing entity intertwined seamlessly with fictional narratives.

As we sail through the pages of this interview, one can’t help but wonder about the horizons yet unexplored by this multi-talented author. Weston hints at future projects, including forays into science fiction and non-fiction about machines, promising readers new and exciting literary landscapes to discover.

Embark on this literary voyage with Paul Weston, a wordsmith and mariner whose stories navigate the seas of history, engineering, and imagination.

Can you share some insights into your experiences as a merchant seaman, and how did those experiences influence your writing in the books “Weymouth Bound,” “Not by Sea,” and “Cape Corse”?

I was an apprentice, and then an engineer officer with the BP Tanker Company.  Although the ships I worked on were very different from those in my books, the people and the way they work together probably haven’t changed much. 

Given your background in mechanical engineering and your work in various fields, how do you manage to balance your technical career with your passion for writing historical fiction?

I think writers should have experience of the ‘non-literary’ world.  Working as an engineer restricts my writing time, but gives me an insight into the wider world.  I have more license as a writer than I do as an engineer a writer can make things up and the only consequence is the waste of time.  Engineering mistakes, in contrast, can have serious consequences.  Real structures can fail, real money can be lost.

Most of my writing is done in the evening – even a few hundred words is a useful contribution.  Even if the output isn’t great, I usually feel that I have made some progress.

Your sailing experiences seem to have played a significant role in your life. How have your voyages, especially the recent four-year journey with your wife Sally, inspired or influenced the themes in your books?

Sailing has very much influenced my writing.  It helps me when I describe the sensation of the way of the ship in a seaway, or the feeling of wind and spray, or to imagine how the ships I describe would perform in particular situations.

“Cape Corse” seems to involve a thrilling naval operation against Napoleon. Can you tell us more about the historical events that inspired this particular story and how you incorporated accurate historical details into the narrative?

Cape Corse was inspired by out 2022 trip to Corsica.  Calvi’s citadel emerging from the darkness as we made our landfall was unforgettable.  To the sailor, Corsica is slightly forbidding, but it is a wonderful place with a complex history.  It was owned by the Genoese for several centuries, as evidenced by their round towers they built on every headland to deter Barbary corsairs.  Much of the action in the book takes place in Macinaghiu, a small port in the north of Corsica, where we stayed for several days.  A although the Battle of Macinhagiu is entirely fictional, the geography of the place is accurately described.  Sometimes my imagination runs parallel to historical reality – the plot of Cape Corse involves raising a Corsican regiment for the British Army, and I was startled to find when I had nearly finished the book that there really was such a regiment. 

In “Not by Sea,” you describe a tense moment of impending boarding. How did your own sailing experiences contribute to the authenticity of such scenes, and what challenges did you face in accurately depicting maritime action?

My description of Snowden leading his boarders through the stern windows of the French frigate is heavily influenced by Nelson’s account of boarding the Spanish San Nicolás at the Battle of Cape St Vincent “A soldier of the 69th Regiment having broken the upper quarter-gallery window, I jumped in myself, and was followed by others as fast as possible…”  Snowden’s fearlessness in action is also modelled to a certain extent by Nelson’s behaviour.  The way in which the ships collide and are entangled is very much informed by my experience of sailing.

Your book “Weymouth Bound” introduces the character Jack Stone, whose life changes after the merchant ship Cicely is captured. What inspired this specific storyline, and how did you develop the character of Jack Stone?

The storylines of my books come from thinking of myself in historical situations, imagining how I would have fought historical wars.  How would a smuggler who had a nasty run in with the Revenue try to get his son away from the trade?  How could a brilliant Frenchman strike a blow for France with limited resources.  I was an apprentice on a merchant ship, and I thought Jack Stone’s father might indenture him to a merchant ship master, and I thought the Frenchman might see an opportunity to kidnap the King from the Weymouth promenade.

As a prolific inventor with several patents, how do you find the creative process in writing fiction differs from your experiences in inventing and designing?

A very perceptive question.  Writing fiction is a creative process, but so is engineering, and the creative processes are essentially the same. 

I use imagination to create the basic outline of a story, and as I write, the story becomes more complex as I put myself into the minds of the characters, and deal with the situations in which they find themselves.  As an engineer, I conceive a product, and make a preliminary design.  As I consider the uses the product will be put to, the forces acting on it, its cost, and the customers’ requirements, the design becomes more complex.  The completed story must be reviewed and edited, in the same way that an engineering design must be reviewed and modified.  The final stage is customer reaction.  Does the return justify the time and money spent on the creative process?  I can say “it was an excellent book, but the foolish readers did not appreciate it” or “it is a wonderful product, but the customers thought it didn’t address their needs”.  I might be right in so saying, but if they don’t buy the book, or the product, it is hard to justify starting the next book or developing the next product.

I am lucky enough to have some ability in both writing and engineering.  I don’t believe that one is more creative than the other, or which gives me the most satisfaction.

Your latest boat, Kadash, is a 42-foot aluminium lift keel sailing yacht. How has owning and sailing different vessels influenced your perspective on maritime history and storytelling?

Sailing different boats has influenced my perspective.  I was lucky enough to be brought up in a family which had a wooden gaffer, a Scottish “Fifie” fishing boat, giving me an insight into how traditional vessels are built, maintained and sailed.  When I was a teenager, my father, with some assistance from me, built a 26’ sailing boat, designing it in a very traditional way by building a small model and then scaling it up to full size.  Sailing this boat across the Atlantic was a formative experience.  I have sailed in nearly all the places I describe in my books, allowing me to imagine the experience of handling sailing ships in these locations.

Can you share some insights into your writing process? How do you approach researching historical details and weaving them into your fiction without sacrificing the narrative flow?

I have read obsessively but indiscriminately from an early age, giving me an understanding of history, and also ideas of what I think makes a good book.  I use online resources, and visit museums.  I try to be historically accurate, but prefer to set fictional events set against a real historical background, rather than insert my own characters into actual historical events, or view actual historical events from the viewpoint of those involved.  History flows, and I hope my narrative flows with it! 

With your extensive background in sailing, mechanical engineering, and historical research, do you have any plans to explore different genres or themes in your future writing projects?

Yes, I do.  I have written factual pieces for sailing magazines, and I would like to try my hand at science fiction as I don’t usually find modern science fiction very enthralling.  I am enthralled by what I might call the romance of engineering, and I would like to write non-fiction about machines which many people, not only engineers, hold dear to their hearts.

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By Paul Weston

Britain is at war with Napoleonic France, and Lieutenant Snowden RN is sent to Bermuda to commission a fast cedar built schooner, Oleander.  After an eventful trip across the Atlantic, the damaged ship is repaired in Plymouth, allowing Snowden to return to his nearby family estate, which is very neglected.  Snowden resolves a legal dispute with the assistance of a house guest, Julia White.

Repaired, Oleander sails to Deptford on the Thames where her performance is assessed in sea trials using newly developed scientific instruments. 

In the Mediterranean, the short lived Corsican Republic has been defeated by the French, and Pasquale Paoli, the Republic’s leader, is in exile in London.  Snowden and Oleander are sent to Corsica to support a delicate and dangerous operation which could be of considerable assistance in defeating Bonaparte, a mission in which Julia White, actually a Corsican, is heavily involved.

After an encounter with Barbary corsairs, Oleander lands a party on Corsica and proceeds to Malta.  The shore party, commanded by Captain Burney and armed with the new Baker rifles, has a very hard time on Corsica, with several battles against the French.

Failing to get reinforcements in Malta, Oleander returns to Corsica, to discover that the shore party is besieged in a small port near Cape Corse.  Snowden uses Oleander close inshore against the French Army.

Snowden takes Oleander into the Bay of Marseilles to exchange a prisoner held in the grim Chateau d’If.

In this fast moving, historically accurate and complex novel, the author evokes the era of the Napoleonic wars, set as they were against the background of scientific progress and the nascent Industrial Revolution.

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