CSF writing ‘Hornblower and the Hotspur’

When CSF first wrote a book, in 1920, he had given up his medical career. He did not plan every stage before he sat down.  He let the plot develop itself. Even his first really successful novel, “Payment Deferred” mostly wrote itself bit by bit. He had a resolution: “..never to write a word I did not want to write”.  He didn’t know about lengths of novels, he started writing 6,000 words a day, his second, 2,000 words per day but reverted to 1,000. Mostly he handwrote his books and got a friend to typewrite them. “A novel made up as I go along is weak, episodic, somewhat incoherent”. He discovered the end is more important than the middle.

“The Pied Piper is BAD!” In his third novel, about three errors by Napoleon, he discovered: “When writing a novel, if it is realised at the start that certain characters for the sake of the plot must be in a certain place at a certain time (plans) for getting them there are devised early on.. a few good passages but glaring weaknesses”, “I am constitutionally unable to make corrections in my finished work!”  “I MUST HAVE THE BOOK WORKED OUT ACCURATELY TO THE LAST DETAIL BEFORE STARTING WORK ON IT”. And he did sell some verse.

He learnt to type, using a battered old machine whose ribbon didn’t turn properly, and he had to move it every few words – when he remembered. He typed “Josephine” (Napoleon’s lady), on this machine. Before the eventual success of “Payment Deferred”, he wrote several biographies, which were more successful than his “Nelson” – he actually didn’t like the other books.. and he wrote successfully (financially) for travel companies and the like.

The Hornblower novels came rather later, when he was a successful author, and were definitely not written in sequence. That’s why there are occasional little blips.

But by the time he wanted to write HORNBLOWER AND THE HOTSPUR, most of the Hornblower saga was complete.

But he DID have some holes to fill, between 1803 and his appearance in late 1805 on the Thames and Severn canal.. as several helpful friendly writers informed him!


Can anyone think of a hole?

First, Maria. Hornblower had to marry Maria, who loved and admired him passionately. He didn’t love her. She was NOT ideal, although he acknowledged that she was a sharp enough person under her modest and frankly unsuitable appearance. And with an awful mother-in-law!  Hornblower did not have the same problem with Lady Barbara later on..

So he marries her, with the assistance of Bush and members of his crew – and Lord Cornwallis.

What else had to happen to him?  In command, he had to develop his ship handling skills, and his navigation, and his fighting technique, all in pretty mixed weather, summer and winter, very close to the enemy shore.

He also had to be sufficiently successful to get promoted, despite having no influence at the Admiralty.

He had to develop his man management skills, especially with junior officers like his Sailing Master, Prowse. The Master was eventually to be done away with, and the title of Navigating Officer introduced. The Master had been responsible strictly for ship handling and navigation, but Hornblower would allow his Master to go only so far.

(Nelson before Copenhagen got all his Masters together to advise him on how to approach the shore batteries, shallows and currents around Copenhagen’s harbour – not his Captains.  Trafalgar was another matter).

More holes! He and Maria had to have a second baby, so that meant time on leave in England. He also couldn’t make any prize money, so the ships he must fight had to be destroyed or to escape. By chance the Spanish treasure fleet timing was perfect.

Could Forester “impart a little joy into her (Maria)? Hornblower was serving in the Channel Fleet, and Hornblower was Hornblower.. an otherwise joyless life?  Almost none. There was a war on.  In the face of that combination of circumstances there was little I could do for her.. Maria was a butterfly crushed between the grinding surfaces of fact and fiction”.

HORNBLOWER and the HOTSPUR has excellent sailing descriptions,  various battles, good characters, and knowledge of his ship – which drew for example, 17 feet aft. All very important in the very tricky approaches to Brest – see the chart.

And at the end of the book, he has to be promoted to Post Captain: which will mean leaving Bush and HOTSPUR.

So a tricky book to write, even if he did work out what was to happen before he started work!


Ken Napier


Primary source:

LONG BEFORE FORTY, and THE HORNBLOWER COMPANION written thirty years later.


Hornblower and the Hotspur – Ebook from enetpress.com


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