Author Interview: Patrick G Cox

I really enjoy time-travel books, the standard format being a present day person travels back in time. Harry Heron: Into the Unknown is a neat twist on the time travel genre. Characters from the Napoleonic era are transported hundreds of years into the future. 
"Harry Heron: into the unknown", author Patrick G Cox, book cover designed by Kura Carpenter

In 1804 the Napoleonic Wars rage. A freak accident during a sea battle catapults Midshipman Harry Heron and his shipmates four hundred years into the future.

Today I'm interviewing author Patrick G Cox to discuss his novel Harry Heron: Into the Unknown.  
It’s a cliché to ask an author where they got their idea from, but I love the Harry Heron: Into the Unknown premise so I must ask: where did you get the reverse time-travel idea? Taking characters from history and sending them into the future?

The idea originally came from the realisation that my grandfather’s generation had seen horse and cart/carriage replaced by steam engines, then internal combustion engines, flimsy flying machines, airliners and the space ships that took men to the moon. So I wondered what they might have learned, and what they might have known or been able to do which most people today would not be able to do. I was surprised by just how much we take for granted, but which they would have needed to have either special skills or knowledge to do. When I came across an article about how we, as a species, lose skills with each ‘convenient’ leap in our technology, the concept of Harry and his friends leaping forward was born.

Although there must be a lot of resources for researching sailing ships of the Napoleonic wars, how exactly did you go about researching (or creating) space ships?

As you say, there are loads of resources for researching sailing ships, not so many when you want to ‘create’ a ship capable of interstellar transport. Obviously there are loads of concepts in many science fiction stories, and, of course, there are a lot of concepts from the scientific world as well. I based my concept ships on the big nuclear submarines operated by several navies. These ships are self-contained to the extent that their only limitation is the capacity for carrying consumable stuff like food, and the endurance of the crew. Remove those limits by making the ship big enough and give it the means to produce food, perhaps by means of having a ‘green lung’ that doubles as a oxygen producing filter and food production, and couple that with recycling of water and water recovery and suddenly the only limitation becomes the crew endurance.

Patrick Cox's Harry Heron: Into the Unknown is a great sci-fi book, combining characters from the great age of sail with a future we can easily imagine.” - Amazon reviewer 

Researching such a ship involves not just the ship, but the possible controls, manoeuvring, power sources and the things that would limit it. So you have to look at a range of things including some that exist only in concept, and others that are already being developed. It gets quite challenging in a way because technology that was a ‘concept’ yesterday could be reality by tomorrow. A good example is my concept of ships run, under human command, by Artificial Intelligence systems that make them ‘self-aware’. When I started writing these stories AI was a ‘dream’ pursued by some to the amusement of others. Now it is slowly becoming a reality, and I suspect that we are not far from creating an AI that is truly independent and intelligent.

What are some of the historical references you used when researching this novel?

The obvious historical reference material is drawn from the naval histories of the Napoleonic war. France maintained a squadron in the Indian Ocean, based primarily on Mauritius (then called Ile d’France) which preyed on the British East India Company’s ships. The Dutch were also active, based on the Cape and Java, and this forced Britain to maintain their own squadrons in India and Ceylon, and the Honourable East India Company maintained its own ‘Navy’, the Bombay Marine, in the Indian Ocean, so I drew on a lot of that, plus a lot of the social history of Ireland and its relationship with Britain in providing Harry and Ferghal with their own ‘history’.

Since ‘history’ shapes and sometimes informs the future, I have tried to use current ‘history in the making’ to project a possible future world shaped by the politics, commerce and so on of the present. One aspect of that is to remember that history tends to repeat certain trends at fairly regular intervals, largely because we have a tendency to forget the failures and the reasons for them. Particularly in politics.

So the answer to your question is ‘many sources’, which include national history, military history, demographic studies, political trends and people.

Who is your favourite new character introduced in Harry Heron: Into the Unknown?

Hmmm. I think I’d have to say Harry’s twelve times great-nephew, the Commodore James Heron, but it’s a difficult choice, and there are several other candidates including the Surgeon-Commander Len Myers and ‘Aunt’ Niamh, Harry’s twelve times great-niece …

What would Harry, the main character, have to say about you?

Something good, I would hope! I suspect that he would say I had set him some very difficult goals, and sent him and his friends on a very exciting adventure.

Anyone reading Shakespeare’s four hundred year-old scripts can see the way we communicate changes. How did you work around the issues of language? Did the historical characters and the future people understand each other?

That was a challenge. In similar books (though with the switch usually going the other way) it is one of those things that is ignored. It is very difficult to see how our language will develop in the next two hundred years, let alone four hundred. We can already see how texting and ‘street slang’ is changing the way we speak. What I attempted to do in the opening chapters was to indicate that the accents had changed sufficiently for it to be difficult to understand each other, but then eased up on it as the story developed and implied that Harry and Co had adapted to the new version of the language. In the beginning of the story Harry finds he recognises some words, but has difficulty understanding everything. He thinks the people in his new surroundings are speaking French …

Harry Heron: Into the Unknown is a neat twist on the time travel genre. Characters from the Napoleonic era are transported hundreds of years into the future.

And finally, what are you working on currently?

I have two projects on the go. I’m in the process of publishing a work of biographical fiction titled Magnus Patricius. It is based on the life of one Magnus Sucatus Patricius — better known as St Patrick. I started research this book almost eight years ago, and I quickly discovered that once you get past the legends and mythology, a very modest, but very tough and determined man emerges. He left us two documents written by himself, and a wealth of material undoubtedly based on other writings now lost to us, but I have used his ‘Declaration’ as the framework for this story.

The second project is to get the sequels to Harry Heron: Into the Unknown ready for publication. Watch this space, the next one will, I hope be published early next year.

That sounds very interesting, Pat. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today.

Patrick Gray Cox is a writer that combines his love of Historical Fiction with Science Fiction writing; a mix of CS Forester and Isaac Asimov. 

Cox is the author of A Baltic Affair, a popular historical romance Limehouse Boys, which takes readers to the grimy, gritty streets of the East End of London in the 1830s and follows the struggles of three orphans caught up in a web of crime, corruption in high places and poverty.

Harry Heron: Midshipman's Journey, the first book in the Harry Heron series. Harry Heron; Into the Unknown is the sequel.

And if you liked the Harry Heron: Into the Unknown book cover I designed for Patrick G Cox and are looking for a custom design for your novel Please click here: Kura CarpenterBook Cover Designer for Hire to find out more. 

"Harry Heron: into the unknown", author Patrick G Cox, book cover designed by Kura Carpenter

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