So, why Smugglers and Why the Hawkhurst Gang?
Living in Hawkhurst – a village on the Kent/Sussex Border, roughly halfway between Maidstone and Hastings – for a decade, and being a bit of a history buff, I soon encountered the story of the Hawkhurst Gang. As I read more into it, I soon realised that the reality was more shocking than the romantic view of smuggling in a lot of fiction.
I have always fancied myself as a writer, but projects had remained as half plotted, half written ideas, until my best fiend Jo persuaded me to sign up to Nanowrimo in 2009. I dug out what I knew about the Gang, and wrote an Initial 50,000 word draft of Staymaker. After it was finished, I realised that it was far too short, and so I looked deeper into the subject, and realising that I needed to do much more research to improve both the history and the writing!
So I did. I got a lot of material out of the trial accounts of Kingsmill et al (a fantastic website called Old Bailey online
has a lot of resource material in the form of actual trial transcripts), as well as three brilliant books on the subject*, and a number of Internet resources. Thus fleshed out, and woven back into a work of fiction, the editing began in earnest.
Most of the places in the book are still in existence today. The ‘Oak and Ivy’ Pub, on the Rye road was my local for many years (great beer and food by the way). Tom Kingsmill’s house, Highgate house, is now a public use building, and a playgroup meets there now. ‘The Mermaid’ in Rye is well known for its smuggling connection to the gang, but the Hawkhurst haunts less so. I wanted to make them known better (and since I started this project, a local history group unrelated to me) has tried to do just that.
This project has caused me to look more into the crime and punishment of the 1700-1750 period, and given my ideas for new projects, based on the villains of the period. It was a time with no formal police force (Indeed, the real Jake Pring was one of the first members of Fielding’s Bow Street Runners), so very different methods of solving crime were brought into play. It is that that interests me most – that and getting behind the romantic image of highwaymen such as “Blueskin’ and Turpin, ‘thief-takers’ like Wild, and, of course, smugglers such as Kingsmill and Ferial. I write what I like to read, which means gritty and violent novels to match the gritty and violent times.
Staymaker, and the short stories that act as a prequel of sorts are available here
* “Smuggling in Kent and Sussex” Mary Waugh
“Smuggling in the British Isles – History” Richard Waugh
“Honest Thieves” F F Nicholls