About the Art in the Historical Fiction Short Story Retribution
Historical Fiction Short Story Retribution is a cutlass-slashing, canon-blasting sea raid in which young Francis Drake assists his cousin John Hawkins to a cut out a ship from an enemy’s port. In the short story, I hope to put the reader into a fictional naval raid on July 1557, at the outset of the Anglo-French war. The artwork that I chose for the short story hopefully gives reader the start of that experience.I wanted to create a sense of a 16th century naval setting—thinking of fans that might enjoy the work of CS Forrester and other similar historical naval fiction books. So, I knew I needed to be looking at period naval art, and there happen to be quite a few good pieces to consider.
I will cover the work formatting the print version of Retribution in an upcoming article, in the case that some others want to try to do the same with their stories.
I am an avid reader of eBooks, I miss some of the extra content that does not seem to make it into the eBook versions, like extra illustrations and frontispieces. I always intended my short story Retribution for both print and eBook formats and felt that the artwork was required for both. While I have a lot more flexibility with the traditional print format as there is much more control over placement and appearance of both the illustration and text. However, to the extent that the eBook medium allows for it, I wanted both mediums to help to visualize the story.
l also wanted to establish a single theme throughout the series to help the books feel as part one story. I will be carrying this idea of period illustrations in the upcoming historical novels and short stories that attempt to breathe life into history.
Allow me to digress for a minute. In September and October of 2020, I was outlining and researching the historical fiction novel Sic Parvis Magna for my attempt to write a full novel for the NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month). I came across the image of Willem van de Velde’s the Cannon Shot. I finished Draft Zero of Sic Parvis Magna, officially “winning” the challenge (you win by writing 50,000 original words for a novel).
I also found out about a short story contest that was being promoted by Creative Culture Southwest in Exeter, UK. So immediately after November’s NaNoWriMo, I switched to writing and editing Retribution which was my entry into the short story contest. I am sure that they got flooded with entries and it seemed a long time to judge the contest. And… I was never super-patient… so in April I decided to withdraw the story and publish it myself. Ironically… they announced the decision a day or two later!
However, the Cannon Shot seemed like the ideal cover for Retribution historical fiction piece as the Dutch carrack in the painting is firing a cannon and had a couple of ship’s boats around it. It fit the theme of a boarding and take over of the ship that is told in my short story (and never mind that the Cannon Shot apparently depicts a salute shot!).
To give a potential reader the sense of what was in the short story, I needed to make some changes to the original painting. Because Francis Drake and his mates were cutting out the Lionheart at night, I modified the original painting to darken it. The original paining’s cannon shot is primarily depicted through the smoke that is created from firing off a piece. While darkening the image, the faint yellow that is off the forward most starboard gun disappeared and had to be repainted to be more pronounced.
Also, to highlight the action of the conflict on the deck, I moved the left rowboat closer to the bow of carrack.
Here is the original painting next to the changes for Retribution.
Creation of the Frontispiece
The older books are wonderful as they start with the frontispiece, and while most have a sense of what the geography of the English Channel and North Sea is, I thought I’d put a historical map of how the Channel was depicted at the time of Francis Drake.
It took a long time to find the image that I liked, but The Portolan Atlas of the Mediterranean Sea, western Europe, and the northwest coast of Africa by Joan Oliva gave me both a perfect drawing, as well as an awesome graphics challenge.
I did not like two things about the page that I picked. The first was that the ships were sailing north / south and the second was the decorative scroll that was placed into the middle of France (also north to south orientation).
While the scroll was easily erased off the drawing, it left a huge empty spot that had to be doctored up. The directional (compass rose) lines and damage to the vellum was fun to do, but it took a while and took several tries to not look weird.
Turning the ships east-west also was easy, but left odd gaps on the map, and the compass rose lines did not match up and took a while to recreate.
Sailors Furling Sails
As I mentioned above, the ideal audience of the short story was someone who enjoys reading CS Forrester’s Horatio Hornblower and would then go on to reading the rest of the series as it was released.
So, I wanted a picture of life aboard a ship. The pencil / charcoal sketch of sailors furling sail by john Singer Sargent was perfect as part of the opening scene as that is exactly what Francis Drake was doing as The Tiger docked in Plymouth. The piece was perfect as it was, and it was not necessary to modify it any further other than to crop it into place.
The Carrack Sailing
Some of the charm of the old books comes from the very distinctive woodcut illustrations, where a block of wood was gouged out to produce a stamp, which was then used to print the illustration into the pages of the medieval books.
I came across a depiction of a carrack by Gordon Johnson. Although this piece is modern, created in 2019, it so perfectly fit a medieval book woodcut image that it was impossible not to use.
Some modification was required. Original had a background of a port and a foreground image of a fishing boat that is pulling up the nets. The fishing boat was not necessary for the story, and the port had a very different feel than what I have imagined for Saint Valery sur Somme, so both features had to be removed from the image with photoshop.
In all, I am very pleased with the outcome of the eBook and printed versions of the historical fiction short story Retribution.
If you enjoyed this article, I would appreciate it if you would share it. And, if you enjoyed reading Retribution, I would be very grateful for your review of the short story on Amazon.
About the Historical Fiction Series Adventures of Francis Drake
Historical Fiction Short Story Retribution by Paul Jariabek is a cutlass-slashing, canon-blasting sea raid as Francis Drake assists his cousin John Hawkins in cutting out one of the Hawkins’ ships, rescuing its crew from French captivity, and learns something about himself during the Anglo-French war of 1557.
Retribution is available on Amazon.com as both an eBook and printed version of the story. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, the short story is available for free. You can also get a free copy of Retribution by signing up for my email updates.
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