A mercifully short bio of Seymour Hamilton
It took a long time until Seymour Hamilton could legitimately call himself a fiction writer, although he remembers wanting to do so when he was about 12 years old. Now he has two books to his name: The Astreya Trilogy and The Laughing Princess.
He studied English and Philosophy at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario Canada, and went on to do a Masters in English at the University of Toronto. In those days, a MA was sufficient qualification to teach in many universities, so he became an assistant professor at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where he married and his first son, Robin, was born. Three years later, he moved to Canada’s west coast to teach at Simon Fraser University. Three more years, and he returned to Queen’s to complete his PhD (on American Science Fiction) just in time for a cyclical slump in hiring by Canadian universities.
He returned to Nova Scotia and worked first as a contract writer and editor, then as a communications officer in the provincial government. He also wrote and voiced radio essays and theatre reviews. It was during this time that he sailed on a friend’s schooner to the south coast of Newfoundland – an experience that was the genesis of Astreya.
Government communications experience led to his next academic job in the graduate school of Communications Studies at the University of Calgary.
It was while was teaching at the University of Calgary and hiking in the Rockies that he wrote The Laughing Princess. The harp music of Kim Robertson played as he wrote.
After four years of teaching in Alberta, he returned to Ottawa, the city in which he had gone to school. He married Katherine, and they moved a few kilometers into Chelsea, Quebec and had a son, Ben. Until retirement, he taught at Ottawa University and wrote and edited extensively for both private sector and government.
Astreya had been on his mind since the 1970’s, increasing in volume by fits and starts. In retirement, it became a full-time activity, growing from a short novella to a trilogy.
The Laughing Princess followed Astreya into print in 2012.
A longer and more detailed bio of Seymour Hamilton, including how Astreya and The Laughing Princess came into being.
I am from a seagoing family going back many generations. I learned to sail a dinghy from my father, who, like his grandfather, was a Master Mariner and Commander in the British Navy. In 1946, when I was five, my father read Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner to me out loud. At the time, I thought it was autobiographical, perhaps because he was a bearded master mariner who had spent the six years of World War II in the British Navy.
I was conceived during the brief shore leave between his first command, a corvette in the Mediterranean and his second, a frigate in The Battle of the Atlantic. Before he died at 99 and three months, he read a first version of Astreya, and called it, “A good yarn, once you get rid of the bit where your hero biffs someone over the head with that novelist’s weapon, a belaying pin.”
When I was fifteen, I thought that the best thing a person could do would be to write a book that would be enjoyed by people who had read what I had read. At that time, my list of authors included Arthur Ransome, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, C.S. Forester, Captain Marryatt, and Captain Joshua Slocum — all of them men who wrote about the sea and sailing ships.
When I was 30, I wrote a PhD thesis on science fiction. My then current list of authors included Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. The degree essentially made me unemployable at any university where I could imagine myself teaching. So I became a contract writer and part time civil servant for a decade, after which I reinvented myself as a professor of communication studies for a few years. Then I went back to editing/writing. In twenty years, I had written for more than 25 government departments and agencies, plus a few private sector companies.
The best moment of my writing-on-contract years was the day a bureaucrat looked over the first draft of a document I had prepared for him about the inconsequential doings of his insignificant section of an obscure government department. He looked at me with a worried frown and said, “This is indeed what we do. You have made it clear, very clear. Could you take it away and … er … fuzzy it up?”
In the 1970s, I escaped the daily grind for a few days and sailed as mate on a traditional 50-foot wooden schooner from Nova Scotia to Grey River on the south coast of Newfoundland. The coastline is a wall of cliffs that fall hundreds of feet into the sea. Had it not been for a flashing light on a navigation buoy, the entrance to our destination would have been invisible. Inside the narrow passage between the cliffs was a fjord that widened into several high-sided bays and inlets, on the least steep of which was a tiny community. We met with children picking cloudberries, which are like big, white blueberries, and found that we could barely communicate, so strong were their accents. Apart from the one or two summer visits from a supply ship, we were their first visitors in longer than the children knew.
From this experience grew the opening lines of Astreya, the first version of which won an unpublished novel award in a competition sponsored by the Nova Scotia government. I never asked how many competitors there were, out of fear that I was the only one. The prize was to have my hand shaken by Farley Mowatt, who was wearing his kilt. A short-lived literary magazine published the first chapter, and then reality emerged in the form of rejection letters telling me that the story needed work.
The vicissitudes of life forced Astreya into a cardboard box in the basement, from which it emerged in the 80s to be painstakingly transcribed from typescript to electronic copy. Over the next decade or so, the story only saw the light when it was being converted from Mac Classic to Word Perfect 5, to Word 2.0, and finally to .Pages. Nonetheless, it grew fitfully, taking twists and turns into places it should never have gone. These brief returns to Astreya’s world were escapist moments as I plied the trade of writer/editor and sometime teacher of first year Business English.
In 2005, I retired, and while my wife Katherine soldiered on, I went back to Astreya. This time, I seemed to know where I was going at least day by day, and sometimes even chapter by chapter. A total rewrite of Book I led me on into Book II, and then a third book became necessary to bring the story to a conclusion. Then there was tweaking: making the hints and nudges in Book I a bit clearer, attending to consistencies of time, place, distance and characters who perversely refused to accept their original names.
Five years later, I was pretty much done, so I went in search of an agent, because all the writers’ help-and-advice books, articles and web sites told me that this step is essential. Many emails later, an agent showed interest, talked Astreya up to a couple of Canadian publishers, one of which wanted to see more than a sample chapter. However, after a few weeks, they passed on the story, commended me with some polite and encouraging words, and then rabbited on about the state of the publishing industry and the international economy, as if I hadn’t noticed.
A week later, the agent quit on me. Since we had never signed a contract, I had to accept a pat on the head and wishes of good luck. Apparently, the agent gave up on Astreya to clean up the mess left after a publishing house had succumbed to the aforesaid economic winds of change. So I was back to square one.
I read somewhere that Christopher Little, J.K. Rowling’s agent, was a keen sailor and yachtsman, so I crafted an appropriate email, attached the first chapter of Astreya, and sent it off into the trackless electronic cloud. I imagined that I might get a curt note from a flunky who was helping manage somewhat more money than the Gross Domestic Product of a medium sized country. (I later discovered that Little was no longer Rowling’s agent.)
However, I received a polite reply, referring me to Astrodene’s Historic Naval Fiction, a compendium of information and books related to the British enthusiasm for writing about the days of sail in the Royal Navy — a literary industry best known for C.S. Forester’s Hornblower novels.
Probably noticing that I am Canadian, not British, and that Astreya is neither because he inhabits an alternate 17th century world that has similarities to Newfoundland, these splendid people promptly wrote back to refer me to Fireship Press, located in Tucson, Arizona, which is a long, dry distance from the sea, but which nonetheless publishes books about the days of sail, many of them dealing with American themes and figures.
I went to fireshippress.com, where I read Tom Grundner’s straight-talking statement of how he works, together with the following: “Fireship Press does almost everything electronically so, if you need to reach us, first try: info@FireshipPress.com. If all else fails, try: 520-360-6228.” When I discovered this forward-looking fact, I took hope, since I had just been reading the website of a publisher of fantasy and science fiction who, amazingly, requires paper submissions via snail mail, demands that any material be sent to them alone, and advises that their turnaround time is six months.
The senior editor of Fireship, Tom Grundner, himself the author of three nautical novels about Sir Sidney Smith, a real person who lived at the time of the American Revolution, read the first chapter of Astreya and replied in a couple of weeks. He liked it so much that he predicted good things as soon as he had a second opinion from someone who had read all of Book I. Two further of weeks of waiting later, Astreya was welcomed aboard Fireship, and the task of a final edit began. With the invaluable editorial help of Jessica Knauss, we made the deadline of only two months necessary for the first book of The Astreya Trilogy to be published in time for Christmas.
Tragically, I never met my new friend, because Tom died only three months after he had chosen to publish Astreya. His colleagues at Fireship nonetheless decided to continue the project, for which I will always be grateful.
After she had finished getting Astreya into print, my wonderful editor, Jessica Knauss, saw and heard the stories in The Laughing Princess, and offered to publish the book under her own imprint Açedrex. This happened in 2012, after which I set about recording the stories for publication by the free download site, Podiobooks.com