Author Michael Molloy is not exactly sure that his new novel, Peter Raven Under Fire, should be called a children's book. “There's a category of books that is often classified as being for children,” he says, “but they work for people of any age who love a good story. Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Little Women, The Wind in the Willows . . . the list is endless. I would love it if Peter Raven Under Fire were to be included in this category.”
How did Molloy, a modern-day Londoner, come to write about the Napoleonic Wars, a little-remembered period in American history when the fate of the fledgling United States briefly intertwined with the empires of Britain and France?
“Two factors,” Molloy explains. “My love of American and British history. I became fascinated by American history as a boy because two of my ancestors–brothers of my grandfather's grandfather–fought on opposite sides in the Civil War. According to my dad, the Confederate brother had first gone to the South to work on a tobacco plantation. When the war started, the other brother was recruited in Ireland to fight for the Union. I wanted to understand the Civil War,” the author continues, “and in reading about it, I made the obvious discovery: If you delve into one part of history, it inevitably leads you forward and backward.”
Eventually, Molloy came upon the Louisiana Purchase, an extraordinary episode in American history, but one that was virtually unknown to schoolchildren in his home country of England. “And yet it is one of the major events in world history!” he exclaims. “To think that France owned practically the whole middle west of America, and sold it to the United States for about four cents an acre.”
Molloy was also particularly fascinated by the Royal Navy in Napoleonic times. “That interest, too, began when I was a boy,” he says. “On our mantelpiece there was a small wooden barrel, about the size of an eggcup, with a little brass plate attached. It read: MADE FROM THE BOWSPRIT OF HMS VICTORY AFTER THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR.” No one in his family could remember where it came from — “so I took a book about Trafalgar out of the library” — and there the obsession began, to be reinforced later by C.S. Forester's Hornblower novels.
A swashbuckling tale with a touch a romance, Peter Raven Under Fire is the first in a series of the young midshipman's adventures. Already working on the sequel, Molloy found a wealth of material during his research into the Louisiana Purchase. “While the Louisiana Purchase was still being negotiated, the United States declared war on the Barbary pirates that were infesting the coast of North Africa. They had been pillaging American ships and kidnapping passengers for ransom,” Molloy states. “President Thomas Jefferson sent a tiny handful of ships to fight them. It was the birth of the United States Navy.”
Molloy is also the author of The Witch Trade, The Time Witches, Wild West Witches, and The House on Falling Star Hill for Scholastic, and he has just finished two books for Disney. As a counterpart to his career as a writer of children's books, he is a regular contributor to the Guardian newspaper. He lives in London, England, with his wife, Sandy, their three daughters, Jane, Kate, and Alexandra, and their two dogs, Fred and Daisy.