Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P. O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Born in London, Helen has been writing since her early teens. While working in a library after graduation, she discovered the world of historical fiction. She eventually married and had a daughter. With time on her hands, Helen began to write historical novels. Aside from her pirate novels, she’s written stories based on the people and events that culminated with the 1066 Battle of Hastings and what might have happened in the life of King Arthur. Like me, she is a member of the Historical Novel Society and is the UK Editor for HNS’s Indie Reviews. In this article, she talks about how she came to write about Captain Jesamiah Acorne’s adventures and shares an excerpt from book one, Sea Witch.
-- Cindy Vallar
Birth of a Pirate Novel
By Helen Hollick
Helen Hollick at Instow in North Devon with Appledore in the background
Photo courtesy of Bideford People
I thought up the idea for my “Sea Witch Voyages” while walking on a deserted beach in Dorset, England. It was deserted because it was raining.
I had enjoyed the fun of the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl – who did not fall for Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Jack Sparrow? The movie triggered my interest in pirates, and I spent the week’s vacation enjoying a few interesting books about pirates. Several real escapades triggered my imagination, and it was not long before I was planning my own fictional contribution.
The secret of a good pirate novel is the pace, action, larger than life characters, and whether it is a good sailor’s yarn or not – which means that reality is not always essential, but believability is. As a writer of historical fiction, I wanted my “Sea Witch Voyages” to be a little more ‘fun’ based rather than historically accurate in detail; if I needed to alter a small fact of history, I felt justified in doing so, providing I mentioned the deviation in my author’s note. Hence, Woodes Rogers and William Dampier are in Cape Town a few months later than they actually were. But I have attempted to be as accurate as I can with the nautical detail. This was not easy for me as I have not been aboard anything larger than a small sailing dinghy, but then, I reasoned, I know nothing of what life was like in the fifth or eleventh century, and that did not stop me from writing five historical fiction books about a post-Roman King Arthur and the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066! I have researched as best as I can, using good, quality books, and I am fortunate enough to be friends with maritime author James L. Nelson, who very kindly edits my nautical scenes and doesn’t laugh too loud at my gaffs!
The enjoyable thing about writing fiction that has a slightly lighter theme than the more serious novel demands is that I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of blending fact with fiction, using it to fit my protagonist’s various adventures.
For instance: on that walk along that Dorset beach I pondered some of my research, specifically, the episode off the Florida Coast when at least eleven Spanish ‘treasure’ ships went down in a gale. The subsequent flocking of every pirate in the area to the scene to scoop up the spoils interested me. Especially the tactics of pirate/privateer Henry Jennings, who waited for the Spanish to gather the scattered treasure and remove it for safe-keeping to a temporary warehouse farther up the coast. Jennings then boldly sailed in, broke into the warehouse, and sailed away with the loot.
What if? I thought. What if it wasn’t Jennings’ idea, but my pirate’s? What if he was the mastermind behind the raid?
This idea blossomed and ended up as a scene that was great fun to write – and I hope, as much fun to read!
Enjoy this short excerpt!
From Sea Witch – Voyage One
(excerpt has been edited and is shorter than the original)
This was the coast where some of the Spanish Fleet had perished; this was where the fortunate ones who had survived had been swept ashore and endured those first few terrifying days and nights of shipwreck in this desolate, God-forgotten place.
As they nosed in, inching the Inheritance forward, Jesamiah observed the huts along the far side of the dunes where the land dropped sharply away. Men were standing on the jetty, some with their arms folded, others fists on hips – all with weary, annoyed expressions.
Rue nudged Inheritance into the wind, her foresail backing, and Jesamiah dropped his hand for the signal to bring her to. The yards came around, the spread of canvas shrank, the rasping sound of halyards, bunt-lines, clew-lines, and brails racing through their blocks. Speaking in Spanish, knowing his voice would carry to those watching along the shore, Jesamiah gave the order to drop anchor and swing out the gig.
Somewhere out there behind them, riding the swell, out of vision and lying on bare poles, was Henry Jennings. Half an hour until dark. There was much to do in the next half hour before he joined them. The sweeps would be run out and the men would bring Inheritance to the jetty under oar. She appeared to be heavily laden, but her cargo was nothing more than rocks and barrels filled with seawater. A cargo which come nightfall, would be dumped quietly overboard and, if all went well, replaced by something worth the carrying.
First, Jesamiah had to convince whoever was in command that he was a legitimate Spaniard making a maiden voyage to this storehouse, his hold full of salvaged coin. He climbed up the weed-slippery rungs to the jetty.
Discreetly, the men in the gig settled their fingers around the butts of the pistols thrust through their belts, or loosened their cutlasses. If things did not go well for Captain Acorne, they would be required to move fast. As Jesamiah had hoped, the day had been hot and long and the shore-men were weary and wanting their dinners and night entertainments. Were not best pleased at the prospect of unloading another cargo this late in the day.
A short, rotund man ducked out from a mud and grass hut; from the braiding and style of his uniform, the man in charge. Disgruntled and gesticulating wildly, speaking in a torrent of abuse, he stamped across the sand to the jetty.
Raising his hands in supplication, Jesamiah strode forward to meet him. Assuming a meek expression, he apologised profusely, his Spanish fluent and perfect, and produced two bottles of best brandy from beneath his coat. One of which he slapped with a flourish into the Spaniard’s hands.
“My regrets, Admiral, the tide is ebbing and I am not familiar with this shore.” Deliberately, Jesamiah promoted the man’s rank. Playing to a man’s vanity always established a quick, easy relationship. “You surely could not expect me to risk running aground?” He laughed at his own jest, an expansive belly-rumble of mirth. “All that gold on the seabed once-over already. Wouldn’t do to have it snagged there again would it, Señor?”
He slid his arm around the officer’s shoulders, steered him towards the hut he had emerged from. “I am in no lather to return to those shoals, it’s a devil of a job down there – what with those scurvy pirates roaming on the edge of it all like basking sharks. Frankly, I do not know why I volunteered for the damned commission. If I had known it was to be like this, I would have opted to go home and harass the British in Biscay instead.”
Inside the hut, a table, two chairs, a wooden chest, little else except piles of papers and ledgers. Jesamiah stood inside the door, laid his right finger alongside his nose, his gold acorn ring glinting in the brief, vivid glow of the sunset. “Now, a night ashore would be most welcome, especially if . . .” he peered out at the distant tents and shanty buildings, “. . . especially if there are any women here?”
Of course there were. They would have been brought in along with the supplies.
He nudged the Spaniard with his elbow, whispered, “I have an itch needing a good scratch, if you get my meaning. What if I left my crew to lay my ship alongside and we unload at first light? She will be safe, no?”
A little reluctantly the Spaniard set his bottle of brandy among the cluttered mess and seated himself on the far side of the table. Jesamiah handed over the ship’s papers. They were authentic, with only the name of the vessel altered. Stolen, of course. In the dim lamplight the Spaniard frowned over every word written, Jesamiah prattling a continuous banter of nonsense. After a few moments he wavered, put his brandy bottle in his pocket, and stretched across the table to reclaim the other one. “Of course, Señor, if you would rather get on with the work now? It will not take us long to rig tackle –”
“Está bien, ningún problema,” came the quick reply as the officer made a hasty grab for the brandy and unstoppered it; drank straight from the bottle. “This appears to be in order. You can leave everything to your crew?”
“Claro. Of course.”
“Bueno, bueno. Excelente!” The Spaniard dropped the papers on to the pile, heaved himself up from his chair and, gesturing to the doorway, invited Jesamiah to proceed outside. “Come, let me introduce you to a friend of mine, she has sharp nails, ideal for getting into those places difficult to reach.”
With night settling and the stars showing bright against the darkening blue, Jesamiah rested his arm companionably along the duped officer’s shoulders as they strolled, deep in conversation, towards the encampment.
He lifted his hat, waved it in a circle, the agreed signal, clamped it back upon his head, and disappeared over the crest of the dunes, his trailing blue ribbons laced into his black hair fluttering as an off-shore breeze scuttled in with the night.
Copyrighted © 2013 Helen Hollick
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