Hello everyone – thank you to Marianne and Judy for inviting me here to The Long and the Short of It. Primarily I’m here to talk about my not-so-well-known writing interest: my pirate based historical adventure series – the Sea Witch Voyages. I have an “open subject” so the content for this guest appearance is all my own, which is actually harder to do because I am spoilt for choice!
I am more familiarly known for my serious historical fiction novels; the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown) and I am the Chosen King (UK title Harold the King). I enjoy writing these “serious” novels. Researching and interpreting the facts of what happened in events of the past, then expanding them into a novel with a touch of speculation and a dose of imagination is an exciting challenge. To bring characters of the past and write a “what might have happened” novel is both exhilarating and hard work – but I decided to diverge into a slightly different genre after watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Like many another I fell hopelessly in love with Johnny Depp’s creation of Captain Jack Sparrow; the movie was an exciting entertainment - for all its unreality. I wanted more, so naturally, I looked for pirate fiction. There was very little. Lots for children, quite a few sea adventure novels – Hornblower, Patrick O’Brian, James L Nelson and the wonderful Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier of course, but nothing with a rogue of a pirate – nor anything with that magical blend of escapism fantasy.
Being interested in history, and I have always loved the sea and sailing ships, I decided, instead, to find out more about the Golden Age of Piracy – roughly 1690-1725 – a very short period of history. I knew a few names, such as Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, Blackbeard and Captain Morgan, but nothing more. I purchased a couple of promising non fiction books and started reading. What emerged was almost an awakening “Eureka” moment!
Either the idea for the first Sea Witch story had been lying dormant for many years or I have some sort of inherited memory for the sea. My ancestors come from Bristol in England, which since early times has been a busy trading port, so perhaps something has been passed down in my DNA? I suddenly found myself submerged in a period of history that fascinated me. I discovered I knew a lot about ships and sailing without realising I knew it, and the historical events I was reading about rapidly flourished into an idea for a story, characters and events seeming to spring from nowhere. I had the entire plot – based on the actual events I had been reading about – planned out while walking along an English south coast beach.
My agent at the time was encouraging me to write something other than historical fiction (this was about six years ago when historical novels had slightly fallen out of fashion) and initially she seemed excited when I suggested a pirate novel with a dash of fantasy. Unfortunately we must have been talking with crossed wires, because when I presented a finished manuscript three months later (yes I wrote Sea Witch in only three months) she hated it. Apparently, she had been expecting a novel for teenage boys. Sea Witch, however, is very firmly for adults – especially us ladies who like the sexy, charming, rogue-type character. Nor did she like my main character’s name – Jesamiah Acorne.
“But that’s his name,” I said. And refused to change it because I knew it was the right name.
“He’s a drunken womaniser” she said, aghast…. Well, um, yes. He’s a pirate and that’s what pirates do!
I was also a little taken aback, because Jesamiah is very similar to my portrayal of Arthur in my Pendragon’s Banner books. A down to earth, no nonsense leader who likes a drink – and a woman – but is bold, brave, loyal, and in his own way, honourable. The sort of man you want on your side, not as an enemy – and she had liked Arthur.
Well, she would not budge. Nor would I. She was adamant that I should write the story for teenage boys, claiming that adult woman had no interest in pirate novels (interestingly I still hear that from publishers. They said the same about wizards and vampires I seem to recall….) I was certain that there are many adult woman who would enjoy a good adventure yarn as exciting, piratical escapism.
I received a phone call to tell me that my UK publisher was not going to reprint my backlist and that I should find myself another agent. That was that. I had no publisher, no agent. I sobbed for two weeks, then decided to pick up the pieces and carry on.
I was invited by a small UK independent company to join their even smaller mainstream imprint. There were a few hiccups, and I can’t say that the quality of my books was as good as they should have been, but the staff were lovely – and at least I was in print. Small companies, especially in the present financial climate have a tough job keeping afloat, however, and after being with them for a couple of years I recently found myself in the same situation of being without a UK publisher all over again when the company hit financial problems.
I at least have my Historical Fiction books published by Sourcebooks Inc in the US, but I was determined not to be out of print here I the UK, or let my – by now three – Sea Witch Voyages sink without trace. I had inherited a modest legacy from my mother who had passed away, so I decided to take the plunge and self publish my backlist and the Sea Witch books here in the UK – and send my Pirate sailing across the Atlantic to the USA via Amazon.com (and hopefully, a few bookstores!) as well.
I knew Helen Hart from SilverWood Books UK, who runs her own assisted publishing company, and I had the fabulous Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org to design the covers for me… so what had I got to lose?
So far my decision has been a very good choice, I think. The support I am getting for being “independent” with my Sea Witch Voyages is overwhelming. Jesamiah is proving to be a popular character (adventure and trouble follow him like a ship’s wake) while his girlfriend, Tiola (pronounced Tee-ola), a White Witch, is there to keep his more alarming excursions in check.
I love Captain Acorne, I enjoy writing his adventures, getting him into and out of scrapes, developing his past, present and future. I enjoy the slight fantasy/supernatural element of the stories – Tethys the Goddess of the Sea who wants Jesamiah for her own, her daughter, Rain who decides not to help her mother have her own way – and the ghost of Jesamiah’s father in the third of the series, where that dastardly pirate, Blackbeard also appears.
The stories are set against a background of fact. I have done my research for all things nautical, and author James L. Nelson is an editor, while John F. Millar, the man who built the replica of The Rose (Now known as HMS Surprise – made famous in the excellent movie Master & Commander – on which I base Sea Witch) is an occasional advisor. I have taken a few liberties with the historical facts in places, but I mention my discrepancies in my author’s notes – after all, these are meant to be lighted fun – they are certainly fun to write. And as a bonus, unlike writing about real historical characters, my Jesamiah gets to stay alive at the end of the book!
I am giving away one signed book: Sea Witch, Pirate Code or Bring It Close as a prize.
All you have to do is leave a comment below saying why you like pirates! The winner will be selected at random by Marianne or Judy.
You are welcome to visit my website www.HelenHollick.net
or join me on Facebook - www.facebook.com/helen.hollick
or come aboard the Sea Witch page - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Helen-Hollick-Author/101822116574750