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Ships that pass

Helen PirateTourLogo-AToday I have a real treat for you, peeps. As part of her two-week swashbuckling voyage round blogosphere Helen Hollick is visiting – or dropping anchor, as she herself puts it – and what would Helen write about if not pirates? Well, she could write about King Arthur, of course. Or Queen Emma. Or Harold  of 1066 fame. But for the purpose of this visit, she’s sticking with those wolves from the sea, the pirates. So, without further ado, I turn you over to Helen!
Pirates? Why write about pirates? I guess the simple answer is: because when I wrote the first of my pirate-based Voyages, Sea Witch, no one else, as far as I could discover, had done so.
Read on.
I adored the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, (not the others in the Disney franchise: they ranged from OK-ish to terrible). I was enchanted by it, and not entirely because of Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow, (although that helped!) The movie was fun. None of it was meant to be taken seriously and nearly every scene had a laugh attached to it. Laughter is good for us, therefore darn good adventures, be they pirates, Star Wars sci-fi, Game of Thrones fantasy or whatever-floats-your-boat are good as well, be they movies or novels. They are also escapism from the daily grind, something we all need and enjoy.
Helen Sea WitchThe problem with really enjoying something is that you are then left wanting more. For me I wanted to read an adult novel (with ‘adult’ bits in it, if you get my drift,) that was something similar to POC#1. In other words, a pirate-based adventure with a handsome rogue of a hero, a lovely leading lady, lots of swashbuckling – and a dash of fantasy. I couldn’t find anything. There were lots of (very good) ‘straight’ nautical fiction (mostly aimed at male readers) and lots of young-adult sea adventures. Which were also good, but they were sans ‘grown up’ bits, well, sex. So I wrote my own novel. For adults. The result is my Sea Witch Voyages series.
I wrote the first (and the other six, the seventh is ‘in production’) for fun: fun to write and fun to read (I hope.) But there came a spin-off I hadn’t expected from these novels about Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his loyal, patient, very understanding girlfriend the white witch, Tiola Oldstagh. I was approached by Amberley Press UK to write a non-fiction book about pirates. I was hesitant. Could I do this? Did I know enough about the ‘Golden Age’ of the early eighteenth century? The title was to be Pirates; Truth and Tales. That hooked me. I could write about the truth, the factual side of these mostly unpleasant men who were, to be blunt, the terrorists of their time, and balance this with the lighter side, the sea shanties, sailors’ superstitions, how they entertained themselves, how they acquired their ships (no guesses – they usually stole them.) And I could include fiction. The classic tales such as Treasure Island and Peter Pan with Captain Hook. Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek and a short excerpt from one of Anna’s timeslip novels.
Hang on” do I hear you say, “Anna doesn’t write about pirates in her time-slip Graham Saga!”
That she does not, but she does write about indentured slavery, and several pirates started out as such before turning to a life on the High Seas. Explorer, navigator and privateer William Dampier was an indentured slave. So I included a short scene from Like Chaff in the Wind to illustrate the misery these poor souls were put through.
Anna and I had also written a very moving scene together for an Indie BRAG Book Blitz Week back in 2015. We wondered what would happen if my Jesamiah was to meet Anna’s Alex in 1661 as she was crossing the Atlantic in search of her husband, Matthew Graham, who had been abducted, transported to Virginia and sold into enforced labour. This is what we came up with:
Somewhere in the Atlantic, 1661…
“Who are you?” Alex wiped at the wet hair that was clinging to her face. She knew for a fact she’d not seen the man standing beside her before on the Regina Anne – Captain Miles would never tolerate a sailor who looked so, so… Dangerous? Her gaze slid over his cutlass – cutlass! – and the pistol tucked through his belt; up to his dark eyes. He was grinning, his gold acorn-shaped earring glinting in a sudden flash of sun. Beneath his three-corned hat he had thick, black hair, tied back with a blue ribbon. Poncy, Alex thought, but then men in the here and now had a predilection for lace and ribbons. Not like the men of her time, who thought they were daring if they wore a pink shirt with their business suit.
The man removed his hat, made a slight bow. “Captain Jesamiah Acorne, at your service, ma’am. And who might you be?”
Captain? Alex thought boats only had one captain. And this captain didn’t exactly look like the sort of person Captain Miles would comfortably work alongside. Fight against maybe?
Swallowing another threat of rising bile, Alex attempted to be polite. “I am Mistress Alexandra Graham, wife to Matthew Graham who has been abducted and sold into indentured slavery.”
“That was careless of him,” Captain Acorne quipped, taking a small silver container from his pocket. Un-stoppering it and putting the spout to his mouth, he took a long swig of whatever was inside.
“It was not carelessness at all!” Alex bridled, angry, her fists bunching. “He cut off his brother’s nose. In revenge, the bastard has had Matthew transported to Virginia to be sold into indentured labour – a death sentence. I am intent on not letting my husband die, either there or bound in chains aboard one of these, these,” she whirled her arms around indicating the ship, “floating coffins!”
Acorne wiped the top of the flask and handed it to her. Alex shook her head.
“It’ll do your stomach good.” he said, offering it again. “And if his brother is anything like mine, I think I like the sound of your husband.”
Alex took the flask, wiped the spout again with the corner of her cloak and took a tentative sip. Spluttered at the taste of very strong rum. He was right, though, it was warming. Tasted good. She had another sip, said quietly, “I cannot bear to think of Matthew chained in dark squalor below deck.”
“Ah.” Jesamiah Acorne nodded. “I’ve no liking for men who carry their enchained brethren like so much cattle across the sea. I’ve suffered such myself.” He took the flask back, gulped a mouthful of the contents down.
“You have?” Alex supposed she should commiserate, ask him about his experiences, but the man just shook his head, indicating these were matters he refused to talk about. The deck tilted. It tilted again, and Alex clung to the railing, cursing the wind, the sea, the goddamn boat and, most of all, her brother-in-law, Luke Graham.
“I am no sailor,” she admitted. “I hate this bloody boat. I hate picking weevils out of bread that is as hard as iron, I hate having no private place to relieve myself, no fresh water to clean my hair or teeth – to wash. Nowhere warm or dry to sit or sleep. I hate the squalor, the stink, the fact that the bloody boat itself is as fragile as a walnut shell and might fall apart the next time the wind blows up!”
“Ship,” Captain Acorne corrected. “She’s a ship.”
He pointed to the masts soaring overhead into the grey-blue sky, the wind-filled canvas sails creaking and groaning, the rigging humming like a discordant, badly rehearsed string section of an orchestra. “Three masts, fore, main and mizzen. That makes her a ship, not a boat.”
Ropes on shipHe leant back against the rail, looked about with a critical eye – completely at ease with the ship’s perpetual rise and fall and roll motion. “Sails set fair, cordage coiled and stowed neat, decks clear and tidy.” He pointed to a nearby hatch that had been partly swung open to let light and air down to the deck below; “Secured correct. Looks like this vessel has a captain who knows what he’s about, and a crew not made up of mithering landlubbers who don’t like to get their fekking hands dirty. She’s smaller in length and width than my ship, and her quarterdeck is higher. I don’t have any poop deck aboard Sea Witch. My father had a ship like this one when he sailed with Henry Morgan. She was a sound vessel, from what I gather. As fast as a greyhound. Regina Anne won’t be as good if she needs a turn of speed, but she seems seaworthy enough.”
“I don’t care if she’s not the bloody HMS Victory,” Alex said. “As long as she’s not the Titanic! I hate the sea. I hate the way it goes up and down; I hate the cold, the wet!”
He looked at her quizzically, not recognising the ships’ names. “The sea can be fickle, I grant, and you must treat her with the greatest respect. She can be all those things, but the sea and a ship, to some, mean freedom and dignity. You treat sea and ship like a mistress, with care and attention. And you put up with their squalls and the tantrums for what they offer in return.”
Alex nodded, pretending she agreed. For all the passion he was expressing, to her mind he was talking fool nonsense. She did not care a bent binnacle, or whatever the nautical words were, for this ship or any ship, and she had no idea why she was listening to this rag-tag ruffian. She had no idea who or what he was, although that cutlass and pistol reminded her of the appearance of a pirate. Whoever, whatever, she had a suspicion that he did not belong to this boat – ship. There was something about him, something different yet familiar? He does not belong to this ship or this time, she thought. Like me. He shouldn’t be here.
Somehow that helped, and she suddenly found herself talking and talking, letting loose all the fears that had been churning, heavy in her stomach – and had refused to be spewed up over the side with her seasick vomit. It all poured out, the whole story of Matthew and Luke, finding a ship to take her as passenger, the misery of seasickness, the horror of it all and the fear that any moment may be her last.
Embarrassed at her outburst she ended with the truth. “What if this ship sinks? I’m scared shitless!”
He answered her with a smile and equal truth. “Ships do sink – more often than us sailors want to think about. Wind, tide, storms, current, they can all take their toll.” He gave a low, deep-throated laugh. “And then there’s pirates.”
Alex decided to ignore his last remark. She had enough on her over-full plate as it was. “Not the ship Matthew is on.” She gave him a despairing look. “Not the ship with my Matthew. His ship is sturdy and fast and safe. He is safe. He is!”
Jesamiah, Captain Acorne, did not reply. He just looked at her, and something in his eyes made her want to cry. “He must be safe,” she said. “Without him, I would die. Just like that.” Alex bit her lip in an effort not to wail out loud.
Captain Acorne put his arm around her shoulders and drew her to his side. For that brief moment Alex felt warm and comfortable. Safe. Despite the fact that he stank of unwashed clothes, sweat and tar. Matthew smelt the same, although without the tar. Tears of lonely grief filled her eyes, her heart and her soul.
“Believe in yourself, sweetheart,” Jesamiah said as he kissed the top of her head, “and keep that vision of freedom in your mind. The blue sea, the white-capped rollers, the wind that is filling the sails. Touch a stay every morning for luck. And never give up hope. Once you do, you might as well head for the horizon with your arse on fire.”
She blinked back the tears, shut her eyes, gripped the rail. When she opened them again, he had gone. But there, on the deck beside her foot was a tightly stoppered silver flask, and, wound around it, a blue ribbon.
©Anna Belfrage ©Helen Hollick
Helen PiratesTaTPirates: Truth And Tales published in paperback in the UK July 2018 and November 2018 in the US – but available for pre-order.
Buy the Books: Amazon Author Page (Universal Link)
Helen MediumHelen moved from London in 2013 and now lives with her family in North Devon, in an eighteenth century farmhouse. First published in 1994, her passion now is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of the nautical adventure series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown) the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (US title I Am The Chosen King) explores the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely praised as a more down-to-earth historical version of the Arthurian legend. She has written three non-fiction books, Pirates: Truth and Tales, Smugglers in Fact and Fiction (to be published 2019) and as a supporter of indie writers, co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new writers. She runs the Discovering Diamonds review blog for historical fiction assisted by a team of enthusiastic reviewers.
Helen is published in various languages.
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Helen also hosts Discovering Diamonds, a review site dedicated to letting good historical fiction books shine:
Follow Helen’s Tour:
These links will take you to the Home Page of each blog host – Helen says thank you for their interest and enthusiasm! For exact URL links to each article go to Helen’s website:  which will be updated every day of the tour.
30th July: Cryssa Bazos Dropping Anchor to Talk About Pirates
31st July: Anna Belfrage Ships That Pass…
1st August: Carolyn Hughes Pirates of the Middle Ages
2nd August: Alison Morton From Pirate to Emperor
3rd August: Annie Whitehead The Vikings: Raiders or Pirates?
4th August: Tony Riches An Interview With Helen Hollick (and maybe a couple of pirates thrown in for good measure?)
5th August: Lucienne Boyce Anne and Mary. Pirates.
6th August: Laura Pilli Why Pirates?
7th August: Mary Tod That Essential Element… For A Pirate.
8th August: Pauline Barclay Writing Non-Fiction. How Hard Can It Be?
9th August: Nicola Smith Pirates: The Tales Mixed With The Truth
10th August: Christoph Fischer In The Shadow Of The Gallows
11th August: Debdatta What Is It About Pirates?
12th August: Discovering Diamonds It’s Been An Interesting Voyage…
13th August: Sarah Greenwood Pirates: The Truth and the Tales
14th August: Antoine Vanner The Man Who Knew About Pirates

26 thoughts on “Ships that pass”

  1. Thanks for the warm welcome Anna – I’ve been sitting at my desk, morning cup of tea in one hand, toast and marmalade in the other, reading through our joint-effort story again.
    I don’t think I’m boasting when I say (In a Jesamiah-type turn of phrase) “Bloomin’ good ain’t it?”

    1. LOL 🙂 Us Swedes are NOT supposed to do self-congratulation, but yes, I agree. Thank you for popping by & brightening my day!

  2. Pingback: Pssst! | ANNA BELFRAGE

  3. If that short scene is the result of a “little collaboration”, I for one want an entire collaborative book! Helen well knows my affinity for anything piratical so you know you will have one built-in fan!

  4. Of course, everybody is right! You can’t cook us up a dishy of delicious vehgetables without adding the meat!! In all seriousness, a novella by two authors bringing their two main characters together woukd be unique and groundbreaking ….

  5. So many nice comments 🙂 As to writing a story featuring Jesamiah and Alex, Matthew Graham does NOT like that idea. At all. He feels men who decorate themselves with blue ribbons and are as handsome as Captain Acorne should be kept well away from his wife.

  6. Oh, that was so good!!! I well understand why Matthew might be hesitant. It was a lovely encounter. Loved every second of it ladies. And Helen, just to let you know, I’ve already read Sea Witch twice. Love pirates. Plus I’m doing research for my own WIP about 17th century smugglers in Cornwall. My reward for sending out requested submissions is finally, setting down to read both of your series. Anna, I have yours as well. But writing takes time. Reading is my reward.

    1. Thank you for a very nice (and encouraging) comment. Good luck with your 17th C smuggler story – I imagine there’s lots of opportunity for political tension – depending on what they smuggle, of course

      1. Thank you for such lovely words Tricia! Sea Witch is only the first Voyage of course – there are five more published (six including a novella prequel) with the next in the series half-written. There will probably be more (and hopefully more about Matthew and Alex from Anna as well!)

        I’m looking forward to your smuggling book – Thomas Benson, a Devonian smuggler, appears in Ripples in the Sand. I figured that when he was a boy why not learn his trade from pirate captain Jesamiah Acorne!

  7. Well now … seems to me that we have a perfect ‘conflict’ situation. nobody but you two ladies could create, exploit and resolve that conflict…..just saying ….

    1. Yeeeessss, one could see it as an opportunity. But Tiola and Matthew are rather important to us and we do want to stay in their good books – right, Helen? (Alex, BTW, is perfectly happy to indulge in a little flirtation with Mr Acorne – she has her own reasons for wanting to make Matthew suffer a bit…)

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