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“Oh, a pirate’s life is a wonderful life” – maybe not, but Helen’s pirate Jesamiah is deffo wonderful!

I have waited. And waited. I have come with heavy-handed hints to Helen Hollick, telling her we (read me) need more Jesamiah. ASAP. And now, FINALLY, Helen has published the sixth book about Jesamiah, pirate extraordinaire and his white witch wife, Tiola. Did I like Gallows Wake? Read my review further down.

Now, Helen isn’t only a great writer. She is also a generous friend who gladly helps promote other writers and their books. It is therefore especially nice to be able to return the favour, which is why I asked Helen to write a guest post related to her latest release, Gallows Wake.
Helen has a very independent character – Jesamiah leads his life as it pleases him, leaving Helen to scurry after him. I can almost hear her going “Wait, wait wait! I need time to write all this down!” And yes, it’s a dilemma I am all too familiar with. Pesky characters can be a pain in the nether parts, no matter how much one loves them! So maybe this is why Helen has chosen to share a post about travelling in the past, indirectly hanging on to the shirttails of her very restless, energetic pirate.

Take it away, Helen!


A trip to Lisbon – in 1719

I thoroughly enjoy writing my Sea Witch Voyages series … well, most of the time I do, but my characters, one character in particular, does tend to dictate what and where something is to happen (without consulting me first).
Jesamiah: “Why should I? It’s my story you’re telling!”
Me: “Yes I know, but you do have a tendency to get into scrapes, then expect me to get you out of them, and you will keep sailing off to places where I’ve never been – or have no hope of going to!”
Jesamiah: “That’s your problem, not mine.”

See what I mean? He’s just shrugged and walked off. Characters, once they become real, can be so annoying! (Even though we love them dearly.)

For Gallows Wake, the latest in my Sea Witch Voyages, the action starts in Gibraltar. Which is handy because I have been there. Although that was during a magnificent cruise,  back in 1972. The Rock has probably changed a bit since then, although the rocky bit at the top is still the rocky bit at the top, where it is so steep even goats might get a nose bleed. I remember puffing up narrow streets and looking at houses which were distinctly Spanish in style. I also remember being fascinated by Bird of Paradise flowers, but I think that was earlier on the cruise schedule in Madeira, although it could have been Lisbon. Or Cádiz?

Jesamiah: “There you go! You’ve been moaning about not being anywhere, but that’s three of the places mentioned in Gallows Wake.
(Ignoring him.) The big problem for writers of historical fiction is being able to differentiate between somewhere as it is now and somewhere as it was then.

The oldest known panorama of Lisbon By Duarte Galvão (1435-1517) Public Domain,

Take Lisbon as an example. Jesamiah’s wife, Tiola, is there (no spoilers, so I’ll not tell you why).  I had to do a bit of research to establish what she would have seen and done in the year 1719. In November 1755, the city was hit by an earthquake. An estimate of about 30,000 people died and  85% of the city’s structures buildings were destroyed, so I had to carefully check what is there now was there prior to the earthquake. I settled for general back streets, a church, and the  Belém Tower.

The Torre de Belém, is a 16th-century fortification located in Lisbon  near the mouth of the  Tagus river. As well as a solid fortification it served as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers.

Torre de Belem, Photo by Alvesgaspar

This is what I came up with (excerpt from Gallows Wake):

The Torre de Belém – the Belém Tower – was the first or last fortification that sailors saw when arriving or leaving Lisbon. Built of limestone, its bastion terrace with its Moorish turrets and cupolas, and the four-storey tower above had seen the coming and going of many a vessel since its sixteenth-century construction on the northern bank of the Tagus River. Two hundred years old, young compared to some structures: the Roman Colosseum, the Great Pyramids, the Stone Henge in Wiltshire, England. Indeed, to Tiola herself, for her soul had existed through many generations passing as reincarnation from grandmother to granddaughter.

She stood marvelling at the intricate architecture, admiring how the creamy-white stone sparkled in the bright sunshine and the shadows of the rippling river water played upon its walls. How much of it was the original design, how much of it had been added through the years she did not know, nor was there anyone to ask, for the dockworkers were busy and the soldiers manning the fort showed a distinctive air of disdainful uninterest. She had never been to Lisbon before, nor even Portugal for that matter, but she could feel in her veins the past excitements of this place. From here, from beneath this very tower, Portugal had expanded its nautical trade, her adventurers and explorers had discovered the new – to them – civilisations of India, Africa, the Americas and the still relatively unknown Far East. Vasco da Gama, Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan: had they all known this river, this city? Sailed away, wondering if they would return home?

Tiola sighed. Given the destruction and genocides, in the name of Catholic Christianity that explorers such as these had caused, she wondered, as she threaded her way carefully through the hustle and bustle of such a large port, whether those voyages should be honoured or condemned.

Had Jesamiah been here, she wondered? She had never talked to him about the various places he had seen, where he had been, what he had done – although, for some of them it would maybe be advisable not to know. She smiled to herself. As a young man it was more than likely that, wherever he had been, he’d got up to mischief of one sort or another. In a brothel, probably.


 SEA WITCH   Voyage one

 PIRATE CODE  Voyage two

 BRING IT CLOSE  Voyage three


 ON THE ACCOUNT  Voyage five

 WHEN THE MERMAID SINGS  A prequel to the series

And just published… 


The Sixth Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne

Where the Past haunts the future…

Damage to her mast means Sea Witch has to be repaired, but the nearest shipyard is at Gibraltar. Unfortunately for Captain Jesamiah Acorne, several men he does not want to meet are also there, among them, Captain Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, who would rather see Jesamiah hang.

Then there is the spy, Richie Tearle, and manipulative Ascham Doone who has dubious plans of his own. Plans that involve Jesamiah, who, beyond unravelling the puzzle of a dead person who may not be dead, has a priority concern regarding the wellbeing of his pregnant wife, the white witch, Tiola.

Forced to sail to England without Jesamiah, Tiola must keep herself and others close to her safe, but memories of the past, and the shadow of the gallows haunt her. Dreams disturb her, like a discordant lament at a wake.

But is this the past calling, or the future?

My review:

I have been waiting a loooong time to get my hands on the next instalment of Helen Hollick’s excellent series featuring pirate Jesamiah Acorne and his wife, white witch Tiola.

So it was with very high expectations I settled down to disappear into the past, more specifically 1719, accompanied by dashing, temperamental and resourceful Jesamiah and the just as resourceful but substantially quieter Tiola.

The story starts off in Gibraltar, where Jesamiah Acorne has just been informed his ship, Sea Witch, is in serious need of repairs due to rot. It doesn’t take long for Ms Hollick to have erased any sense of the here and now, so stuck am I on the steep streets of The Rock, complete with inns and ships, thriving businesses, people from all walks of life—and the very, very nasty Ascham Doone.

A good yarn requires a good villain—well, a bad villain—and Doone fits the bill perfectly. Manipulative, self-serving and entirely without conscience, it is evident something is seriously wrong with Doone—likely his parents dropped him one too many times on his head when he was little—so when he blackmails Jesamiah into undertaking a task for him, this reader tries desperately to tell my favourite pirate to say “no”. Except Jesamiah can’t, especially as he has a pregnant wife to keep safe.

So, against the whispered protests of his gut, Jesamiah escorts Tiola aboard a ship that is to carry her back to safety in England—accompanied by Doone, no less. With his wife safely on her way home, Jesamiah has no intention of completing the task Doone has lumbered him with. But Doone is wily, and he has an accomplice in Richie Tearle, which is how Jesamiah finds himself the very reluctant guest of Royal Navy captain Edward Vernon.

Ms Hollick spins a fast and entertaining tale. Tensions rise. My nails disappear round chapter twenty. My tea has long gone cold, and I have a cramp in my calf, but I just can’t stop reading, all of me full of foreboding when Ascham Doone and Tiola begin the last stage of the journey back home.

As always, Ms Hollick endeavours to transport her readers not only to the past, but also to the life aboard an 18th century ship. Casually, she inserts little details, be it the inedible bread that costs Jesamiah a tooth, the gory details of battle at sea, the descriptions of sails and cabins, of sailors clambering aloft to manage sails.

Other than her protagonists, Ms Hollick presents us with a broad cast of characters, some of them likeable, some acutely dislikeable (Jed Garrick, I say. Or Doone ) Some are utterly entrancing, like Maha’dun, this cheroot-loving creature that clearly isn’t human. It is testament to Ms Hollick’s capacity to spin a story that the paranormal elements come across as completely normal.

I close Gallows Wake with a groan. Why? Because now I will have to begin waiting for the next book. I hope Ms Hollick will write really, really fast, and if she needs some help in how to dispatch Ascham Doone I am more than willing to help. Except I suspect Jesamiah Acorne has his own ideas when it comes to dealing with that pond scum.


Amazon Author Page (Universal link)

Where you will find the entire series waiting at anchor in your nearest Amazon harbour – do come aboard and share Jesamiah’s derring-do nautical adventures!

(available Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback)

 Or order a paperback copy from your local bookstore!

About the author
First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen Hollick became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write…


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Twitter: @HelenHollick

6 thoughts on ““Oh, a pirate’s life is a wonderful life” – maybe not, but Helen’s pirate Jesamiah is deffo wonderful!”

  1. Thank you Anna. I know you have the same ‘problems’ with your characters – I wonder do they all sit together in an otherworldly bar somewhere discussing us and our attempts at writing their stories down?
    Hmph. Of course they do!
    (now that might make a good article if only we could eavesdrop on them…)
    Voyage 7, Jamaica Gold is already being planned. IF I can it’ll be published late 2023. It all depends on how long I can keep Jesamiah sober…
    Thanks again Anna

  2. Bang on the nail, Helen! I remember this dilemma when you, Anna and I collaborated on the short story collection “1066 Turned UpsideDown”. Apart from trying to keep the characters under control(!), we had to imagine what was built or not, farmed or forested in 1065/66. And mostly importantly, see the characters’ world through their eyes. And Jesamiah’s eyes see things cynically, recklessly, lovingly, practically, romantically… A really well-mixed and conflicted character.
    Very many congrats on Gallows Wake!

    1. Thanks Alison – at least with Sea Witch I can be a little ‘bendable’ with facts as the Voyages do have their fantasy/supernatural element – unlike pure historical fiction. Although, even for fantasy the facts, when used as facts, need to be carefully used in order to keep the made-up bits believable!

      1. Very true. I recall Terry Pratchet once saying that whatever “facts” one presented in fantasy had to be consistent. So, if a cross could be used to ward of vampires, any cross-like shape should have the same effect, be it the back of a chair, or a window with four panes…

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