I’m proud to host today’s Q&A with author Helen Hollick, who is fresh from this year’s Historical Novel Society conference in London. Helen is participating with me and five other authors in a blog hop to celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19–my birthday; how fitting, eh?). In conjunction with the blog hop, we are giving away copies of our books to lucky winners in our humble contest. To enter, click on the link at the end of this post. You increase your chances of winning by liking and/or following the various authors on Facebook and Twitter.
So without further ado, I present the esteemable Helen Hollick.
What made you want to write about pirates in the first place? What is it about them that intrigued you as a writer?
I loved the movie Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl because it was fun, had a fine blend of adventure, romance, action, humour and fantasy. None of it was meant to be taken seriously, it was entertainment only, a movie to sit back and enjoy. As an avid reader I searched for adult novels that had a similar content, and while I found many superb “straight” nautical fiction there was nothing with that tongue-in-cheek sailor’s yarn element. So I wrote my own.
I researched the historical side of piracy and immediately found several interesting actual events that would fit well into an exciting nautical adventure that had a touch of fantasy included. To be able to weave an imaginative story into factual truth is great fun to write – and read, I hope!
Tell us a little about your book, Sea Witch, that you’re giving away for this event.
Sea Witch is the first of several Voyages – there are four at the moment with the fifth being written and a sixth to follow. There will probably be more.
The Time : The Golden Age of Piracy – 1716.
The Place : The Pirate Round – from the South African Coast to the sun drenched Islands of the Caribbean.
Escaping the bullying of his elder half-brother, from the age of fifteen Jesamiah Acorne has been a pirate with only two loves – his ship and his freedom. But his life is to change when he and his crewmates unsuccessfully attack a merchant ship off the coast of South Africa.
He is to meet Tiola Oldstagh an insignificant girl, or so he assumes – until she rescues him from a vicious attack, and almost certain death, by pirate hunters. And then he discovers what she really is; a healer, a midwife – and a white witch. Her name, an anagram of “all that is good.” Tiola and Jesamiah become lovers, but the wealthy Stefan van Overstratten, a Cape Town Dutchman, also wants Tiola as his wife and Jesamiah’s jealous brother, Phillipe Mereno, is determined to seek revenge for resentments of the past, a stolen ship and the insult of being cuckolded in his own home.
When the call of the sea and an opportunity to commandeer a beautiful ship – the Sea Witch – is put in Jesamiah’s path he must make a choice between his life as a pirate or his love for Tiola. He wants both, but Mereno and van Overstratten want him dead.
In trouble, imprisoned in the darkness and stench that is the lowest part of his brother’s ship, can Tiola with her gift of Craft, and the aid of his loyal crew, save him?
Using all her skills Tiola must conjure up a wind to rescue her lover, but first she must brave the darkness of the ocean depths and confront the supernatural being, Tethys, the Spirit of the Sea, an elemental who will stop at nothing to claim Jesamiah Acorne’s soul and bones as a trophy.
In reality, pirates were awful people that most of us wouldn’t want to run across if we were sailing a ship, but in our culture they’ve been romanticized so often that it’s almost expected by some folk. Do you have trouble balancing reality with the romanticized aura of the pirate, or do you not worry too much about that when crafting your tales?
I wanted to blend the humour, romance and fantasy of the Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones movies with the action of James Bond and Hornblower, while adding the factual authenticity of Patrick O‘Brian’s Jack Aubrey novels. But above all I wanted to write something that was a fun read, albeit with the darker side of life in the early 1700’s included. Pirates were not alone in being “not nice” people: this was when African slavery was on the rise, when a child could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread or poaching a rabbit; when a woman could be whipped, semi naked in public for committing adultery. When men preferred to join the army or navy in preference to facing the squalid conditions of being jailed. Death in its many various guises was harsh, life was even harsher. So no, my direction when writing was not intended to portray the reality, but the excitement of adventure, and the relationship between a man who would give his life for the woman he loves, and she could be hanged as a witch if ever she became careless. Having said that, my Captain Jesamiah Acorne is no pushover – he is quick to laugh but formidable when angry. He has his priorities and killing someone before they kill him is one of them. My novels have adult content, violence, sex and a little bad language. In that sense, they reflect reality.
How often do you turn to real-life pirates for inspiration in creating your characters or plot?
The reality behind the romantic view is essential for research. What I enjoy is taking the facts of an event and using it to create a plausible imaginative storyline. My nautical references are as accurate as I can get them, (thanks to James L Nelson who edits for me), but I also have scenes that are fantasy. My female protagonist is, after all, a White Witch, but I prefer to use a more believable aspect to her Craft – more The Force in Star Wars rather than the magic wand of Harry Potter.
What I especially enjoy is adding a twist in the tale concerning the historical facts: for instance, in the third Voyage, Bring It Close, Jesamiah is instrumental in planning the well-recorded factual demise of Blackbeard. But Jesamiah firmly states that he will not have his name written down in any official book – which is why you will not find him documented anywhere.
What makes your series different from other piratical adventures out there? What’s your main goal with your pirate stories?
The Sea Witch Voyages are not meant to be taken seriously – they are adult sailor’s yarn-type novels. I believe they are different from other nautical adventures because I include a fantasy element as well as accurate sailing detail and historical events. Mine are pure escapism, designed to take the reader into that imaginative world of a cracking good read.
My main goal? Well, every author dreams of heading a best seller list or achieving a movie or TV drama deal – of course I would love those, but my main aim is much simpler, although as an Indie Writer not necessarily easy to achieve. I want readers to enjoy Captain Jesamiah Acorne’s adventures and maybe fall in love with his charismatic charm as much as I have.
Bonus Question: If you had to design a pirate flag for yourself, what would it look like?
Oh that’s easy! Royal blue with two cutlasses in white, with an acorn and oak leaf in the centre where they cross.
Why the acorn and oak leaf? Well, because of Jesamiah’s name. The cutlasses because he is an (ex) pirate and the Royal Blue colour? That is because Jesamiah wears blue ribbons laced into his hair. He uses them in a variety of ways – for giving as a token after a night of pleasure in a brothel (before he met Tiola, I might add), for urgent repairs when cordage or rope is not available, or for the real reason – they make a handy, quickly accessible garrote…
Born in North-East London UK, Helen Hollick started writing pony stories as a teenager. She moved onto science fiction and fantasy and then discovered the delight of writing historical fiction. Published in the UK and the US with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, she officially made the USA Today best seller list with her novel Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, a series of nautical adventures inspired by her love of the Golden Age of Piracy.
As a firm supporter of independent authors she has recently taken on the role of Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and introduced an annual Historical Fiction Indie Award.
Helen now lives in Devon, England, with her husband, daughter and son-in-law, and a variety of pets, including a dog, cats, horses, chickens, ducks and a goose.
To enter the book giveaway, just follow this link to my official website and use the widget the enter: Contest.