When two prolific award winning authors get together for some fun, watch out! Anna Belfrage (author of the Graham Saga Books) talks to Helen Hollick (author of the Sea Witch pirate stories)-
Anna shares Helen’s great adventure-
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.
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.
The 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 Creekand 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.”
He 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.
Be sure to stop by and learn more about Helen Hollick and her pirates at her website and at her blog!
and, of course, find out more about the Graham’s and Anna Belfrage at her website