Tuesday, July 19, 2011

" Sea Witch" by Helen Hollick Blog Tour Special

 * * * * * 
  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Silverwood Books (June 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906236601
For the next three days I am honored to be reviewing the Sea Witch series by Helen Hollick. Today I review the first book in this wonderful series "Sea Witch" along with a fascinating author interview. On Wednesday I will be reviewing the second book, "Pirate Code" and on Thursday I will present "Bring It Close". Follow along, leave a comment and on Thursday I will be picking one name from the proverbial hat to win a copy of "Sea Witch" sent to you by the author herself!

I have to admit that I was never much of a pirate fan. Johnny Depp changed my feelings with his colorful portrayal of the swashbuckling, slightly swashed pirate ,Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates Of The Caribbean series. The movie series sufficed to fill my pirate cravings - until a chance meeting with Helen Hollick's dauntless character Captain Jesamiah Acorn.

First - I must correct an error in my initial 'teaser' post - this is more than a trilogy really because a fourth title in the series will soon be published - so it is, in actuality, a quad series.... and who knows, maybe the adventures will continue! That would be a good thing  because once you start to read the series you won't want the story to end! Trust me on this !

The action of this series is rooted in the 'golden age' of piracy - around 1716 - and the action extends from the infamous 'horn of Africa' to the beaches of the well known pirate haunts in the Caribbean. If you can, for a moment, consider what Johnny Depp would be like if he was 100 per cent more charismatic you would have an idea of how good the main protagonist of the series, Captain Jesamiah Acorn, is. His command of the sailing vessel "Sea Witch" give series it's name. The main female character, Tiola Oldstaugh is a white witch and healer who saves Jesamiah from a murderous attack perpetrated by a band of pirate hunters. Ms. Hollick used an anagram of "all that is good" to fashion Tiola's name. Brilliant ! I think that Tethys - the soul of the seas who is portrayed as a living entity - (which I'm sure some seafarers would swear is true!) is one of my favorite elements of the series. Tethys has sworn that the handsome, invincible Captain Acorn will be hers. Tiola's task is to use the forces of her will and her love to prevent the sea from laying claim to her proud pirate, Jesamiah.

In this volume we are also introduced to the characters of Philippe Moreno, Jesamiah's bullying, vindictive, grasping brother and Stefan Van Overstreet, the wealthy and domineering Cape Town Dutchman who also wants Tiola as his wife - for all the wrong reasons. These main characters set the stage for what becomes a love story, a history of the pirate culture and a thoroughly engrossing story that you simply will not want to put down. I would advise that you have the entire series in your hands because as soon as one book ends you will feel the need to begin reading the next.

In reading the series I had so many questions about how Helen Hollick became enamored of the pirate culture and how that fascination led her to pen this most enjoyable, well researched series. What follows is my interview with the author.
MZJ:  What about the history inspired you to pen this series?
The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – The Curse of the Black Pearl, was such a fun movie to watch, and parts of it had an authentic “feel” (sadly, unlike the following two movies in the series) The nautical terms, for instance, were correct – and while this was a fantasy movie made for entertainment not history, I enjoyed the “intent” of its nature. I wanted to learn more though. How much of it was ‘real’ – how much made up? I bought a couple of non fiction books to read while on vacation and settled down to read. And was hooked. The reality of pirates is far better than any fiction novel! What a raggedy lot of rogues they were! 

Being a writer, of course, all the information I was taking in just bubbled over into the realm of imagination – and before I knew it, I had the entire plot of Sea Witch, the first Voyage in the series, in my head. And within three month, down on paper (well on the computer!)

MZJ: What is it about pirate culture that inspired you?

Real pirates were not the pleasant, charming rogues of Treasure Island, Frenchman’s Creek – or Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. They were mean, vicious, rapists, thieves, thugs and murderers. But then, so were most of the men of the army and navy in the eighteenth century! For some reason readers, especially us ladies of (ahem) a mature age, love the excitement of an adventurous rogue and the romantic adventures of daring-do. 

The reality of historical events – shipwrecks, treasure galleons, escaping (or not) the gallows. Smuggling, fights, duels – sex – well, who can resist the romantic lure of a fictional scallywag of a pirate?

MZJ: Did you base the characters of Jesamiah and Tiola on anyone who lived at that time? 

Captain Jesamiah Acorne is a made-up character, but he is a composite of the many famous pirates, the nearest, I suppose, being Jack Sparrow and Calico Jack – Jack Rackham. I liken him more, though, as a blend of Hornblower, Richard Sharpe, James Bond and Indiana Jones. A larger than life heroic figure, capable, brave, handsome – quick to laugh, formidable when angry. A man with two sides, the romantic lover, but the unrepentant killer. 

Tiola is even more made up. Her name, Tiola Oldstagh (say it as Teo-la Oldstaff) is an anagram of ‘all that is good’. She is a white witch, a healer and a midwife. A Wise Woman of the Light, her soul the reincarnation of her ancestors, her gift of Craft passed from grandmother to granddaughter down through the generations from the Dawn of Time. Her task – to protect human life from the Force of Evil - from the Dark Malevolents.

Although I call her a White Witch, she cannot do “spells” – her gift is more the ability to harness the energy that surrounds and binds us – more akin to the Force in Star Wars than the magic of Harry Potter

I suppose part of the reason why I wanted to create her character was to move away from the belief that witches are evil crones, bent on doing harm. Tiola can not commit harm to anyone, unless it is the only way to save herself. A fact that Jesamiah cannot always understand!

MZJ:  Did a specific ship inspire you to develop the  Sea Witch

While writing the first novel of the series, Sea Witch, I was not expecting to write an entire series – the subsequent adventures just sprang from the moderate success of the first book. Initially, I based the ship herself – the Sea Witch – on the Whydah and Queen Anne’s Revenge, both famous ships that have been extensively archaeologically explored and recorded. By the time I had decided to write the second Voyage – Pirate Code, however, I had gathered more information about Tall Ships and had discovered the love of my life – the Rose, better known as HMS Surprise from the movie Master & Commander. The love for this beautiful vessel was compounded when I met – by chance encounter – with the man who built the replica ship. I just had to use her as a template for Sea Witch, even though, technically, Rose/Surprise was built about 50 years after my stories are set. But these are adventure yarns, and are not meant to be historically accurate novels.

MZJ: Did you travel for research? How did you become so familiar with the terminology and flavor of the golden age of piracy?

I think sailing and tall ships must be in my genetic make-up, for many of the things I just “know.” My father was in the Marines for a while, he loved the sea (although he served in the Kings Royal Rifles during World War II)  I also know that many of my ancestors, on his side, came from Bristol – which back in the 17th and 18th centuries was the main sailing port in England. 

I research my sailing detail thoroughly, and a good friend, acclaimed maritime author James L. Nelson kindly edits and corrects for me. I suppose most of it I have gleaned as an avid reader –  a hefty chunk is pure imagination, and some of it is…. intuition maybe?

I have been, twice, to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia where I have several scenes set in Bring It Close (the third Voyage) and because I have been to San Francisco, I may well set a future adventure on the Pacific Coast. (San Francisco Bay was not discovered until quite late, because the early sailors had no idea of what lay beyond that persistent, shrouding mist!) Book four – Ripples in the Sand is set in Devon, England, where I go quite often as my freelance editor, Jo, lives there. And of course early Georgian London will have to make an appearance at some point.

As for the rest… I have never been to Cape Town, the Caribbean – and come to that, I have never sailed on a Tall Ship….Not in this life anyway…

MZJ:  What do you consider to be the main cause for the elimination of the pirate culture? Do you think that the actions of the famous pirate, Blackbeard, figure into the demise?

Blackbeard – real name Edward Teach - was a nasty character. As mad as a hatter and probably riddled with syphilis, as most pirates (and sailors) were in those days. The only reason why we know so much about Blackbeard, and Jack Rackham (Calico Jack) with his fellow partners, the two women, Mary Reed and Anne Bonney – plus others such as Henry Morgan, Stede Bonnet, Charles Vane and William Kidd, is because they were caught, tried and hanged – or killed while attempting to be caught. 

The details of Blackbeard are in the Colonial Williamsburg records because Governor Spotswood of Virginia ordered the Navy under his command to put an end to Piracy along the Carolina and Virginia coast. Blackbeard was killed in the ensuing fight off the Ocracoke, but his surviving crew were taken for trial in Williamsburg, and were hanged there.

The same for Rackham and the two women, who were caught and tried in Port Royal. Rackham hanged, but “pleading their belly” (pregnant) the women were reprieved. Mary Reed died in jail, we do not know what happened to Anne Bonney (the subject of another Voyage – could Jesamiah have rescued her?) There were many more pirates whose deeds and exploits are ,lost to us because they were never caught (and I bet you those two above were not the only female pirates!)

Piracy, of course, still exists (off the Somalia coast for instance) but in its day, the Golden Age, piracy was a lucrative business for some of the more successful pirates. It was a short-lived phase, from around 1690 to about 1725. The cotton, sugar and tobacco trades were just starting to become profitable. There were no serious wars between England / France / Spain / Holland (though there were smaller ones in various combinations between these countries) Because there was no serious fighting there was a surplus of sailors, all without anything to do. Rumour spread of the treasure ships in the Arabian Ocean and then the Caribbean – the gold being transported by Spain, and the money to be made from tobacco and rum. 

There were several thousand pirates in the Caribbean in the early eighteenth century, Port Royal, Tortuga, Nassau were notorious pirate dens. At first there were only a handful of Royal Navy ships to counter the pirates – and even these few had no idea of Caribbean waters, weather, or sailing conditions. They could only careen (clean the ship’s hull of barnacles etc) in official Navy ports – could only provision there as well, while a pirate ship could go anywhere the crew wanted. The pirates ran rings around the Navy – until their actions started having a detrimental effect on trade. The English and Colonial merchants back in Philadelphia and London were losing money and demanded to have something done about it. Governors such as Alexander Spotswood and William Dampier did just that – and with better equipped and more capable Navy Captains. The tobacco ship convoys from Virginia became better organized and then there came the American War of Independence, followed almost immediately by the Napoleonic Wars when the Navies of America and England became the elite service we are familiar with. No match for a pirate.

MZJ: Did a particular plantation figure in your presentation of Jesamiah's family home? Was Philippe based on anyone who actually lived?

No Phillipe is entirely made up – I had to have a thoroughly bad character to balance Jesamiah – although the story of the relationship between the two “brothers” developed of its own accord. When I set out to write Sea Witch, I had no idea of the events that unravel in the third Voyage, Bring It Close.

I have researched the plantations of Virginia, and along the Rappahannock, but no, la Sorenta is not a real place.

MZJ :  How did you first become interested in writing historical fiction? Are you a history buff in general?

I hated history at school – it was taught in such a dull, boring manner. I only discovered history in my early twenties when I realized that King Arthur may have been a real person who lived in Post Roman Britain – I wanted to find out more abut him, and got hooked. And once bitten by the events of the past, it is not easy to lose the bug. After all, we are all a part of history – our ancestors, the mothers of our mothers, and fathers of our fathers, lived in the past. And how much of their DNA genetic memory has been passed down to us I wonder, for us to rekindle by revisiting the past – whether in fact or fiction?

For more about Helen Hollick and her truly amazing work you can her at:  

Website:      www.helenhollick.net
Facebook :  www.facebook.com/helen.hollick
The Sea Witch page:



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