An Interview with Helen Hollick

Ripples in the SandHistoric Naval Fiction is pleased to have obtained an Interview with Helen Hollick whose new novel in the The Sea Witch series, Ripples in the Sand, was recently released.

What can you tell us about Ripples in the Sand without spoiling the plot for readers?

In this fourth adventure Captain Jesamiah Acorne again finds himself in trouble, (trouble follows him like a ship's wake) but the action has moved from the Caribbean and North America to England and Spain. He has a cargo of tobacco to sell – legally, I might add, although he also has a substantial amount of contraband aboard. Tiola, his wife, is also aboard but she is very ill. The crew assume she is suffering from acute seasickness, but in fact her energy of Craft is being drained by the malice of Tethys, goddess-spirit of the sea, who wants Jesamiah for herself. Tiola must find out why Tethys is obsessed with Jesamiah in order to put an end to the on-going feud between them – if Tiola fails, then she could lose Jesamiah to the sea.

Helen-Hollick-blog-tour-2013Our charmer of a rogue, meanwhile, has his cargo to sell, meets with relatives he did not know he had, and the notorious Doone family of Exmoor. Unwittingly he becomes embroiled in the Jacobite rebellion of 1719 in which there was an attempt to put James Stuart back on the English throne through a great armada of ships. (The Spanish did not seem to learn the lesson of a previous such attempt during the reign of Elizabeth I !) He is also to meet with an old flame... and somehow get himself out of the difficulties he finds himself in...

I decided to bring Jesamiah to England for two reasons; the first to make a change of scene, the second because it is easier for me to research the details of my home country – and County, for I have recently moved from London to Devon. I now live about 15 miles from where Ripples In The Sand is set!

Tiola is more to the fore in this story, we find out a little of her past and how she came to be 'involved' with Jesamiah's ancestors and his own birth.

I originally decided to use Bideford, Devon, as a setting for this book as my good friend and treasured editor lives near there – imagine my astonishment (and delight) when undertaking more detailed research I discovered that in the early eighteenth century Bideford was one of England's leading ports for the Virginia tobacco trade - I had no idea of this when I was thinking up the original plot!

What led you to the combination of a pirate and a witch for your principal characters?

Like many a female follower of nautical adventure, I became enamoured by a certain Jack Sparrow when he first appeared (created by Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl). While enjoying the 'straight' nautical tales such as Hornblower, Kydd, and Jack Aubrey etc, I wanted something a bit more to read – a blend of fun and fantasy. Something not quite so 'serious', the sailor's yarn stories of mermaids and magical creatures. I also wanted a more feminine aspect to my reading – there are very few women in the Hornblower books.

I looked for reading material that would capture the blend of realism and fantasy that was good fun in Pirates of the Caribbean, along with a charming rogue of a handsome hero – but found absolutely nothing. Simple answer; I wrote what I wanted to read.

The combination of a pirate and a white witch seemed a good base for several books in a series; I could go where I wanted with either character because the boundary for ideas is fixed by the limitation – or extent – of my imagination.

How did you undertake your research?

By reading. I devour as many of the well-written nautical adventures as I can; Patrick O'Brian, Julian Stockwin, C.S. Forrester and a host of other writers, because these give such an authentic feel of the sea. I then use text books to research the history behind each story – Blackbeard, for instance, who appeared as a guest character in Bring It Close. I was also fortunate enough to visit Colonial Williamsburg where the men captured after Blackbeard's demise were tried, and hanged. Seeing actual buildings, or at least their replicas, is immensely helpful.

For the sailing detail I have several books which I find invaluable – mainly Seamanship in the Age of Sail by John Harland, illustrated by Mark Myers. It has almost every sailing manoeuvre an author requires. I am indebted to author and nautical historian James L. Nelson who recommended it; he also, very kindly, edits the sailing scenes in my novels for which I am very grateful as I have never sailed in anything larger than a Mirror Dinghy!

What do you have planned for the future of the Sea Witch series?

Ah, that would be telling! *laugh*. I plan at least six 'Voyages', the next two being On the Account and Gallows Wake, but very probably there will be at least ten adventures for Jesamiah – possibly more, depending on whether I can think up the plots.

Voyage Five, On the Account, will follow on from where Ripples In The Sand finishes. On the Account will also see Jesamiah and a new friend seeking a missing valuable casket in the Azores and Virginia, where the beautiful Alicia will be re-appearing.

Gallows Wake almost speaks for itself – Jesamiah finds himself mixed up with Devon smugglers and in real trouble with the law this time....

What intrigues you about the period in which Jesamiah and Tiola lived?

I think it is the start of the change of social history that intrigues me most. The early 1700's is when the old age is fading and the new is beginning; the sciences, the industrial revolution, the expansion and the opening up of trade around the whole world. Ships are becoming bigger and faster. The Golden Age of Piracy itself, though short lived, is a romantic time when there is opportunity for fortunes to be made, and lost. For an author of nautical fiction this period is exciting – and not so widely written about as is the end of the eighteenth century.

What drew you to write your first novel?

My first novel was the first in my Pendragon's Banner trilogy – The Kingmaking. It is the story of King Arthur as it might have really happened – no knights in armour, no holy grail; no Lancelot or Merlin. Instead, a charismatic warlord of the late fourth/early fifth century who had to fight hard to gain his kingdom of Britain, and fight even harder to keep it.

I spent ten years writing what became The Kingmaking and half of Pendragon's Banner – I was staggered when the agent who took me on informed me that I had the making of an epic trilogy! I wrote it because I wanted to explore the background to the more familiar Norman-based tales – the earlier Welsh legends that became the Medieval romantic stories after the Norman Conquest. I have never seen Arthur as the Christian king who abandoned his kingdom to go off in search of the grail – or who would tolerate being cuckolded. My Arthur would have beheaded Lancelot at the outset, but then, my Guinevere (or Gwenhwyfar as I call her) would never have betrayed Arthur in the first place.

I was accepted for publication twenty years ago, a week after my fortieth birthday in fact; I am delighted that the Trilogy is still going strong and is now counted as one of the best non-fantasy books about King Arthur.

When and what do you read yourself?

Unfortunately I have deteriorating sight so anything with small print is hard for me to read – thank goodness for Kindle where you can adjust the size of the font! I tend to read novels that are completely different to what I write (apart from the nautical adventures mentioned above) so crime, light-hearted romantic romps and such are a pleasure. I also read several Indie-published novels, because I am passionate about supporting writers who have the guts to follow their heart and produce their own books.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

I would like to share my pleasure of moving from London to Devon. It has taken me fifty years to realise a dream of living in the country, having land and my horses at home – I was worried before the move that perhaps, as a family, we were not doing the right thing, but I am so happy here in my new home. To wake up in the morning and look out over the Taw Valley at such beautiful scenery is indescribable.

And to be so close to where I plan to set the next few of my novels is wonderful! It now only takes a twenty minute drive to walk on the beach where Jesamiah and Tiola argued, and where Tiola drew a line through the ripples in the sand in order to access the hidden events of her past....

Ripples in the Sand is published by Silverwood Books

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