Who doesn’t love pirate stories? Tall tales of adventure and daring have fueled our interest in these daring swashbucklers of the high seas. But what do we really know about pirates?
I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Helen Hollick as a guest on the blog. Helen’s list of literary accomplishments run long and deep. She’s the author of one of my favourite series, The Sea Witch, which blends historical fiction with a touch of fantasy. Most recently, she has released her non-fiction book, Pirates: Truth and Tales through Amberley Publishing. Today she’s here to talk about pirates.
So pull up a seat, pour a cup of rum (or any other libation you’d like) and join me in welcoming Helen!
Dropping Anchor to Talk About Pirates, by Helen Hollick
The fictional world of pirates, represented in novels and movies is somewhat different to the base reality, but what draws readers and viewers to these notorious ‘bad boys’ of the past? What are the facts behind the fictional fantasy? Where does fact end and fiction begin? Helen has written a series of nautical Voyages based around her fictional pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his ship, Sea Witch, but her latest UK release in paperback is a non-fiction book – Pirates: Truth and Tales published by Amberley Press, which explores our fascination with the real pirates and those who are favourites in fiction. Today, Helen drops anchor for the first ‘port of call’ in her on-line two-week Voyage around the Blogs… she has a pirate or two with her for company…
Pirates. What is the fascination with these rogues from the past? Let’s face it, they were not very nice people, not exactly the sort to invite you to tea and cake on a Sunday afternoon. They might, if you were lucky and kept your wits about you, share a bottle of grog (rum) though. And if you were very lucky, they wouldn’t shoot you during or after the merry-making!
Pirates. The terrorists of their era – which was, primarily, a somewhat short ‘Golden Age’ centred around the Caribbean from about 1715– 1722ish, although piracy was known during the time of the Greeks and the Roman Empire and is still known (and feared) today, but hear the word ‘pirate’ and we automatically think of the Jolly Roger Flag, a gleaming cutlass, a bottle of rum and a swashbuckling life geared towards collecting as much (stolen) treasure as possible.
The image is partially true.
Pirates. What we think we know about them comes, on the whole, from the movies, TV and fiction. Who does not remember Captain Hook from Peter Pan? Long John Silver from Treasure Island, and of course Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean Disney franchise? You probably know a few of the factual names of real pirates as well: Blackbeard, Charles Vane, William Kidd, Calico Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Mary Read… You might also have heard of Black Sam Bellamy, Stede Bonnet and Howell Davis. Most of them hanged or died forlorn deaths – a pirate’s life was a short but merry one. Or was it as merry as we like to think?
It was certainly a hard life, but then life was hard for everyone who did not have the blessing of a good birth and access to the family fortune. In the early years of the eighteenth century the rich were rich, the poor were poor. (For the pedantic and picky people perusing this article, the same is true throughout history, but I’m waffling on about the 1700s, savvy?) Conditions were, well let’s not be gentle, very smelly, very dirty, very unhygienic and by our modern standards very unpleasant. Medical knowledge was limited, as was variety of diet. You worked from dawn until dusk for very little reward. If you were a woman you could expect to die in childbirth, and you were old at fifty – if you lived that long. Piracy was, for that short Golden Age, an attractive prospect. It was still a hard life, death was still a very real prospect courtesy the hangman’s noose, from injuries received, or severe illness from things like dysentery, plague, scurvy or sexually contracted disease such as syphilis. But being a pirate meant a certain amount of freedom: they went where they liked when they liked. They had access to relatively decent food and plenty of rum – albeit they had to find a ship to steal it all from first, and then go about actually acquiring it. And the added bonus? They could end up rich. Very rich indeed if they happened across a Spanish ship taking a cargo of gold from Mexico to Spain, or a merchantman laden with a cargo worth a fortune when sold.
Some pirates did end up rich: Blackbeard did alright for himself until the Governor of Virginia decided enough was enough and sent a Royal Navy crew out to put an end to him, and Samuel Bellamy possibly became the wealthiest pirate. He had a reputation for mercy, gentlemanly and generous behaviour, amassed a fortune but had a short piratical career of little more than a year. Born in Devon in late January or early February 1689 he drowned at the age of twenty-eight when his ship, the Whydah Galley, went down in a violent storm off the coast of Cape Cod. Perhaps he was one of the lucky ones. Most pirates – including William Kidd, Charles Vane and Jack Rackham died on the gallows.
In most fiction tales where the pirate is the hero he escapes the noose. But that is the stuff of fiction. Reality is never quite so clement. But then fiction is about entertainment and for all their reality faults, the fictional pirates are always entertaining aren’t they? Give me a made-up hunk of a hero pirate over a real, very nasty one, any day!
© Helen Hollick
Pirates: Truth And Tales published in paperback in the UK July 2018 and November 2018 in the US – but available for pre-order.
♦ Buy Pirates: Truth & Tales and Helen’s other books on Amazon – Click here
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Follow Helen’s Tour:
These links will take you to the Home Page of each blog host – Helen says thank you for their interest and enthusiasm! For exact URL links to each article go to Helen’s website: www.helenhollick.net which will be updated every day of the tour.
30th July: Here with me, launching the Pirate tour.
31st July: Anna Belfrage https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/ Ships That Pass…
1st August: Carolyn Hughes https://carolynhughesauthor.com/2018/08/01/pirates-of-the-middle-ages-by-helen-hollick/ Pirates of the Middle Ages
2nd August: Alison Morton https://alison-morton.com/blog/ From Pirate to Emperor
3rd August: Annie Whitehead https://rwranniewhitehead.blogspot.com/ The Vikings: Raiders or Pirates?
4th August: Tony Riches http://tonyriches.blogspot.co.uk/ An Interview With Helen Hollick (and maybe a couple of pirates thrown in for good measure?)
5th August: Lucienne Boyce http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.com/ Anne and Mary. Pirates.
6th August: Laura Pilli http://fieldofbookishdreams.blogspot.co.uk/ Why Pirates?
7th August: Mary Tod https://awriterofhistory.com/ That Essential Element… For A Pirate.
8th August: Pauline Barclay http://paulinembarclay.blogspot.com/ Writing Non-Fiction. How Hard Can It Be?
9th August: Nicola Smith http://shortbookandscribes.uk/ Pirates: The Tales Mixed With The Truth
10th August: Christoph Fischer https://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/ In The Shadow Of The Gallows
11th August: Debdatta http://www.ddsreviews.in/ What Is It About Pirates?
12th August: Discovering Diamonds https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.com/ It’s Been An Interesting Voyage…
13th August: Sarah Greenwood https://www.amberley-books.com/blog Pirates: The Truth and the Tales
14th August: Antoine Vanner https://dawlishchronicles.com/dawlish-blog/ The Man Who Knew About Pirates
All about Helen
Helen Hollick moved from London in 2013 and now lives with her family in North Devon, in an eighteenth century farmhouse. First published in 1994, her passion now is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of the nautical adventure series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown) the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (US title I Am The Chosen King) explores the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely praised as a more down-to-earth historical version of the Arthurian legend. She has written three non-fiction books, Pirates: Truth and Tales, Smugglers in Fact and Fiction (to be published 2019) and as a supporter of indie writers, co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new writers. She runs the Discovering Diamonds review blog for historical fiction assisted by a team of enthusiastic reviewers.
Helen is published in various languages.