Thanks for popping in! I’ve the extreme pleasure of featuring and interviewing some authors close to my heart these next few weeks. This week, it’s all about extremely talented author, Helen Hollick.
I’d like to start at the beginning when it comes to Helen. Years ago, I first became published. What did this mean? Not all the fuzzy-warm writing I thought it would mean, but a great deal of promotion. Where to start in 2007? Myspace! Yep, at that time, Myspace had everything beat─facebook, twitter, what were those? So, I spent ample hours creating my Myspace page. “hours being an understatement.” At long last, it was done. And shining bright for a month or so. Until doomsday. What was that? None other than the day I opened my page and half had vanished! Did I cry? Of course, just a little. Did I fidget and toggle with Myspace forever to fix it? Yes. No luck. At last, I bucked it up and reached out to the friends whom had accepted my ‘friend invite.’ First on the list, Jessamiah Acorne- AKA, Helen Hollick.
As you can imagine, I never thought in a million years Helen would actually respond when I emailed her asking for help. She was a well-established, exceedingly popular writer, consultant for a movie, and ‘then some’ sort of author. But she did respond! Told me exactly what to do. I never forgot that.
Big things come from small things.
Since then I’ve learned a great deal about exactly who Helen Hollick is. Mind you, before I wrote romance, I read only Dragon Lance and Forgotten Realms stories. That wasn’t exactly Helen’s area. Now, in retrospect, I’m so humbled she took the time to reach a hand out to help me. Naturally, her advice worked, my Myspace page once again sprang to life. But more than that, I discovered an excellent person, a woman whom adored her family and a cut-above-the-rest author. Trust me folks, she’s the big people and I the little when it comes to the publishing industry. Her years of experience, historical knowledge, many publications and pure graciousness paved the way for Helen. That she helped me out in a time of distress says an awful lot about her character.
Thank you, Helen.
On to the fun stuff! Years later, still in touch with Helen, always determined to give back to her for all she’s done for me…I introduce none other than Helen Hollick herself! As you can tell, I’m horribly thrilled to have Helen at my blog. What a rare pleasure. (I’m such a fan!!!) Naturally, there’s a contest. Helen would like to offer an autographed copy of Sea Witch and Pirate Code. At the end of the post there's a question. Answer it correctly and be entered to win. So two winners will be drawn, each will win a book! All right, here we go…
SKY: Helen, thank you so much for visiting. It’s a true pleasure!
HELEN: It’s my pleasure to be here Sky. May I say how much I enjoy your books? They are just right for a spot of relaxing escapism.
SKY: Thanks so much, Helen! Tell me, what age did you first decide that writing was your passion─that you wanted to become an author?
HELEN: I’ve wanted to write ever since I was about 13, when I scribbled away at pony stories – I couldn’t have a real pony, so writing about an imaginary one was the next best thing. I did not consider becoming a published author until I was in my early 20’s though. Until then, I assumed authors were university graduates with degrees and High Education – clever people. The school I went to did not encourage their girls to have exotic career ideas. Our lot in life, back in the 60’s, was to become shop assistants, factory workers, and ultimately, housewives. I did suggest at my careers talk that I would like to be a journalist. The interviewing teacher laughed and told me; “Don’t be silly Helen, you can’t type.” Actually, I still can’t. I use four fingers and am pathetic at touch typing. Doesn’t seem to have hindered me much….
SKY: If you could choose one story out of all you’ve written to showcase as your ‘masterpiece,’ the story closest to your heart, which one would it be and why?
HELEN: Unfair question! That’s like asking a mother of a large family which one of her children does she like best! LOL :-)
They are all close to my heart for different reasons. The Kingmaking because it was the first adult novel I had published. I am immensely proud of it – and I am still overawed that my demented scribblings became a real book. It took me ten years to research and write what turned out to be Kingmaking and half of book two in the Trilogy - Pendragon’s Banner, so I think my pride is justified.
Harold the King (to be published as I Am The Chosen King in the US in March 2011) is probably my best serious historical fiction novel. I am proud of that in a different way, most notably because I receive such enthusiasm for it, and respectful praise from re-enactors and people who now their stuff regarding 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. I am also involved in a prospective movie project – 1066 - as co-scriptwriter, so that is exciting as well.
And then there are the Sea Witch Voyages, I wrote the first book out of pure love. We hit a few stormy seas once I’d finished it – but I unashamedly admit I adore my character, Jesamiah Acorne.
SKY: I must agree, he’s spectacular! As Sea Witch was the first book I ever read by you (and one of my personal favorites), I’d love to focus on that. Let’s crawl inside the heroines head. What was the one thing Tiola did in Sea Witch that you feel summed up a great deal about her character? Why?
HELEN: Oh, a hard question. Two scenes come to mind: on the stairs leading to her apartment in Cape Town, and when she summons up a wind while on the Sea Witch. I’ll go with the first one.
Jesamiah has been seriously wounded, Tiola, a midwife and a healer, finds him in danger of bleeding to death and takes him to her home, a small upstairs apartment in the heart of early 18th century Cape Town. She patches him up and nurses him back to health. We see her as a caring, capable and quiet young woman. She has obviously fallen in love with this handsome rogue, despite knowing he is a thief and a pirate, and that one day soon he will return to his ship and sail away.
Jesamiah, of course, wants to take her to bed – he is somewhat of a womanizer, but he soon discovers that his feelings for her are starting to run deeper than a need of passing lust. He sees Tiola as young, beautiful, a bit shy, and vulnerable. It would be so easy to take advantage of her if he so chose.
Almost recovered, he is fetching water from the well downstairs. The staircase and entrance door to the street is a dark and shadowed area; he hears the ominous click of a pistol hammer…. His enemies have found him! A shot is fired, it misses, he races up the stairs intending to get his own pistol, but Tiola is there, her arm outstretched, her appearance that of a wrinkled old crone.
“Wot be ‘ee ‘bout yur?” Tiola said (to the intruder) her accent a strong rolling Cornish, quite different to the mild, soft lilt Jesamiah had become accustomed to.“Be no one ‘ere but me’sel’ boy.”
Jesamiah was stunned. He stood rigid, open mouthed. He was standing clearly in sight at the top of the stairs; how could Tiola say she was alone?
Gesturing with her hand, Tiola’s unblinking stare never left the intruder’s eyes. She spoke again, commanding, in her own, sweet, voice. “This is not the place to be looking for pirates. You will not be remembering coming here – be gone with you, and leave us in peace.”
The man turned, slid his pistol into his pocket, began to walk away.
Tiola made a soft sound, “Hie-asssh,”and the air quivered again with a high, long, note of sound, barely audible, perfectly pitched. The man opened the street door, went through. Closed it behind him.
Tiola looked up the stairs. Jesamiah was standing there staring, pale-faced.
His arm was aching abominably and he was shaking. She had said she was a witch, he had not seriously believed her.
And so – along with Jesamiah - we discover that Tiola is not quite as she outwardly seems!
SKY: Super excerpt! Pirate Jesamiah Acorne has his hands full, but he knows what he wants, Tiola. Trials and tribulations aside, what was going through your mind as you wrote about him? Aside from his piratical (and super sexy) attributes, how did you want the reader to see him, relate to him?
HELEN: Sea Witch, as a novel almost wrote itself. The scenes rolled into my head like a flood tide, one after the other; there were very few places where I had to stop and think what could happen next. To me, Jesamiah is very, very real. (I can hear him chuckling behind me as I write this. Phew, and smell him! (Please dear, go and have a bath…)
Outwardly he is cock-sure of himself, nothing can harm him, he is invincible. All the women adore him and he is ready to roll into bed or dispose of a bottle of rum at the drop of his three-corner pirate hat. He is a more than capable sailor, a crack shot and afraid of nothing. He is, definitely, a capable seaman – but for the rest of it? Yes, he likes a tumble in bed with a pretty woman, but it is passing lust. He is lonely. He wants someone to love and to love him back. We discover in later books that he wants a child, to settle down – but that is not likely to happen for a man like Jesamiah, who finds trouble in one form or another awaiting him at every anchorage.
He has his fears and doubts, he makes mistakes. He can be utterly ruthless – he has no qualms about killing someone who is a threat to him. He has sex with his half brother’s wife – in the brother’s own house, while a party is going on downstairs, and has no feelings of guilt about it. He also steals whatever he fancies and see nothing wrong in it. He knows one day he will be caught and will hang – but has no fear of death, only the manner of it. But equally, he is tender and gentle, loyal, honourable and can be trusted - although things go wrong and sometimes it seems he is nothing more than a pig-headed drunken womanizer. Well, he is a pirate!
I wanted to create a character who was interesting and complex, who was not all he seemed but who would not be predictable. The sort of man that every woman secretly wishes she had as her own. A charmer, a rogue, but solid and dependable, always there when needed, no matter what. The sort of man who would take a bullet – or a savage flogging - to save the woman he loves.
As the three books so far written have come into being I have discovered things about Jesamiah that I never expected. What is exciting is that I plan to write at least three more “voyages” and I know I will get an enormous thrill from discovering even more about him!
SKY: When researching the history behind Sea Witch, what was your favorite part? The ships, time period, clothing? Share!
HELEN: Clothing is the most challenging to research, What did men and women wear underneath? How did a man unbutton his breeches? How did a woman manage with those layers of skirts when she visited “the necessary”? The time period is fascinating to research. I try to stick to exact events, but as this is an adventure fantasy series I feel I can have a little leeway with ‘poetic licence’. Woodes Rogers and William Dampier, for instance, were at Cape Town in 1711 not 1716, and the Spanish treasure ships went down off the coast of Florida in July 1715 not July 1716, but Sea Witch is a fantasy novel, not a factual book or even one of straight historical fiction. I do always make a public confession of my “tampering” in my author’s note though. Voyage Three, Bring It Close centres around the dastardly deeds of one of the most famous pirates of all – Blackbeard. I had great fun weaving the facts of his demise into my storyline. Jesamiah is manifest in finishing Blackbeard, but in the story he demands that no mention is made of his involvement. Which is why you will not find the name Captain Jesamiah Acorne in a single historical document!
So my favourite part? Oh the ships! The ships! I love tall ships, even though I have never been on one in my life. I am certain I had something to so with shipping in a previous life though. How else do I know the specific terms, know how a ship feels when she is running before a wind? Know the smells and sounds? I’m certain it is all there in my subconscious or DNA memory.
Sea Witch is loosely based on a real ship, the Rose. She was built some years ago as a replica of a real Rose which sailed towards the end of the 18th century and was mixed up in the beginnings of the American War of Independence. I love this particular "reproduction" ship, she is so beautiful. Technically some her design is too advanced for Sea Witch-the real Rose was built circa 1750, my Sea Witch circa 1715, so copper-cladding for keels, dolphin strikers (a spar reaching downward from the bowsprit) etc would not have been "invented" yet. But as I said before, Sea Witch is adventure fantasy, not accurate history.
Maybe you have not heard of the Rose? If you are an avid movie-goer and watch anything to do with the sea you will know her as a more famous fictional ship - Surprise in Master & Commander with Russell Crowe as Cpt Jack Aubrey.
My ambition is to sail on a real tall ship. I would not be able to do anything, a creaking old hip, poor head for heights and various other bits of me that are wearing out would prevent me being an active sailor; but to stand on the quarterdeck and just drink it all in…. ah, one day! One day!
SKY: Oh, I'm sure you will, Helen! If you could say one thing to Jesamiah and Tiola, what would it be?
HELEN: LOL! To Jesamiah; ‘keep your breeches buttoned my lad.’ To Tiola; ‘Be patient with him, he’s worth the effort.’
SKY: Love it! Stepping outside your stories. You are such an extremely talented author, Helen. Beyond pleased to have you over. If you could give any advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?
HELEN: Thank you (blush) People who know me will groan because there is one thing I am always on about. The importance of editing! A few years ago mainstream publishing houses would take a chance on a potential new writer even if the submitted manuscript was in need of an in-depth polish. Now, the big houses are more fussy. They cannot afford to take a gamble on a possibility, so aspiring authors need to do as much polishing as they can first. And if you decide to self publish then it is so important to edit – in fact I would say it essential to use a professional editor before going “independently” into print.
Now I am not just talking about a copy-editor who corrects spelling, punctuation and grammar. I’m talking about the foundation work – continuity, author’s voice, “head hopping” and point of view changes. Do the characters ‘stay in character’, is the story readable? An author cannot easily assess all these things because you are too close to the story. You know that character A goes to the bank that morning for a certain reason, but have you remembered to tell your readers?
Someone once described writing a book as like building a house. Yes anyone can do it and end up with a reasonable end result that brings a lot of pleasure. But when you decide to sell the house you’ve built, other people are not impressed by windows that will not close, sloping floors and a sagging roof. Yes, all these things may add ‘charm’ but charm is not necessarily going to sell the thing.
So you bring in a painter and a cleaner. They spruce the place up, but it still has ill shutting windows and a sagging roof, even though the paint sparkles and the place is spotless. To fix the big things you need an architect.
With a book, a copy editor will tidy your manuscript up, but the paragraphs and sequence of events may still be all over the place. You would be better using the services of a good advisory editor. Yes this will cost money – anyone who thinks writing a book is a cheap way of making money is very wrong. Your book is more likely to be picked up by a mainstream publisher – or sell far better as a self published book – if you check the windows and roof are built properly!
If anyone is interested, my Discovering The Diamond, hints and tips for authors, is on my website, available for free. Click HERE.
SKY: Excellent advice. Thank you so much for being here, Helen!
HELEN: My pleasure – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Purchase Helen's books at Amazon, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble , Borders and many other online bookstores.
Learn more about Helen Hollick. Visit her at her ~ Website ~ Muse and Views Blog ~ Monthly Journal ~ Blog Profile ~ Picture Diary Blog ~ Facebook ~Twitter
Contact Helen at Author@HelenHollick.net
Don’t forget, for two chances to win big, be sure to answer the following question in a comment at this blog by Friday, September 10th, 12 PM EST.
~What trilogy does Helen advertise on the home page of her Website? To find the answer, click HERE.
Thanks for visiting!