Sunday, July 17, 2011

Interview with Helen Hollick, author of the Sea Witch Voyages

I'm a fan of Helen Hollick's historical fiction novels, and I was excited to read her pirate adventure historical fiction novel, Sea Witch. I'm honored to be a part of her blog tour about the Sea Witch Voyages and to be able to interview Helen Hollick."Sea Witch is a ripping good tale starring an irresistible pirate hero, Jesamiah Acorne and his true love, the white witch, Tiola Oldstagh set during the golden age of piracy, 1716." For more of my review and a chance to win a copy of Sea Witch, see my blog post at this link. For an additional chance to win, leave an extra comment/question for Helen on this blog post (along with your email address).

Without further ado . . . Helen Hollick.

LAG: When did you first become interested in pirates? What was your inspiration for your unique hero Jesamiah Acorne?

HH: The first Pirate of the Caribbean movie. My daughter had the DVD (I had ignored it, thinking it was a children’s Disney adventure.) Not feeling well one afternoon, I was looking for something I hadn’t new to watch. I thought I’d try it. Well, Jack Sparrow coming into harbour atop the mast – then the wonderful scenes where he rescues Elizabeth and escapes the clutches of Norrington…. That was it! Hooked! Being interested in history, though, my curiosity was aroused. What were pirates really like? I got myself a couple of non-fiction books, started reading – and ideas for a plot just tumbled into my head.

Jesamiah himself I met on a rainy beach in Dorset, England. We were on vacation and I took the dogs for a walk, intending to plan out the storyline for Sea Witch. I had the plot ideas, the characters – but not my pirate. I sat on a rock thinking, looked up and there he was, a few yards away in full pirate regalia – and a gold acorn charm for an earring. He touched his hat and nodded. “Hello Jesamiah Acorne” I said.

Now whether he was a sort of “ghost” or a mere figment of my imagination I don’t know – all I can say is, that story is perfectly true!

LAG: I have to ask, why does Jesamiah have blue ribbons in his hair? How does he keep them clean and looking attractive?

HH: Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow is known for the trinkets he has twined into his hair – it is a fact that pirated did wear coloured ribbons. I have no idea where the blue came from – Royal Blue (or Jesamiah Blue as I now call it) Maybe I saw them without realising it when I first “met” him?

He has several uses for them – one of the main ones being he gives them to the ladies as a keep-sake after a (ahem) ‘pleasurable night’. They are also useful for lots of other things – how we would use an emergency piece of string nowadays. They also have one other rather sinister use – which I’m afraid I’m not going to tell you about. You’ll have to read the book.
Quite often he doesn’t keep them clean – as you’ll discover as you read on through the series, but ribbons were easily obtainable in the early 18th Century, and he usually has a supply in his pocket or in a drawer in his cabin.

Keep your eyes open for a blue ribbon left by Jesamiah for you – I have several friends who have found one left on a bush in their drive, or on the sidewalk

(LAG - I'll admit I hadn't quite finished when I sent my questions off, then I got to the end and though - THAT is not what I expected the use for the blue ribbons to be. Great build up and follow through on the blue ribbons!)

LAG: What was your motivation for making Tiola a white witch and the supernatural elements of the novel? I thought they were very unique and enjoyable. Tiola was a great strong heroine.

HH: I wrote the book I wanted to read. After watching Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl, I wanted a novel that was a similar sort of story: charmer of a rogue for a hero, romantic element with a pretty young girl – a pirate adventure with a supernatural element. It was the “fantasy” part that made the film different, and I wanted the same for my novel. There are plenty of maritime adventures – Patrick O’Brian, James L. Nelson, C.S. Forrester etc but they are all straightforward nautical tales. Not a hint of “magic” in any of them. So I wrote my own.

Tiola Oldstagh (pronounce it as Teo-la Oldstaff) is an anagram of ‘all that is good’. I wanted her to be older than she looks, a healer, midwife and a “Wise Woman”. A white witch was the obvious choice, but not in the Harry Potter witchcraft way – more like The Force in Star Wars. She can harness the wind, but she can’t cast spells to get Jesamiah out of trouble. She has limitations.

I was also fascinated by the sea itself. Anyone who knows the sea will understand what I mean by saying it often seems “alive”. Tethys is one of the mythical Greek Goddesses of the Sea – an ethereal elemental. ‘What if she wants Jesamiah for herself?’ I thought. One of my earliest images for a scene was when Jesamiah’s ship was sinking – I could “feel” Tethys grasping at the hull, trying to pull her under to get to Jesamiah…. Through the series Tiola must battle against Tethys to keep the man she loves alive. But I’m not saying any more about that here as I don’t want to give away any spoilers!

LAG: Have you ever had a chance to explore an 18th century vessel? Is there a particular ship that is the inspiration for the Sea Witch?

HH: I have never been on a vessel that actually moved (although recently I was aboard a 15th century replica – but that was under motor, not sail.) I have explored as many ships as I can though: here in the UK our two main ones are the Victory and the Cutty Sark (sadly it caught fire a couple of years ago, but is being restored.)

One thing I did discover – it is obvious why women were not welcome aboard. I always wear long skirts (I’ve got scars on my leg for one thing, and I find them comfortable to wear) Believe me, moving around a ship with steep, narrow ladders, all that cordage (ropes) rigging etc is not convenient for a long, full skirt! Several times the hem got tangled up – and I don’t have whale-bone hoops beneath my gowns! It is virtually impossible to remain elegant aboard a sailing ship!

I originally modelled Sea Witch on the Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Whydah (real pirate ships, both of which have been archeologically excavated) But then I came across the Rose – a replica of the 18th century English ship that was indirectly responsible for starting the American War of Independence! She is better known, now, as HMS Surprise from the movie Master & Commander. I fell in love with her.

I also became friendly with a man who had sailed aboard her (author James L. Nelson – he wrote his first novel in her Great Cabin) and the man who actually built her, John F. Millar. Well, that was it, The Rose/Surprise, became Sea Witch. And yes I know, technically the original Rose was built a bit later than my stories are set – but that is another advantage of writing adventure fantasy – you can bend the facts a little!

For those interested: The Rose was a British Frigate sent to the American Colonies to put a stop to the extensive smuggling which was depriving the British Government of revenue. Her crew was so effective almost the entire contraband trade ceased. This led to unrest, which resulted in rebellion and the famous Boston Tea Party.

LAG: If Sea Witch was made into a movie, who would you like to see play Jesamiah Acorne and Tiola?

HH: I’d prefer the books made into a TV drama series than a movie – I think you can get more depth into the characters in a TV drama rather than a one-off movie. (I’m thinking Sharpe here, with Sean Bean.)

Who would play Jesamiah? Being honest – I haven’t a clue! I think it would have to be someone new and unknown, so he could “become” Jesamiah. Dark haired – handsome, a glint in his eye…. The same for Tiola I think. A petite, pretty actress. How about a few suggestions from your blog readers?

LAG: What are your favorite pirate themed books and/or movies? Any favorite pirate songs (my 5-year old has been listening to a pirate CD a lot lately – and I secretly listen to it when he’s not around).

HH: Well of course the first Pirates of the Caribbean Movie, though I confess I was not so keen on the second, and hated the third. I have not seen the fourth one properly yet. We saw it in 3D – my first experience of 3D. I have an eye problem, and I didn’t realise I can’t watch 3D, so I’ve got to get the DVD and see it at home. I think I liked it – the little glimpses I could see!
Master and Commander is by far my most favourite movie – although it isn’t pirates. The whole movie is thrilling from start to finish, and gives a superb idea of what life aboard a ship was really like. Love it!

Books – James L. Nelson, I have mentioned a couple of times (his Brethren of the Coast series is great) and I suppose the best of all is Daphne Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek. I have not found many adult pirate-based novels though.

For young adults, I think I would recommend Pirates by Celia Rees – and my publisher Helen Hart has written a fabulous book for 11 – 13 year olds, called The Black Banner ( link)

I haven’t really any favourite pirate songs – but towards the end of July (exclusive news here!) my good friend, singer/songwriter Bronwen Harrison will be releasing a CD entitled ‘Songs of a Sea Witch’ which will contain a variety of sea-inspired songs – including the one used as the soundtrack for my Sea Witch You Tube video trailer (Gallows Wake)

Keep watch on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and my website for the full announcement!
(LAG - I will, I loved the music on the You Tube trailer!)

LAG: What are you currently working on?

HH: I am half way through the Fourth Voyage – Ripples in the Sand. Jesamiah is bringing the Sea Witch to England, his wife (yes by voyage four he has married Tiola) is very ill and he has a legal cargo of tobacco to sell – and an illegal one of brandy and indigo. He also gets mixed up with smugglers, a jail break – and an attempted Jacobite rebellion. Tiola meanwhile, realises it is the influence of Tethys making her so unwell. Why? To solve the riddle, and to discover just why Tethys has such an unbreakable hold on Jesamiah, Tiola must look into the past to see how everything began….

Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog, Laura!

LAG: Thank-you Helen! I love your answers to my questions. Very interesting!! I can't wait to continue reading the Sea Witch adventures!

To find out more about Helen Hollick, check out her websites:

Main Website:

· Muse and Views Blog:

· Monthly Journal:

· Blog profile:

· Picture Diary Blog:

· Guest Page:

· Facebook:

· On Twitter:


  1. Great interview! I haven't read any of this series before but I am certainly putting it on my list!

  2. Keep coming across interviews about Sea Witch. Best wishes on its success.

  3. Wonderful interview. Thank you for a great post.

  4. Hi Helen,
    I will definitely be keeping my eye out for a blue ribbon in case Captain Acorne left it for me. I am glad you are working on the Fourth Voyage because this sounds like a story I would like to immerse myself in for a long time. Is it the final book?

  5. A great interview as always - Helen comes across really well. She's so passionate about her writing, and her love of Jesamiah, the sea, and the romance of the past shines through. Even though I'm Helen's publisher and know the books well, I started re-reading 'Sea Witch' on my Kindle again last night! Yes, it's that good.

    Oh, and before I sign off, I would like to thank you to Helen for also mentioning my new book 'The Black Banner'. There can never be enough books about pirates - we live in a society and times that are so bound by rules, that to read about true liberty is very attractive!

  6. Thank you Helen (very confusing my initials being HMH - as are my publisher's as well! *laugh*)
    NA - not Voyage Four, Ripples In the Sand will not be the last, there are already two in the "builder's yard" Voyage Five, On The Account and Voyage Six Gallows Wake... I plan at least ten. After that.... well it depends on whether my readers want more!

  7. Wow! Helen you are dedicated to this series! Great to see!