27 March 2012

That Sparrow Feller ~ Tuesday Talk

I wrote Sea Witch, my pirate-based historical adventure with a touch of fantasy because I 'met' Jack Sparrow. Met him, liked him – but something was missing.
I wanted more. 
Much more.
I wanted the whole story of a charming rogue of a pirate, all the nitty-gritty detail of the whens, hows and whys of his life, but not the sugar-coated Disney version so I looked for, and found (on a beach in Dorset, England) my own pirate. Jesamiah Acorne 

Many of us were hooked in that first sequence in the Pirates of the Caribbean – the Curse of the Black Pearl – where Jack Sparrow came into shot. 
A man, a pirate, standing tall and proud at the masthead. 

Head back, wind blowing in his black hair and faded red bandanna. The background music.... stirring stuff. And that face. Oh that face! (Actor Johnny Depp at his best).
Then the pirate looked down – and we realise he is actually in a tatty little boat that is rapidly sinking…
I had not seen the movie in the cinema, I had assumed it was a children’s movie – or so the media and Disney had advertised, and as it was made, in fact – a children’s movie to entice families to visit the pirate ride at Disney.

But the Media – and Disney – had completely underestimated the Johnny Depp effect.
I watched the movie about ten months after the initial release on DVD at home one day when I wasn’t feeling too great.

The initial opening sequence was interesting, but I could as easily leave it as take it…. Then Depp/Sparrow appeared…. And I watched the entire movie through twice (on that day, no idea how many more times I’ve seen it since!)

What attracted me to Jack Sparrow (sorry, Captain, Jack Sparrow) in the first place was that he seemed a complex character with one face to the public (that of a useless, drunken buffoon) but underneath he was shrewd and knew exactly what he was doing. Yes he messed up and got himself into situations - got arrested, got put in gaol etc.,  but he was clever and capable; he could always get himself out of predicaments by keeping his wits about him. By playing the fool/the drunk other people dismissed him, which always gave him an edge, and therefore, his chance. He knew that one day the inevitable would happen and he would not be able to escape, but death is a fact, the only certainty in life. 

Although not shown in POC #1 (because of censorship, it being a family movie etc) it was obvious he also had a ruthless streak - if he had to kill he would (had this been an adult movie this side of his character would have been shown I think). He also used women as and when he wanted, he had a sexual encounter past, but his number one interest was…. Jack Sparrow.

The following two movies, #2 Dead Man’s Chest and #3 At World’s End  in my opinion, ruined the character, especially #3 (which I dislike and don't bother re-watching.) For one thing the non-existent plot was like the script had been written as they went along (which it had), there is no co-ordination and no continuity – Will Turner having his heart cut out is an utter load of nonsense because nothing fits or makes sense with the first two movies, and Jack's character now, is just a drunken buffoon, down to he doesn't even know how to navigate the ship. Aw, come on! He's supposedly been a pirate captain for ten years! 

The underlying competent, interesting, basically intelligent character is no longer there, he's just an idiot, which completely destroyed the character’s believable - and endearing - credibility.

The real Johnny Depp
 my own photo taken at the prem of
Dead Man's Chest, London
Movie #4 On Stranger Tides was a little better, although it was ruined for me by that wretched invention of 3-D.
Did you know that a high percentage of people cannot view 3-D if they have eye problems? Or that 3-D is disastrous for children with sight difficulties? The whole movie, to me, was a blur because of my vision problems. Half way through I gave up, closed my eyes and just listened. I have yet to see the movie in DVD, I can’t gather the courage to watch it because I so don’t want to be disappointed – and from the little I saw, I will be.

Sparrow is still the buffoon in unbelievable situations that are not anywhere near made believable by a good plot and good script. The only good thing about the movie is the superb Ian McShane as Blackbeard and a glimpse of my all-time favourite Tall Ship the Rose aka Surprise aka Barbosa's ship (which gets wrecked) - and is the ship I base Sea Witch on.

compilation and all graphics by
Ian McShane (known to me as that charmer of an antiques dealer rogue, Lovejoy, ) was good as Blackbeard. I am interested in the real Blackbeard – awful man – because he is guest character in my third Sea Witch Voyage, Bring It Close. My portrayal of the dreadful man is somewhat closer to the truth, however.

Not that accuracy matters in these sort of movie; they are meant to be entertainment not docu-drama, but it was the undercurrents of reality that made POC #1 so enjoyable. Throughout, despite the deep fantasy elements of living skeletons and such, the whole thing had a ring of truth, which is the basic craft of the storyteller: to make the unbelievable, believable.

In my Sea Witch Voyages I wanted three levels of story: historical accuracy, nautical accuracy and plausible fantasy. I wanted a character who was immediately recognisable as a likable, yet formidable, character – tall, dark, handsome and rugged. Quick to laugh but dangerous when angry. Watch his back and he’ll do anything for you – cross him, and you’re dead.

 Some of the historical facts in my adventure stories are slightly manipulated - Governor Woodes Rogers had actually left Cape Town in South Africa by the time Jesamiah Acorne got there - but by only a few months. The ship herself, Sea Witch, would not have been built until about 30 years later, as the vessel she is based on was designed circa 1750, but I mention these anomalies in my author's note. 
Take Blackbeard for instance, I have used what we know about him and slotted Jesamiah into those facts. Blackbeard was at Bath Town, North Carolina, then he moved to the Ocracoke where he was ambushed and killed by Lt Maynard..... what the history books don't tell you is that there was another pirate there, Cpt Jesamiah Acorne who specifically said he didn't want his name mentioned in any log books or dispatches. 

So you won’t find his name written anywhere. 
Neat eh?

the loves of Jesamiah's life:
his ship, Sea Witch,
and Tiola Oldstagh, a white witch
For the fantasy and romance element, Tiola (pronounced Tee-o-la) is the female lead character. She is a white witch; she can harness the energies of the Universe and talk to Jesamiah telepathically. She does not do magic as in Harry Potter and she has limitations. Yes, she can conjure up a wind, but she can't click her fingers and make a magic broomstick appear.
She loves Jesamiah deeply, although she sometimes feels like cutting his throat, especially when he has one eye on other women… ah, but the course of true love never did sail smooth before a gentle breeze. 
Rough storms at sea are more fun to write.

So yes, I based my initial idea for Captain Jesamiah Acorne on Jack Sparrow - not the buffoon, not the drunken incompetent, but the complex character who has baggage in the hold, problems to solve and sort, escapades to get involved in – and get out of – and a woman he loves, to tie him down. 
But not too tightly….

Helen Hollick's novels 
On an Amazon page near you :-)

graphics designed by Avalon Graphics
published by SilverWood Books UK


  1. Helen,

    I completely agree with you regarding the POC movies! Absolutely loved the first and loathed the rest. I've seen "On Stranger Tides" and it's absolutely horrid! Don't bother wasting your time watching it!

    As you know, I've read all your Sea Witch books and I have to say that "Bring It Close" is my favorite so far. I absolutely love the way you have inserted Jes into known historical facts - to me, that's the best kind of historical fiction (and it doesn't hurt that my copy was a gift from the author - thank you again m'dear!).

    Personally I can't wait for 'Ripple's' to be completed! As with many of your readers, I'm going through Jesamiah withdrawl.

    I'd really like to see your books put up on the screen, whether it be the cinema or television. I think they would make a much better and more believable story that Capt. Jack Sparrow.

    The question is: since J. Depp has already done Capt. Jack, who would you choose to play Jesamiah?

  2. Thank you Kelly (grin from Jesamiah)

    I would love the Sea Witch Voyages to be a TV DRama Series, not a movie - there is more depth to a drama series, I think.

    As to who would play Jesamiah.... oh an unknown, handsome, sexy young actor who could make the part his very own - as Sean Bean did for Richard Sharpe!

  3. I saw the first three movies and not the fourth. It sounds like I didn't miss anything!

  4. The 4th wasn't as bad as the 3rd. I rather wish they had stopped at just the one though.

  5. Barbara Gaskell Denvil http://www.bgdenvil.com/April 01, 2012 7:29 am

    Dear Helen - sorry, I've come to your article rather late but I couldn't resist leaving a comment anyway - I do so agree with every word you've written. The first film was a 10 out of 10 - but number 2 was 2 out of ten (just for Bill Nighy)- and so on. Now I'm off to buy your books - how could I resist? (If I ever manage to decipher these woobly captcha things)

  6. Barbara - the captcha letters, I agree are a darn nuisance, but they cut out such a lot of Spam. I did try turning them off - but then I got inundated with garbage and had to use "approval" before posting, so comments did not go up immediately, leading to I was getting "did you see my comment?" In the end the captcha was the best and easiest solution.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment; I heard rumours that there might be a 5th Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I'm so sad to say "I hope not" :-(
    As upsetting as it is to have to say this - movie #3 almost killed the "pirate" market, at least as far as publishing went. Had Disney stuck to the first movie Jack Sparrow would still be creating a buzz, but the silliness of the others poured cold water on the movies - and the subject, by the ocean load.
    Oh well - my Jesamiah's adventures are making up for the dowsing I think!
    Thank you for showing an interest in the books - I hope you enjoy voyaging aboard the Sea Witch!


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