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Monday 24 June 2013

Pirates, pirates, pirates! My Tuesday Talk Guest - Doug Boren

The theme of pirates has been extremely popular for years, in both the literary world as well as that of the film. Witness “Pirates of Penzance” (1879), “The Crimson Pirate” (1952), “Swashbuckler” (1976) “Cutthroat Island” (1995) and of course the multiple Disney offerings of “Pirates of the Caribbean” (2003-present).  

There has always been “a pirate in the boudoir” in a plethora of romantic historical novels, far too many to recount them all here. My dear wife, a romantic reader, always loves these stories and like most everyone else fell under the allure of the Disney pirate phenomenon.  
Thus she asked me to write a “pirate book.”
Why not, I reasoned. 

Was there ever a time when pirates weren’t popular? Indeed there was. For those who were living at the time of these brigands, their presence was both dreaded and detested. When I set out to put pen to paper, (yes, I still write the old fashioned way) I realized this was going to be a difficult book for me to write.
It was difficult because of the real nature of pirates. How could I pen a story about such scoundrels in a factual realistic way, and yet make you, the reader, feel compassion for them, identify with them and root for them?
The pirates of the age were in fact the true terrorists of their time. They were not the lovable ruffians that today’s culture makes them out to be.
Piracy was, and is, a serious and violent crime.  A pirate was a common enemy to all nations. He stole from all, except his own kind, and held authority from no one. A contemporary writer described them as “abominable brutes” and another as “monsters in human form.”
How, then, could I possibly be accurate, and yet involve the reader to the point of investment in the characters?
In the first section of my book, Pirates Revenge, I illustrated the extreme squalor found in the lower levels of 17th century English society. The hopeless plight of the poor forced many to become sailors and consider piracy as a means of improving their lot in life.
I also described a sad but moving story of an abused woman whose rape resulted in the arrival on the scene of the book’s main character. Her tragedy moved Rafe, our protagonist, to seek revenge against his very own father.
Thus we have Rafe and his comrades as reluctant pirates, driven by circumstances beyond their control.  Add to that a very real human emotion…vengeance…and the balance sought for the story was achieved.
Rafe Alexander fled England at an early age to join the pirate crew of the Cutlass, and seethed over the brutal harm his mother endured at the hands of Ramirez, his own father he had never known. Joining the fleet of the Black Widow, queen of the largest pirate fleet to ever sail, he vowed to exact his revenge. 
But the Black Widow was also driven by the need for vengeance against Ramirez, and she and Rafe plotted their revenge even as their fiery passion consumed them. Together, they would become the most feared and powerful force the Caribbean would ever see.
But is revenge truly enough to sustain an empty heart? Can love replace it and soothe the burning of the soul?  As events would move Rafe towards the explosive confrontation, he would find out…and his world would be turned upside down.
 His world was firmly embedded in the pirate culture. The years 1716 to 1726 are often considered the "Golden Age of Piracy" in the Caribbean. During this time period there were approximately 2400 men that were currently active pirates.  True they may have relieved a galleon of treasure, or raided rich plantations, or kidnapped for ransom certain unfortunate aristocrats. But they rarely lived the life of riches. Their gains squandered, lost or stolen, they could not break free of a life that was both exciting and dangerous. These scoundrels rarely met with a good end.  If they were not killed in battle, they might die at the hands of their “brethren”. The navies of four European nations made it their sacred duty to rid the New World of the scourge of piracy. 

Traditionally pirates had a number of peculiarities. Their crews operated as a democracy; the captain was elected by the crew and they could vote to replace him. The captain had to be a leader and a fighter—in combat he was expected to be fighting with his men, not directing operations from a distance.
Spoils were evenly divided into shares; when the officers had a greater number of shares, it was because they took greater risks or had special skills. Often the crews would sail without wages—"on account"—and the spoils would be built up over a course of months before being divided. 

There was a strong esprit de corps among pirates. This allowed them to win sea battles: they typically outmanned trade vessels by a large ratio. There was also for some time a social insurance system, guaranteeing money or gold for battle wounds at a worked-out scale.
One undemocratic aspect of the pirates was that sometimes they would force specialists like carpenters or surgeons to sail with them for some time, though they were released when no longer needed (if they had not volunteered to join by that time). A typical poor man had few other promising career choices at the time apart from joining the pirates. According to reputation, the pirates' egalitarianism led them to liberate slaves when taking over slave ships. However there are several accounts of pirates selling slaves captured on slave ships. It worked both ways, depending on the pirates.
In combat they were considered ferocious and were reputed to be experts with all kinds of weapons: muskets, pistols, swords, daggers, battle axes, grenados, pikes, cannons, swivel guns and cutlasses.

The pirate flag was the Jolly Roger...a name of uncertain origin...known also simply as the Black Flag, or more to the point, especially among the pirates themselves as "the Banner of King Death".  The traditional design was a white skull and crossed thigh bones on a black background.  This was an old symbol of mortality, and not particular to piracy. In fact the pirates probably took the symbol from merchant ship captains who often drew the skull and crossbones in the ship's log to indicate the death of a crewman.  Other designs included a skeleton, dripping blood, or an hourglass, symbolizing death, violence and limited time.
They were used to terrify the enemy or victim, conjuring up fear and dread.  It was an important part of the pirate armory, and was the pirate's best form of psychological warfare, especially if combined with a reputation of not showing any quarter.
Sometimes two flags were used, the black and the plain red.  The Jolly Roger was run up first to indicate an offer of quarter. If this was refused, the red or bloody flag was flown to signify that the offer had been withdrawn.

All of this is portrayed in vivid detail in my book, Pirates Revenge. It will entertain you as well as educate you.  It will move you, it will make you laugh. It is a book for all who yearn for the grand adventure of the sea in times that appeal to our sense of adventure. For an in depth look into the world of pirates, as well as my book Pirates Revenge go to: my website 

If you would like to purchase a copy, it is available in print and Kindle format from, Barnes and, and most other online booksellers.

Helen: Thank you Doug - your book is on my Kindle  To Be Read Mountain, I'll get round to reading it when I find time to put aside my own pirate - Jesamiah Acorne of the Sea Witch (or when I've plied him with enough rum to keep him quiet for a few hours *laugh* )

Next Week I hope to have the wonderful author Kathleen Herbert as my guest!

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Writing Reflections - especially regarding Editing

Tuesday Talk

A short while ago a friend of mine read my novel Harold the King (titled I am the Chosen King in the US) and asked if I minded a few observational comments.

Of course I didn't; a reader's feedback is worth having - as long as such comments are constructive. (We all know the damage the destructive ones can do - more of that below)

My friend picked up on a couple of things that had gone unnoticed all these years.

Harold was first published in 2000, so it has been around for 13 years. It was also originally edited by professionals from Random House (William Heinemann to be exact) and one of the best editors in the UK, Richenda Todd, with only a few minor updates from me when I moved to SilverWood Books UK and Sourcebooks Inc (US)

The thing is, how did one howler in particular get missed? And should authors worry about their writing style as it was 13  (or more) years ago?

The howler is the word 'critters'. Apart from it being American and 19th century... how on earth did it get missed?

My friend mentioned that some of the characters were a little one-dimensional - the goodies were goodies, the baddies were baddies. I agree with this criticism, but weren't most novels like this back then? We expected our heroes to be heroes, the bad men to be snakes in the grass. (Or am I kidding myself here?)

Has this changed now? Do we expect characters to be more 'real' now, as in showing the good guys with warts an' all? Portraying the villain with his (or her) softer side?

One thing my friend did point out, which neither I nor my present editor has noticed (nor, obviously, any past editors!) is that I I tend to have a distinctive way as a narrator of dropping pronouns when I separate sentences or run them together.
e.g. ‘They tried and tried again to break through that damned impenetrable shield wall.  Could not do it.’
My friend says:  "That’s fine, distinctive, and I positively like it.  But when you get your characters to talk like that, I hear not them speaking, but the author/narrator.  Example: ‘He intends to draw us into the arena, do you think?’ Leofwine spoke his thoughts out loud. ‘Is waiting for us to go in after him....’ "

I do write like this, it is my style - but I think my friend has a good point when I do it in dialogue.
I'll watch out for this in future, and try not to do it.

Just to balance things, my friend also liked a lot of the book and said how much he enjoyed the read and found the end chapters very moving.

 I still head-hop a little when writing (Point of View changes) This one I do find difficult to remedy as I just don't see head hopping when I'm reading (my own or other authors' work). I guess this might be because I have a very active "monkey mind" - I hop from one thought, one line of conversation to another without noticing.
Fortunately my editor picks the worst offending hopping up!

I am soon to bring out a printed version of Discovering the Diamond  on UK Kindle  :and US Kindle my hints and tips for potential (Indie) writers.  There will be a few updates, including a possible mention of the agony of dealing with those wretched typos once the book is in print.

Tuesday Talk

They always appear. No matter how many times the file is checked, checked, and re-checked.

There are some dreadful typos in my US mainstream Pendragon's Banner Trilogy - yet oddly enough all the destructive criticism of these books of mine on Amazon has not related to the obvious (and embarrassing) errors. One comment has slammed me for the use of the words 'corn fed'. What some American readers fail to grasp is that there is American English and English English. 'Corn Fed' is a British term for oats and barley. A 'corn fed' horse is fed on cereal crop instead of hay or grass or bran i.e. it is well fed.
The term does not relate to corn on the cob or maize!
So I am a bit disgruntled about that petty comment and the accompanying low star rating.

I also get annoyed at petty comments (for my own books and for other historical fiction authors!)  Comments like "This book was too much about battles."
Well yes, when you are writing a book about the Battle of Hastings or the Crusades, or the English Civil War or the enmity between Matilda and Stephen there would be a few battles included.... sigh.

There are a few comments about commas being in the wrong place for my books, but  I notice this applies to many authors, and to be honest I've given up with worrying about these sort of criticisms. After using several different  editors now, I have  come to the conclusion that they all have their preferred placing of commas, and no two editors agree. In future I might just leave all commas out and have done with it *laugh*.

Which brings me to Ripples In The Sand and another lesson learnt (the hard way).
I rushed its publication.
I shouldn't have done.
My readers were looking forward to it, I was getting bombarded with e-mails asking when it would be published (that, I am not complaining about! ) so I rushed the book out. Even though it wasn't ready. It should have had another proof read.

The errors are fairly minor things, which to be honest, probably only I or a professional will pick up on (a pistol has suddenly become a musket, for instance). But they are annoying. Annoying because I should have re-checked. My only defence - I was in the middle of moving house at the time and stress levels were reaching the top of the temperature gauge.

But then, that should have been another reason for saying "whoa, let's not rush this."
On the other hand, I did have several readers and editors - and still the bl**dy thing wasn't right!

This is one area where us Indie authors have a downside and an upside.

The down is - all errors are our responsibility. To spot in the first place and to put right. At our expense. No big (or little) publishing house to pay the costs.

The up -  (for those of us using Print on Demand) we can put the errors right fairly quickly and without too many incorrect copies going out. Unlike authors who are in the hands of a publisher. The errors in my US books will stay there. Even the incorrect chapter heading dates. Unless the publisher agrees to do a re-print (unlikely) those annoying bits that are wrong stay there as wrong.

We, as author, not the publisher, take the blame in the comments on Amazon though.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

My Tuesday Talk Guest: Jean Fullerton

I am honoured to have a lovely lady and talented writer as my guest today for "Tuesday Talk" - Jean Fullerton.

Jean was born into a large, East End family and grew up in the overcrowded streets clustered around the Tower of London. She still lives a few miles from where she was born. Jean feels that it is her background that gives her historical East London stories their distinctive authenticity. 

So - over to Jean!

When does history start?

For me history was always easily identified. Men wore close-fitting hose and jerkins and women were kitted out in flowing robes and pointy hats with veils, or if it were a later period then frock coats, breeches and tricorn hats for the chaps and tight bodices, wide-skirts and lacy caps for the girls - but things have changed.
When my publishers first asked me to write Call Nurse Millie I threw my hands up in horror, ‘I’m an historical writer’ I told them and couldn’t possibly write something set in the 1940s. My editors - sweet young things that they are – tactfully pointed out that the 1940s are now regarded as history.
In fact, what’s even more blooming depressing it seems half my adult life is regarded as historical, too.

And that got me thinking. Where does the history start?

History is more than costumes and funny wigs. It’s about the social norms of a given period and the shared experience of people. It’s like capturing them at a slice of time and studying them against what we understand and accept now. 

For those of you who remember the 1970s think how very different life is now from the dreadful glam-rock fashions and platform shoes. Think of the attitudes towards women and minority groups. Think of the language used that no one turned a hair at then like 'spastic' or 'coon' or 'dolly-birds', words that are now considered deeply offensive. How, then, for women it was part of office life to have your bottom patted and to have to dodge the manager's roaming hands.

Thankfully things have improved. As I undertook the research for my new book Call Nurse Millie it has been fascinating to delve into my own profession at a time when nursing was very different to the way it is today. It was a vocation for a start and your patient came first above all else. The hospital Matron presided, like a capricious despot over the wards, sisters and nurses - and woe betide you if a patient in your care was dirty or developed a bed sore. 

The tools were totally different too, no sterile disposable packs then; everything had to be boiled and some equipment was positively medieval – silver catheters for draining urine- ouch! And techniques, such as rubbing a patient's bottom to restore the circulation are now known to cause, not prevent, the breakdown of skin tissues.

‘The District’ was much the same. The area superintendent presided over her district nurses and nursing assistants - the forerunners of the 1960s enrolled nurses. Remember too, this was before the introduction of the NHS in 1948 and the local nursing associations were charities that ran fund-raising events and flag days to help pay for their upkeep. 

Many patients would pay a few shillings a week into the association fund which entitled them to treatment should they be sick. It also meant that district nurses, then, were also health visitors, school nurses and midwives all rolled into one.

Call Nurse Millie spans the period from VE day, 1945, to Christmas 1947: it predates me by twenty years but so much of the war time and post-war culture was handed down to me by my parents. Like many of Millie’s patients they could vividly remember a time when if you couldn’t afford sixpence for a doctor’s fee you could or could not be seen, and both remembered playmates that died because they weren’t taken to the doctor in time.

Although the NHS, quite rightly, has come in for some criticism recently over lack of care and long waiting times it is difficult for anyone born in the UK after WW2 to really imagine what it must have been like to live without the safety-net of free health care. In addition to this, before the advent of the NHS most of the basic medicines such as antibiotics, blood pressure and heart medication, and asthma drugs, were unknown. 

Before joint replacement surgery was perfected in the 1960s people with crumbling hips had nothing to look forward to other than years of pain and reduced mobility.

Although perhaps time-wise seventy years ago might not actually be the dark- ages as far as attitudes and lived experiences are concerned it might as well be seven hundred years ago as things in the 1940s were so radically different from today.

So back to my original question; when does history start? Well, perhaps the answer to that is it starts as soon as society shifts attitudes and embraces the next technical innovation. 
I’m sorry to say it but the 1990s are starting to look a little antiquated already....

Jean's website
Jean's Blog

about the book:

It's 1945 and, as the troops begin to return home, the inhabitants of London attempt to put their lives back together. For 25-year-old Millie, a qualified nurse and midwife, the jubilation at the end of the war is short-lived as she tends to the needs of the East End community around her. But while Millie witnesses tragedy and brutality in her job, she also finds strength and kindness. And when misfortune befalls her own family, it is the enduring spirit of the community that shows Millie that even the toughest of circumstances can be overcome.

Through Millie's eyes, we see the harsh realities and unexpected joys in the lives of the patients she treats, as well as the camaraderie that is forged with the fellow nurses that she lives with. Filled with unforgettable characters and moving personal stories, this vividly brings to life the colourful world of a post-war East London.

Buy from:

Those who enjoyed the TV series "Call The Midwife"
 will also enjoy Jean's books!

Monday 3 June 2013

A Sailor’s Life For Me – at least until Dinner is Served

As part of the Summer Banquet Blog Hop - here is my contribution to a festival of feasting:

Many of us like a good pirate yarn story. I wrote my Sea Witch Voyages because I wanted to produce something that was fun to research, write – and read. The stories are pirate-based historical adventure with a touch of fantasy – and I think (hope!) readers are enjoying the on-going escapades of my hero, Captain Jesamiah Acorne.

One area of interest that I came across while researching the background historical facts was the food  served aboard ship. The provisions for sailors during the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century was, in general, far better than their land-counterparts in the army. Royal Navy ships were provisioned quite well – but long voyages, the lack of refrigeration and poor storage conditions took their toll on the quality of the  food. It was all very well having butter, flour and meat stored in barrels in the hold, but heat, rats and weevils soon put paid to any notion of freshness.

These provisions included everything that was needed (especially when you consider that most voyages lasted at least a month – often a lot longer!). Water, food, clothing, candles, oil. Spare sails, spars, rope and nails. Tar, gunpowder, shot, medical supplies… All had to be loaded aboard and stored, and keep in mind these ships were not the great ocean-going liners of today space-wise!

Preventing food from going bad was a constant problem, so food that was salted or dried was a preference: salted pork, dried or salted fish, hard-tack - ship’s biscuit – and grain such as oats, barley and cornmeal. Cheese was part of the staple ship-board diet, while drinks included wine, rum and ‘grog’, which was watered-down rum. Water, of course, was also stored, although it soon went green and slimy.

Hard-tack was a sort of biscuit- (cookie) shaped bread, which was baked rock hard and therefore difficult to eat. Sailors sucked it or dunked it in their grog or the fatty gravy of their meals.
Before eating, however, it was wise to tap it on the table to knock the infested weevils out of it. On the other hand, any creepy-crawly was an extra bit of fresh meat!

Hard Tack
Fresh food, such as vegetables and fruit were hard to keep on board and many sailors suffered from a disease called scurvy.   It caused joints to ache and swell, gums to bleed, teeth to fall out - and death.

During the 18th century, scurvy killed more British sailors than enemy action. One report by the Royal Navy was that 184,899 sailors were conscripted and  133,708 died of disease – scurvy being the principal cause.

It was understood that fresh fruit would prevent the disease, but the difficulty came in keeping the fruit fresh. In 1740 lemon or more usually, lime juice was added to the daily ration of watered-down rum (grog)  to eliminate  the water's foulness. Admiral Edward Vernon's sailors were healthier than the rest of the navy, due to the daily dose of vitamin C.

It was not until 1747 that  James Lind proved that scurvy could be treated and prevented by supplementing the diet with citrus fruit. For this reason, British sailors were called Limeys and German sailors, who ate plenty of sauerkraut became Krauts.

James Cook circumnavigated the world (1768–71) without losing a single man to scurvy, but the shipboard diet, which included sauerkraut, was of limited value. Sauerkraut was the only vegetable food that retained a reasonable amount of ascorbic acid in its pickled form, but it was boiled to reduce it for preservation and much of the vitamin C content was therefore lost. 

The ship's cook was often selected from wounded or maimed seamen who were therefore unfit for other duties. Long John Silver in Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, as example. In the early days of explorers such as Magellan and Columbus, food was cooked 'barbecue' style on the open deck, but by the early 1800’s in Nelson's time, a ship had a kitchen area known as the 'galley', where the food was prepared by the ship's cook and hot meals were provided for the entire crew - which could be over 900 men and officers.

where the men ate
During action or rough weather the galley fire was put out which meant that it could be some hours - or even days - before another hot meal could be cooked.

Captain's Table
The men ate in a mess group of 8-12, with each man taking his turn as 'mess cook' responsible for collecting the day's rations from the hold and taking it to be prepared for the noon-time meal. The Mess Cook was also to wash the utensils and clean up afterwards - for reward he was entitled to an extra ration of rum (hmm, I'll remember that next time I have to do the washing up!)

Captain's Table, from the movie Master & Commander
And the phrase “A square meal”?
Square wooden trencher plates were used on-board as they didn't slide around as easily as circular plates. Sailors  would have looked forward to their square meal.

Rations per week per man, according to Navy Regulations of 1818 included:
1 gallon Beer
1 pt Wine (Watered 7:1)
2 lb Beef
1 lb Suet 
or 1½ lbs of Flour + 4 ozs of Suet 
or 1½ lbs of Flour + 4 ozs of Raisins + 2 ozs of Suet
1 lb of Bread
2 lbs of Potatoes or Yams
1 pt of Oatmeal 
½ Rice 
or ½ lb of Stockfish 
or 1 pt of Wheat 
2 ozs of Butter
2 ozs of Oil

In the event that neither the standard ration nor an equivalent were available then the ration would be reduced and a  'Short Ration Allowance'  paid in addition to the seaman’s wages.

All members of the crew were able, where practical, to purchase extra provisions at their own expense, and many officers did just that – officers (as always, of course) ate with more enjoyment than the simple foremast jack.

You’ll find a couple of interesting recipes suitable for sending to sea with your beloved on the Historical Maritime Society’s webpage
and some interesting information about life aboard ship on author Julian Stockwin's nautical website

Some other interesting snippets :

Ever wondered why coffee is an all-American favourite, while tea is for us Brits?

Prior to the American War of Independence (and the famous Boston Tea Party) tea was a common drink in the American Colonies – but the British Government taxed tea heavily. This led to the commodity being highly prized as smuggled goods, but again the British Government intervened by sending the Royal Navy to intercept the smugglers. One of the most successful Navy Ships was HMS Rose – the replica of which is now moored at San Diego and is more widely known as HMS Surprise of novel and movie fame.  (And the ship I base my Sea Witch on).

With the tea smuggling trade almost closed down, the Colonists retaliated by refusing to drink tea – and switched to untaxed coffee instead.


The early English settlers who landed in Virginia almost starved to death because their crops failed – little did they realise that the highly nutritious, and now luxury food, lobster, abounded in the clear waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Visit Helen's website

Follow the Summer Banquet for the next delicious course! (note from 2018: some links may no longerbe active)
  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Anna Belfrage
  4. Debra Brown
  5. Lauren Gilbert
  6. Gillian Bagwell
  7. Julie K. Rose
  8. Donna Russo Morin
  9. Regina Jeffers
  10. Shauna Roberts
  11. Tinney S. Heath
  12. Grace Elliot
  13. Diane Scott Lewis
  14. Ginger Myrick
  15. Helen Hollick
  16. Heather Domin
  17. Margaret Skea
  18. Yves Fey
  19. JL Oakley
  20. Shannon Winslow
  21. Evangeline Holland
  22. Cora Lee
  23. Laura Purcell
  24. P. O. Dixon
  25. E.M. Powell
  26. Sharon Lathan
  27. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  28. Allison Bruning
  29. Violet Bedford
  30. Sue Millard
  31. Kim Rendfeld

thank you for visiting!


My thanks to Seymour Hamilton  Facebook Link  for the following interesting information:

"I just visited your blog on food in RN ships in the days of sail. A footnote: Captain Cook recorded in his log that when he got to the Haida Gwai (which used to be called the Queen Charlotte Islands) he landed and made spruce beer for the health of his crew. How he knew that spruce had long been used by native people throughout Canada as a source of Vitamin C, I don't know. My information comes from my father, who commanded a Canadian Navy frigate in the late 50s, and who travelled up and down the West Coast with a copy of Cook's log open beside him. Incidentally, he told me that the modern charts he used had undergone only minor corrections since Cook first surveyed the coastline."

Saturday 1 June 2013

Website News

Latest summery graphic for my website homepage 
designed by Avalon Graphics

and my Journal is up

and why not sign up for the Extra Pages ? Lots of additional fun stuff to entertain you