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 Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, 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!


  1. AH yes, the romantic pirates! Grotty bunch in real life no doubt. My favourite was Captain Pugwash. Thanks for blogging.

    1. *laugh* I loved Pugwash as well (sings signature tune - diddly dee, diddly, dee diddly diddly dee...) I wonder, was this children's cartoon show broadcast in the USA?

  2. Hmmm...I never heard of Pugwash. I don't think it was broadcast in the USA.

    1. Here you go - it is on You Tube

      enjoy *laugh*

  3. Ahh yes, romanticising the Bastards, the criminals, the pirates and the smugglers. Fiction (esp kids/ YA fiction) does that a lot. Smugglers were just jolly men, outwitting the revenue ho ho, ha ha ...Yes, they used many ways of "outwitting" the revenue - Bribery, corruption, Violence (the Hawkhurst gang's favourite weapon was riding whips with sharp metal attached!)and Murder.
    Highly organised, with connections spreading into the area's wealthy (and Catholic Jacobite supporting) Landowners (eg Sir Cecil Butler), and Judges etc, they ruled the south east of England in the 1740's. Researching and writing about these men has opened my eyes on this world, and the 'Normal' history books tend to ignore it.

    1. Thoroughly agree Andy - but then I think everyone in general was pretty rough in general in the past compared to "modern day" standards. And while it is good to have the occasional reminder of the reality, I think most people prefer the rose-tinted specs view in fiction.
      Are you going to join my planned September Blog Hop? I'd be really interested in an article about the reality of smuggling.


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