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Tuesday 26 July 2016

Black Sails on the Horizon

My guest today for Tuesday Talk is Kelly Stambaugh - a great fan of the TV series 'Black Sails'... so set sail for an interesting Pirate Post
(warning: contains spoilers)

What is our enduring fascination with the Golden Age of Piracy?  Is it the romantic notions of previous generation’s offerings such as 1935’s “Captain Blood” starring heartthrob of the era, Errol Flynn, or possibly it is Robert Shaw’s campy portrayal of Red Ned Lynch in 1976’s “Swashbuckler”? Or Even the silliness of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise?  While all these have their individual merits and are quite entertaining, none are ‘true to life”, or claim to be.

Or is it something deeper seated within human nature?  The pirate’s ability to throw off the strictures of society?  Do as they pleased, thumbing their noses at conventionalism?  Maybe.  Maybe it was the desire to be free on the open ocean, sailing where and when they wanted?  Or to escape the indenture to the British Navy?  Possibly.  Famous names such as Charles Vane, ‘Calico’ Jack Rackham, Anne Bonney and Blackbeard always illicit a thrill down one’s spine and an admiration for their uncompromising freedom.  But whatever the reason, our obsession with the Golden Age of Piracy lives on into the 21st century. 

This point is proven with the wildly popular “Black Sails” original series offered by the Starz Channel.   Taking place roughly 20 years prior to the events of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure novel “Treasure Island”, “Black Sails” is television’s latest offering in the pirate genre.  In this drama, Captain Flint (played by British actor Toby Stephens) is still very much alive and terrorizing the Caribbean on his vessel The Walrus.  The first Prize we, as an audience, see him take contains a very young and somewhat naïve John Silver (portrayed by Australian actor Luke Arnold) with all his limbs intact.  Though naïve, John Silver is extremely intelligent and all about his own survival.  Bargaining his way on to the Walrus as a cook, the partnership inferred in “Treasure Island” begins.  Throughout the three seasons that have already aired on American television, you see the relationship between Flint and Silver grow…..the reliance on each other, Silver tempering the mania contained within Flint’s mind while descending into the darkness with him, and realizing Silver himself enjoys it. 

This program is not for one looking for a romantic romp through the world of the pirates.  In it’s realistic portrayal of the gritty underbelly of blood-thirsty pirates, you see the filthy living conditions, the sexual promiscuity, blood-shed, and political machinations between, not only the individual pirate crews, but also between the pirates and the English, in the form of Woodes Rogers, who wishes to reclaim New Providence Island for the Crown.

One could make the assumption that a drama series about pirates would be focused on just the men, the women being relegated to the ‘damsel in distress’ being saved by our hero roles.  Not so with “Black Sails.”  Though a predominately male cast, there are three very prominent and strong female leads in the characters of Eleanor Guthrie (played by Hannah New), Anne Bonney (played by Clara Paget), and Max (played by Jessica Parker Kennedy).   Eleanor, the Trade Boss of Nassau, is at the pinnacle of her success as the series opens, but we see her fall from grace and land herself in an English prison only to claw her way back to a position of prominence and power.  Anne, is as blood-thirsty and psychotic, as any of her male counterparts; but she is devoted to the pirate cause and her partner, Captain Jack Rackham (played by Toby Schmitz).  And then there is Max; the cunning and conniving whore “of little consequence”, until the fall of Eleanor Guthrie, when she steps into Eleanor’s shoes.  These women stand toe-to-toe with the deadliest pirates known to history or fiction.

John Silver
“Black Sails” is the perfect blend of historical, fictional, and literary characters.  As I have mentioned, Captain Flint and John Silver, but also Billy Bones and Ben Gunn from “Treasure Island”.  They have also drawn heavily from history to use Charles Vane, Ned Lowe and, of course, Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard).  The creators have developed their own completely fictional characters in Eleanor Guthrie, Max, Mr. Featherstone, Jacob Garrett and the tragic Mr. Muldoon.  The rich, multi-faceted and multi-layered characters and stories play out against a backdrop that is both the seedy underside of Nassau, but is also visually stunning at the same time; making advantageous use of the natural South African landscape.  No wonder the Production Effects and Sound Editing team has been nominated for Prime Time Emmys each year the show has been on the air with a win in 2014.

The moment I hear Bear McCreary’s title music begin, a chill runs down my spine and I know I am in for an hour-long wild ride.

Please Note
 if you have not seen the series, it is adult viewing and contains scenes of 
violence, nudity, drugs and explicit sex.
Apart from that its fine!

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Days of Sun and Glory

My Tuesday Talk Guest - Anna Belfrage

I have recently published Days of Sun and Glory, the second instalment in my series The King’s Greatest Enemy.

 Set in the 14th century, my series is the story of Adam de Guirande, an invented character who gets caught up in all the turmoil surrounding Roger Mortimer and Edward II. In this the second book, yet another Edward steps onto the stage, namely Edward of Windsor, heir to the throne.
I enjoy writing about young boys growing into men. I suppose this is due to the fact that I’ve got three sons of my own, and so I’ve watched the process at close range, so to say. I’ve salvaged boys from pools when they insisted they could swim despite being only three, I’ve cajoled boys down off roofs, I’ve blown on scraped knees, bandaged ankles and wrists, picked splinters of wooden arrows out of tear-filled eyes. I’ve also seen big brother sit for hours with baby brother in his arms, crooning softly as he rocked him to sleep, and I’ve been the recipient of many, many long and warm hugs – wordless expression of love just when I needed it the most.

So when writing about Edward of Windsor – the future Edward III – I had a lot of experience to draw on – at least when it came to the boy part. Not so much when it came to the “heir to the throne” stuff…

Edward III is one of those kings I’ve always admired. He comes across as brave and fair, a good, steady ruler who based his decision on counsel and steered clear of powerful favourites. A man of honour, an excellent jouster, a proud father of very many children, a happy – and seemingly faithful – husband, Edward epitomises many of the qualities we look for in a good king, albeit that his biggest legacy, the Hundred Years’ War, is not exactly something to be proud of. (Edward would disagree: the war was a consequence of the French cheating him out of his right to the French crown.)

Just like all of us, Edward was the product of his childhood. He saw, first hand, the consequences to a king of being weak, of devolving too much power to his favourites. A weak king could be kicked to the ground – as happened to our Edward’s father when in early 1327 he was forced to abdicate on behalf of his fourteen-year-old son.

When Days of Sun and Glory opens, Edward is all of eleven. It is late 1323, his father the king spends most of his time with Hugh Despenser and worries constantly about the whereabouts of Roger Mortimer, the king’s “Greatest Traitor” who has managed to escape the Tower. England is an unhappy realm: the king and Despenser pursue all potential allies to Mortimer, and a substantial number of men are hauled before the assizes on skimpy charges of treason. Prince Edward would have been aware of the unrest – but insulated from it. As a young prince, he’d have spent most of his childhood with his own household at some distance from the royal court.

However, as 1323 rolled into 1324, our Edward’s life was affected by the increasing hostility between his mother and father. There are various reasons for this: Isabella of France resented the hold Hugh Despenser had over her husband and detested being marginalised by the royal favourite. Edward II viewed his wife with increased suspicion – not only was she French (and England was at war with France) but her dislike of Despenser could be construed as support for Mortimer. Caught in the middle of their disintegrating marriage was their young son.

In the case of Isabella and Edward II, the king had all the trump cards. His wife was his wife, no more, no less, and whether she liked it or not, he could choose to spend time with whoever he wanted to. He could also severely restrict her independence, thereby neutralising any danger she might pose to him and his favourite. Which was why he decided to deprive her of her dower lands in 1324. Now this was a major slap in the face for Isabella – as part of their marital contracts, lands had been set aside as her dower lands, eg lands she would hold outright should her husband predecease her. Also, the contract called for the income of such dower lands being made available to Isabella from day one of their marriage. In turn, she financed her household expenses, thereby effectively being in control of her own purse-strings.

When Edward II deprived Isabella of her income, he reduced her to a dependent. Suddenly, she had no income but what he would chose to grant her, and as he had every interest of having her toe the line, she had markedly less money to spend. Isabella was furious – and unhappy, and humiliated. Even more so when Edward II then sent her French retainers into exile, effectively isolating her. Of course her son would side with her – a young boy who sees his mother distraught and unfairly humiliated has a knee-jerk reaction to defend her.

After the meal, Adam retired to the chapel, considering whether he should lighten his heart through confession. But he distrusted the priests of the royal chapel, and after some time at prayer he retreated to sit behind one of the huge pillars, leaning his shoulder against the decorated stone.
He was deep in thought when he heard the door squeak open.
“Adam?” someone called, and he recognised his lord’s voice. He made as if to stand, when he heard another voice.
The king. Adam sank back down.
“My liege,” the prince said, and Adam heard the sound of cloth rustling as the lad bowed.
“Your father,” the king said gently. “Come here, lad.” There was the sound of muted footfall, and when Adam sneaked a look, he saw Prince Edward enfolded in his father’s arms. Young shoulders were rigid, young arms hung passive, and after some moments the king released him.
“Are you that aggrieved with me?” he asked.
“It is not my place to be aggrieved, my lord.” Edward took a step or two backwards.
“I am doing what I must to ensure the safety of my realm,” the king said.
“So my mother’s household was a threat?” the prince demanded. “Her chaplains spies, her physicians your mortal enemies?”
A deep red suffused the king’s face. “You don’t understand – how can you, mere stripling that you are?”
The prince bowed. “As I said, my lord: it is not my place to be aggrieved.”
“But you are.”
Prince Edward looked at his father. “I am. I love my lady mother and don’t want any harm to come to her.”
“Most commendable,” the king said sarcastically. “A dutiful son to his mother – but what about your duties to me?”
“To you, my lord? I try to do my duty by you as well – I always do.” The lad sounded on the verge of tears.
The king relented. “I know you do, Ned. And I understand how difficult all of this must be for you.” He studied his son. “I do as I must. Your lady mother is not always the most dutiful of my subjects.”
“She is my mother.”
“And she may be plotting against me!”
“But you have no proof, do you, my liege? All you have are the whispered accusations of men like Lord Despenser, vile insinuations that my mother aims to betray you.”
“And if she does? What then, son? What will you do if your mother harms me?”
“But she hasn’t, has she? And it isn’t you who has had your dower lands stripped away from you, it is not you who has been bereft the company of men and women you trust and love.” The prince scuffed at the floor. “I love her, Father. And over the last few weeks you have repeatedly humiliated and hurt her.”
“I have no choice,” The king said.
His son gave him an anguished look. “I don’t believe you, Father – no one does.”
“No one?” The king almost growled. “What do you mean by that?”
Prince Edward backed away from his father. “It is not my mother’s fault that you place higher value on Hugh Despenser than on her.”
The slap sent Prince Edward reeling. His head struck the wall, and Adam was hard put not to emerge from his hiding place to rush to his lord’s aid. The prince straightened up, wiped at his mouth and studied his bloody fingers. The king groaned out loud.
“Forgive me,” he said. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Maybe you had no choice, my lord,” Prince Edward said before ducking under his father’s arm and fleeing the chapel.
Somehow, Isabella overcame her humiliation and put a brave face on her new position in court. Her husband was pleased by her docility – although I suspect it was all a farce: Isabella would never forgive him or his close companions Hugh Despenser and Bishop Stapledon for what she perceived as theft – and concluded he could trust her enough to send her to France to negotiate on his behalf. The war in France had gone from bad to worse, and Edward needed a truce.

Off Isabella went, and I dare say her son sighed with relief: Maman was back in Father’s good graces and a Happily Ever After hovered on the horizon. (You have to excuse the boy: he was too young to understand the concept of passion and revenge) In September of 1325, Prince Edward followed her across the Channel newly invested as the Duke of Aquitaine to do homage on behalf of his father. He was never to see his father again.

Once in France, it dawned on Prince Edward that the breach between his mother and father was deeper than he’d understood. If nothing else, this became evidently clear when Bishop Stapledon rose to his feet before the French court and ordered Queen Isabella to return home to England – immediately. Edward must have bridled at the discourteous address – and gawked when his mother retorted that she had no intention of returning to her husband unless the third person in her marriage (Despenser) made himself scarce.

Stapledon returned to England, Prince Edward remained with his mother. Unwittingly, he had thereby become the most powerful weapon in his mother’s future attack on his father. At the time, no such attack was forthcoming: Isabella seemed content to remain at her brother’s court and salve her wounded pride. Until, in December of 1325, Roger Mortimer rode into the bailey of Charles IV’s castle.

Prince Edward was an eager student of the martial arts. Other than developing his skills with various weapons, he was also interested in the art of making war – and Roger Mortimer had the reputation of being an impressive general, given to innovative use of strange new things such as cannon. I imagine Prince Edward and Mortimer bonded over this common interest, while at the same time Mortimer and Isabella forged an alliance to once and for all rid the world of Hugh Despenser. Was it their intention to also depose Edward II? Difficult question – a question they initially preferred to side-step.

In England, Edward II was enraged by his son’s extended stay in France – and his wife’s adulterous relationship with Mortimer (and yes: I do believe they were lovers). Letter after letter were sent across the sea to the prince, ordering him to return home ASAP. Except, of course, that Prince Edward was in no position to do so. Isabella was not about to let him go, not when he was the lynchpin on which her plans depended. I suspect it wasn’t a question of her forbidding him to return home – she just turned large, tear-filled eyes his way and whispered that was she to do without him by her side.

Early in 1326, our young prince must have understood there were plans afoot to return to England – with an invading army. To find the ships and men required, Isabella and Mortimer negotiated with the Count of Hainaut. In return for Hainaut’s support, Prince Edward would marry one of his daughters. King Edward II sent his son more letters, now forbidding him to wed without parental approval. Once again, our prince had little choice in the matter – but he must have agonised as his father’s letters became increasingly terse, until that last missive when Edward II essentially told his son he was now no more than a rebel, and he would punish him as he would punish any rebel. The boy was just thirteen…

In September of 1326, Prince Edward returned to England – at the head of an army with his mother by his side. Isabella made it very clear that she was only here to restore law and order to the realm – and safe-guard her son’s claim on the throne. Young and handsome, Prince Edward elicited loud cheers of approbation, the figurehead of an invasion that had as its final purpose to destroy Despenser and bring King Edward II to heel. What our prince thought of all this we don’t know – but those who loved him, like Adam de Guirande does in my novel, must have commiserated with their young lord, torn in two by his parents.

Ultimately, Edward II was not brought to heel – he was deposed. In February of 1327, Prince Edward was crowned as Edward III, while his father was reduced to being Sir Edward of Caernarvon and destined for a life behind walls. The son must have wept – the young king, however, promised himself he would never, ever, allow something like that to happen to him. It never did. From the moment Edward III rid himself of the double-yoke of mother and Mortimer in November 1330, he ruled in his own name – a powerful, competent ruler who never forgot just how easy it was to depose a weak and inept king.

Anna Belfrage is the author of the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first book, In the Shadow of the Storm, was published in 2015. The next book, Days of Sun and Glory, has just come out and Anna urges you to “enter a world of political intrigue, follow Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer as they invade England, watch my protagonists Adam de Guirande and his wife Kit navigate a world in which loss is certain and life is not.”

If you want to know more about Anna, drop by her webpage or her blog!

The Graham Saga:
In the Shadow of the Storm:
Days of Sun and Glory:

I was a guest on Anna's blog last week -
 or rather my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne was - 
a rare interview with a journalist!
 (Do read, its quite funny!) 

Helen will be on Radio Devon
on Friday morning

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Setting Sail for the Fifth Sea Witch Voyage!

Weighing anchor for the fifth Sea Witch Voyage to set sail: 

the anchor cable is being hauled in,
 On The Account, released 7th July
 the sails are being set....

Helen's Amazon Author Page
to grab your copy of the swashbuckling adventure! (paperback or e-book)

Here's the first in Sea Witch's voyage around the blogs: The Anticipation of the New Book...
'I am happy to host Helen Hollick, writer of engrossing historical fiction, luscious series set in far ago times and fascinating places.  Her creativity is only matched by her encouragement and support of other writers.'   (my thanks to host Diana Wilder)