‘I empty my mind and timeslip into the past’
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is bestselling historical fiction author Helen Hollick @HelenHollick
Soundtrack by Mike Oldfield, soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans, soundtrack to Master and Commander, Loreena McKennitt, Enigma, Bronwen Harrison
The Time : The Golden Age of Piracy – 1716. The Place : The South African Coast to the Caribbean.
Before writing Sea Witch, music was mere background noise. Meeting my pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne, changed that. Was this because I went indie, or does Jesamiah require more ‘audio colour’?
Music enhances the mental process of writing. I ‘see’ scenes as if watching a movie; a soundtrack brings them to life. I start with Mike Oldfield. I heard Tubular Bells in 1973 when it was first released. It remains a favourite, only overtaken by subsequent versions. This track is inspiring; it hurls me into the world of imagination. I listen to this when I need to empty my mind and ‘timeslip’ into the past.
Going indie and the pirate route
I went indie after my mainstream publisher dropped my backlist – The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy : The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner, Shadow of the King, and my novel of the 1066 Battle of Hastings, Harold the King (US title: I Am The Chosen King). My ex-agent also dropping me, strengthened my resolve to self-publish. I had nothing to prove, and being an indie author keeps me in control.
Sea Witch joined my reclaimed novels in print. This was a leap of faith in my ability as a writer, and the popularity of Jesamiah; who doesn’t like pirate adventures? According to publishers, though, pirates are not popular. What about Jack Sparrow? The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was not intended to be taken seriously, but where were similar adult novels with adult situations? Finding nothing, I gave up the search and wrote the book I wanted to read.
The plot developed while I was on holiday. I had my heroine, Tiola, a healer and a white witch; secondary characters, and the ship, Sea Witch. But not my dashing Captain. I gazed at the sea listening to another Mike Oldfield : Sentinel from Tubular Bells II. And there stood Jesamiah in full pirate regalia. Blue ribbons in his black hair, a gold acorn dangling from his ear. He touched one finger to his hat, nodded. ‘Hello Jesamiah Acorne,’ I said. That track always makes me think of his enigmatic character; quick to laugh, formidable when angry. As skilled with a cutlass as he is in bed. A man who values his freedom, and the woman he loves.
Jesamiah is a treasured friend, although with each voyage I discover more about him. He gets easily into fights, and do not get into a drinking contest with him – he’ll win. He pays too much attention to a pretty face (or the anatomy slightly below the face!) but despite his indiscretions he is devoted to Tiola.
Another Oldfield selection is Weightless Tubular Bells II – for Jesamiah and Tiola to make love to. (Superb Video, although nothing to do with the sea.)
On the sea
I’ve never been on a moving ship and have no idea of nautical matters; instead, I devour O’Brien, Forrester and Julian Stockwin. I use imagination for the swaying of the ship, hear wind in the sails and the creaking of the hull. To be on deck, feeling the rise and dip of her bow as Sea Witch ploughs through the waves. Muse music is Promontory from Last Of The Mohicans … The swaying rhythm and grand majesty of a ship and the sea…
Sea Witch opens with pirates giving chase for a prize. Suitable inspiration for writing fights: Master and Commander. Later, Jesamiah is pursued by pirate hunters. He is injured, and the streets of Cape Town might become his graveyard. Tiola senses his difficulty and must find him before he bleeds to death.
Recovering, Jesamiah realises he is in love, a realisation nudged by a rival for Tiola’s affections. But Jesamiah also has his love of freedom and the sea. With the opportunity to acquire a ship he must make a choice – the ship, or Tiola. The Old Ways by Loreena McKennitt captures that moment when the call of the sea is greater than love.
No spoilers; suffice to say he sails away without Tiola… The question, over and over, in Enigma’s : Why?
Initially, Sea Witch was a stand-alone novel but Jesamiah stole my heart; Pirate Code followed, then Bring It Close, which includes the notorious Blackbeard. One of the delights of writing ‘made up’ novels, as opposed to based-on-fact historical fiction, is the freedom to manipulate true events while remaining plausible. In Bring It Close, Jesamiah masterminded Blackbeard’s demise, but states:
I do not want my name writ in any record book.’
Which is why you will not find him in historical documents.
Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics creates my UK covers and book trailers, while Bronwen Harrison adds the trailer soundtracks. For Bring It Close, we used her composition Dark Music.
Back to Sea Witch: The lovers reunite when Jesamiah is again in danger. Tiola rescues him… except this is a chance for Tethys, Goddess of the Sea, to take Jesamiah for her own. Cue Enigma’s I love you, I’ll kill you. Is love more powerful than greed? The final scenes were an emotional conclusion. I put my heart and soul into Sea Witch – it is for those of us who seek escapism, adventure and passion within the pages of a book. A ship glides across a calm sea, sails filled with a following wind. A man stands at the helm: Mike Oldfield Misty Tr3s Lunar.
Helen Hollick lives in Devon, UK and hit the USA Today bestseller list with her novel The Forever Queen. Her full booklist including The Sea Witch Voyages is available here, her website is here, her blog is Of History And Kings, you can also find her on Facebook and on Twitter. Find an even more extensive list of the songs that inspired Jesamiah here.
6 thoughts on “The Undercover Soundtrack – Helen Hollick”
Great post, Helen, and so pleased to discover that both you and Roz are Mike Oldfield fans. His music fires my imagination too, opening up a whole new realm of possibilities with his otherworldliness. I don’t normally read pirate books but I loved “Sea Witch”. I’d never have guessed that you’d never been to sea when you write so evocatively and authoritatively about sailing. I have done a lot of sailing but never in a pirate ship! I’m now looking forward to following the rest of Jesemiah’s adventures, and TIola’s too, and I’m so glad that Mike Oldfield brought you to him! And thank you, Roz, for bringing Helen’s musical inspirations to us.
Thank you for inviting me to do this post Roz – loved compiling it!
Thank you Debbie – I’m pleased that as someone who has sailed you didn’t find fault with my at sea scenes.:-) The only problem I had with writing this post was what tracks to leave out!
Sounds like you’ve scored a big hit there, Helen! It’s a great moment when knowledgeable readers tell you you’ve hit the spot. Thanks for a great post, and full steam ahead…. (or sail….)