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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
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.
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.
authors, Avalon Graphics, Bronwen Harrison, Desert Island Discs, drama, Enigma, entertainment, Helen Hollick, historical fiction, Jesamiah Acorne, Loreena McKennitt, Mike Oldfield, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, pirate adventures, pirate fiction, pirate novels, pirate stories, pirates, Pirates of the Caribbean, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, Sea Witch, soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans, soundtrack to Master and Commander, soundtracks, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, USA Today bestseller, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music
- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
- If you're curious about the novel that started it all, click the image below.
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2020. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
Find something unforgettable
- Your first pages – 5 more book openings critiqued by a literary agent (and me!) at @Litopia
- From literary journal to 10 books a year – interview with Jessica Bell @msbessiebell of Vine Leaves Press @VineLeavesPress
- What movies get wrong – and right – about authors. And Elizabeth Taylor: Ep47 FREE podcast for writers
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'