Today I have the pleasure to introduce a gifted writer and a tireless promoter of indie authors: Helen Hollick.
I found her book “The Sea Witch” a real treat. I picked up the book for its historical content, which is as immaculately researched as I was told. The story, however, is much more entertaining than I had anticipated: adventure, romance, action and some mythical element made this hugely enjoyable.
Set in the early 1700s this is a gripping pirate story for adults with fascinating historical and nautical background details. The characters are well developed, the plot moves along fast and the suspense never lets up. A rich and rewarding read.
I’ve always been immersed in the world of ‘story’. One of my earliest memories is coming out of the library clutching one of my favourite books. I was four! At the age of nine or ten I discovered pony stories, and desperately wanting a pony, I wrote stories about owning one. It was the next best thing… didn’t everyone do that? At about thirteen I discovered that no, they didn’t.
But then I never have been a very conventional person.
How did you come up with your stories?
They come to me. I became interested in the ‘reality’ of King Arthur (Arthur as a Dark Age Warlord in post-Roman Britain as opposed to the Medieval tales of Knights in Armour) and dissatisfied with the fiction available wrote my own version (The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy.) http://www.helenhollick.net/bookshelf_banner.html
The idea for Harold the King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US, both are exactly the same book) came to me in a dream. Sorry, I know it sounds clichéd, but it is true – the very detailed dream ended up as Chapter Two. http://www.helenhollick.net/bookshelf_saxon.html
From there A Hollow Crown (titled The Forever Queen in the US – the better version if I am honest) was a natural follow-on. It is the story of Queen Emma of Normandy – who featured in Harold the King. I became fascinated by her and decided she needed her own novel.
And the Sea Witch Voyages, well, my pirate appeared to me on a Dorset Beach, touched his hat and nodded.
‘Hello Jesamiah Acorne’ I said.
For that story click here: (only read this article through first – or don’t forget to come back!) http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/p/how-i-met-jesamiah-acorne.html
You have created great characters. Which one is your favourite?
My (ex) pirate – Captain Jesamiah Acorne. I adore him!
Me, too. Who would you cast to play him in a movie?
I would prefer an unknown actor to play my Jesamiah. Someone who will be mainly known as ‘That’s the guy who played Jesamiah!’
Jesamiah is a blend of Jack Sparrow, Richard Sharpe, Hornblower, Ross Poldark, Indiana Jones and a touch of James Bond – oh and I would prefer a TV Drama Series not a movie please.
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
No. Complete opposite in fact!
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
The plots for my ‘serious’ historical fiction were all pre-set in history, the facts forming the skeleton framework. Sea Witch, almost in its entirety came to me while walking on that drizzly-day beach in Dorset. The follow-up Voyages have not been so easy though – I’ve had a good bit of thinking to do! http://www.helenhollick.net/bookshelf_seawitch.html
What is your main reason for writing?
Escapism. I have only realised that though, since moving from London to Devon in 2013. Now that I have – literally – escaped, the desperation to ‘get away’ has faded. Now I write because I want to know what happens next to my rogue of an ex-pirate.
I‘ve only read one of the books so far. What is the idea behind your series?
Escapism and fun – good old-fashioned enjoyable adventure, with a touch of fantasy and a sexy hero. As with my Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy I wrote Sea Witch because it is the book I wanted to read. Having enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie I searched for novels of the same sort of genre – nautical adventure with believable fantasy. There were several for young adults, but nothing with ‘grown up’ content for us older folk. So I gave up and wrote it myself.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
The best is creating a believable world which comes alive, along with its inhabitants as you write. The worst is the hard slog of marketing which comes after publication. It can be fun – but it is hard work.
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
Both are an ongoing process. To ‘market’ efficiently you need to maintain a presence on Social Media – probably daily. It is subtle ‘back-door’ marketing: being chatty and friendly, smile all the time, present yourself as an interesting person; all of which, actually, is fun and enjoyable (but time-consuming). I have met and made some super friends via Facebook and Twitter. Social Media is not the place to moan, groan, whinge or wring your hands though – look at it this way, who would you rather talk to at a party? The glum person in the corner with the half empty glass, or the smiley, chatty person in the centre of the room with the glass half full?
What do you do when you don’t write?
*laugh* I think the above question answered that!
Tell us one odd thing about you and one really mundane thing.
One mundane: I love my bed. It is cosy, comfortable and from it I have a beautiful view south to my front garden, and north across the North Devon countryside. I can be in bed at night and look out at the stars.
Odd: I talk to myself a lot. That isn’t the oddity. The odd bit is I answer back. (Sometimes it is the only way to get a sensible response.)
I am passionate about my characters (especially Jesamiah – although I reckon you have already guessed that.) To me, my characters are real people, best friends. They also give me confidence when I need that extra boost. I mean, who is going to argue with me when I have a pirate in full regalia, including cutlass and pistol, standing behind my right shoulder? OK so they cannot see him, but I know he’s there!
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
Quality control for indie writers is essential. It is astounding how many writers spend all that while creating their novel, then self-publish it in less than acceptable presentation. Readers want Cinderella in her finest ball-gown, not her kitchen rags. Send your book to the Ball not the scullery! Editing, from the initial technical one to final proof-read is crucial. Covers, yes I know it is nice to use a close friend or relative who is good at art – but they are not professional designers. Bottom line, if you want to be seen as a professional author be a professional author.
Jo Field is my main editor, but I also use Beta Readers and another set of eyes for a final proof-read. It is amazing how those typos slip through the net!
How have you found the experience of self-publishing? What were your highs and lows?
Lows – there have been plenty of those! When I started out (having been simultaneously dropped by my agent and publisher) after sobbing for two weeks, at the depth of despair, I went to a self-publishing company which on the surface seemed an answer to my disappointment. Various staff through the few years I was there were lovely. The Owner/Manager turned out to be not far short of a crook, with money being taken but books not being published, royalties never being paid and promises never kept, The company went bankrupt – but thankfully some of those nice members of staff managed to get my files back to me before the bailiffs came in. Having learned lessons the hard way I took my books to a reliable and efficient company, SilverWood Books Ltd. So that bit is the High!
What do you like best about writing? What’s your least favourite thing?
Least: Worrying about not having enough time to do everything I want to do. Where does a day/week/month/year go?
What is your advice to new writers?
Get on with it.
Who are your favourite authors?
Rosemary Sutcliff, Elizabeth Chadwick.
What is your favourite book?
Frontier Wolf and Mark of the Hose Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff. Sorry, I know that’s two books but they are both No. 1’s for me.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
I’m going through the Poldark series on Kindle. Next up is the Game of Thrones series
What makes you laugh?
My two dogs – Baz a Labrador/Collie, and the Collie puppy, Eddie (5 months old at the time of writing this, May 2015) Dogs, when they are content, just love life don’t they? They are always ‘smiling’. I came across a saying not long ago: ‘Be the person your dog thinks you are.’ A good motto I think.
My teddy bear (or am I allowed my two bears?) Cobb and Blee Bear. They are warmer than an electric blanket or hot water bottle – and stay warm all night. They make an excellent pillow for an aching neck. I chat to them, dance with them, give them a shake when I’m cross – and they never, ever, answer back or get grumpy. Indeed they wear a permanent smile!
Who would you like to invite for dinner?
Winston Churchill. The Queen. Neil Diamond. Mike Oldfield.
Hot or cold?
Hot-ish (a nice warm day, although I don’t mind gentle spring rain!)
Salty or sweet?
What would your friends say are your best and your oddest quality?
I’m as supportive as I can be to new writers – I love helping them ‘make it’. My oddest quality? Maybe I get too over-enthusiastic sometimes, which can lead to misunderstandings?
What would you chose as those qualities?
Well both really – but I must remember to support or advise in moderation and not over-egg the pudding!
What song would you pick to go with your book?
I did an article on my ‘Muse Music’ for Sea Witch… you can read (and listen to) it here: http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/p/muse-music_13.html (I’ve been listening to the tracks as I write this article. I heard Tubular Bells when it first came out – many years ago now. Oldfield writes (and plays) awesome music, although I prefer the instrumental tracks, not the songs.
For the Pirates of the Caribbean … there are several places where you can sing ‘Jesamiah, Jesamiah, Jesamiah…’
Constructive criticism is always helpful. I don’t expect 5 star reviews – 4 will do, but it is the senseless 1 stars on Amazon that annoy me. Complaints like ‘I thought this book was badly written because it had a comma in the wrong place’ are just silly. If I don’t like a book I don’t review it – why do these people waste time writing utterly senseless nastiness?
What is next?
I am at the finishing stages of writing the Fifth Sea Witch Voyage – On The Account, and I have recently signed a contract for the entire series to be translated into Italian – although that will not involve much work for me.
The most exciting project, though, I was approached by a UK Mainstream non-fiction historical publisher, Amberley Press, who have commissioned me to write a book about pirates for them. We do not have a title yet, but it will be something like Pirates in Fiction and Fact, the idea being to explore the truth about pirates balanced against the fiction of books and movies. I’m looking forward to this one, it should be fun! Expect it sometime in late 2016.
Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in North Devon, England. Born in North-East London, Helen started writing pony stories as a teenager, moved onto science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years in the UK with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the era of 1066, she was selected for publication by Sourcebooks Inc in the US, and became a USA Today best seller with Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, nautical pirate-based fantasy adventures.
As a supporter of Independent Authors she is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and inaugurated the HNS Indie Award.