My guest today is the wonderful Helen Hollick. Helen started writing pony stories as a young teenager. She moved onto science fiction and fantasy and then discovered the delight of writing historical fiction. Helen is published in the UK and the US with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, officially making the USA Today best seller list with her novel, The Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, a series of historical adventure seafaring books inspired by her love of the Golden age of piracy.
As a firm supporter of independent authors, publishers and bookstores, she has recently taken on the role of Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Reviews for historical fiction. Helen now lives in Devon with her husband, adult daughter and son-in-law, and a variety of pets, including a dog, two cats, and several horses.
What or who inspired you to first write?
Ruby Fergusson and Monica Edwards – they wrote pony-based stories for young adults and I so desperately wanted a pony, so I started writing stories about my own pony (she was a palomino called Tara). I thought everyone did this – lived their dream-life through writing stories. It astonished me when I eventually discovered that I was in a small minority! I then discovered Rosemary Sutcliff…. And the wonderful world of historical fiction.
What is the inspiration for your current book?
The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Well, who can resist Johnny Depp’s creation of Captain Jack Sparrow? I enjoyed the movie, it was tongue-in-cheek entertainment, with nothing about it that was meant to be taken seriously – pure fun.
Is there a particular theme you wish to explore in this book?
I describe my protagonist, Captain Jesamiah Acorne, as a blend of Hornblower, Jack Aubrey and Jack Sparrow, with a dash of James Bond and a pinch of Indiana Jones, all mixed up with Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe. As with all such heroes, you know they will get out of trouble by the end of the book (or movie). Trouble follows my Jesamiah like a ship’s wake – you know he will survive, but the excitement comes with discovering how he manages to do so!
Each ‘Voyage’ is a read-alone adventure, but I have two other threads running through the entire series. One is a fantasy element – Tethys, the ethereal goddess-spirit of the sea wants Jesamiah’s soul, and Jesamiah himself coming to terms with his unhappy childhood and his almost non-existent relationship with his deceased father. The past unravels throughout the series, Jesamiah discovering things he did not know along with us, the readers…and myself as writer, come to that! In On The Account I intend to explore the complexity of relationships – between a male and female, and male and male. Love can be a very complicated emotion….
What period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?
I have three! Post-Roman Britain – the fifth and sixth centuries. This is the period when if he had existed ‘King’ Arthur would have been fighting as an enigmatic warlord; the eleventh century prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066; and the Golden Age of Piracy – the early eighteenth century.
What resources do you use to research your book/s?
Mostly on-line nowadays because my sight is deteriorating and I cannot read text books as well as I used to, especially if the print is small. You must always remember, however, if working on-line to verify at least three different sources – and even then, take what you read with a large pinch of salt. The best research places on-line are the various university and professional sites.
I do have a non-fiction library here at home, with some of the books I used for my previous novels listed on my website at http://www.helenhollick.net/bibliography.html
One day I’ll get around to updating it!
Which authors have influenced you?
As I said above, the various authors of children’s pony stories, but beyond those, and not in any particular order: Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Stewart, Sharon Kay Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, Patrick O’Brian, C.S. Forester, James L. Nelson, Bernard Cornwell, Dick Francis, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner… and quite a few more!
What do you do if stuck for a word or a phrase?
Get my Roget’s Thesaurus from the shelf next to my desk. If really stuck, I go for a walk and mull over what it is I want to say – the words usually come by the time I have turned for home, gasping for a cup of tea.
Is there a particular photo, piece of art, poetry or quote that strikes a chord with you? Why?
I love any photos of the tall ship Surprise (formally Rose). She is the ‘template’ for Sea Witch: I have never been on anything bigger than a dinghy in all my life, but this ship – even just to look at a photo – immediately takes me far out to sea. I can feel her moving, hear her timbers creaking, hear the wind thrumming in the ratlines and stays, the sails cracking… she transports me to that other, very real to readers and writers world of the Imagination.
One other photo of a tall ship is precious to me. This is the ship my graphics designer, Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org uses for my Sea Witch covers and all my marketing. Sea Witch – my pirate’s ship – my ship!
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Stop talking about “When I write my book” and get on and write it! And if you have decided to go Indie/Self-Published, do it properly. Get an editor, and a professional cover designer. You will only be taken seriously as an author if you present your book to the highest quality; there should not be any difference between the layout of your indie book and a mainstream one. Yet as Managing Editor of the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews I find novels printed in Comic Sans font, with text left-justified, and or double-spaced. I have even had published novels submitted for review that have no title or information on the covers. Take pride in what you produce and don’t send your precious novel out into the world looking ragged and uncared-for.
Tell us about your next book.
Well I’ve already mentioned On The Account, which I hope will be published towards the end of 2014. I would also like to do a spin-off story based on my King Arthur Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. Set in the fifth century, Madoc – known as Madoc The Horseman – was an officer in Arthur’s cavalry. Wounded, unable to ride, he has to seek a new life, and ends up as Arthur’s spy. His cover being that he is a horse trader. You can read a very rough draft of the first (exploratory) chapter here: http://www.helenhollick.net/h2uitem8.html
Funny how I started out at writing pony stories, and I end up doing a similar genre fifty years later!
Helen, thanks so much for sharing your sources of inspiration, and for giving us a sneak preview into On the Account!
Helen has written so many books that it’s easiest to give you this link on Goodreads to the list. You can connect with Helen through social media via the links below:
Main Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com
Leaning on the Gate – Devon Diary: www.leaningonthegate.blogspot.co.uk
Newsletter : www.h2unews.blogspot.co.uk