Carolyn Hughes my guest this week

Back in December, as I am sure many of you remember, Helen organised a wonderful blog tour, “And The Best Supporting Role Character Is…”, where she interviewed a supporting character from twelve different novels. I was one of the proud participants, among an otherwise rather an illustrious crowd of “histfic” writers!
Anyway, I thought that interviewing characters was such a good idea that I asked Helen if I could interview another of the characters from my novel, Fortune’s Wheel, and she said yes!
I am currently writing book two, A Woman’s Lot, in my series set in the fourteenth century, “The Meonbridge Chronicles”. Fortune’s Wheel is book one. One of the characters who I think will play a more significant role in book two than she does in the first is Emma Coupar. I spoke to her briefly in the months following the Black Death, when the events of Fortune’s Wheel take place, when I was trying to find out about all the folk who lived in Meonbridge.

Carolyn: Mistress Coupar, I am sorry but may I take you from your labours, just for a few moments, so that we can talk?
Emma [shrugging]: I scarce have time for gossip, Missus Hughes, but I can’t say I wouldn’t welcome a moment’s rest and, as its you, I s’pose the reeve’ll not make a fuss…
C: I promise not to keep you long. But, please, can you tell me first a little about yourself?
E: For my sins, I’m wed to Bart – my beloved Bartholomew – who’s a weak and idle clout, yet, despite his faults, I love him dearly. I were scarce much more ’n a child, he fifteen years older, when he first courted me. [giggles] Despite his age, he were still strong and handsome, wi’ a constant twinkle in his eyes. But, though he could work hard, he were known more for his idleness an’ love of ale. Yet I were so flattered by his passionate attentions, I ignored my Pa’s warnings. An’, in truth, I were already wi’ child when I married him. [blushes] But I’ve been happy enough…
C: Can you say what happened to you at the beginning of this year [1349]?
E [eyes wide]: The Death?
C [nodding]
E [eyes filling]: We lost all three o’ our little lads. The girls survived, that’s Beatrix – Bea we call her – she’s 5, an’ Amice – Ami – who’s 2. But losing the boys was… I can’t even tell you how… [wipes her sleeve across her face]. Sorry, I’m not one for weeping, but… ’Course lots o’ folk lost loved ones in the Death, but it were such a dreadful passing, our little ones did suffer such terrible agony an’ fear…
C: Oh, I’m so sorry, Emma. I shouldn’t have asked about it. Let’s talk of something else.
E [wiping her face again and nodding]: So, Bart and me, we’re cottars – labourers – the lowest in the pecking order on the manor. We have to turn our hands to anything, for anyone, to earn even a meagre crust. Though, in truth, it’s only me who does any work [raises eyebrows] – Bart’s usually too lazy to get up of a morning, ’cept to go to the alehouse, though he can be strong and able when he puts his mind to it.
C: Can you tell me something of your work?
E: As I said, I can turn my hand to anything, though these days I mostly work for Missus atte Wode, whatever she needs, in her fields or in her garden. Im a good worker. I’m hoping Missus Titherige’ll let me help wi’ her sheep, ’cause I like sheep, an’ lambing or shearing, I can do anything a shepherd can! An’ I won’t hear a bad word said ’gainst either lady, for they’re both really good to me. Missus atte Wode keeps pressing me to better meself – take on some of the land that’s going spare now so many’ve died in Meonbridge. But I tell her it’s no good, wi’ Bart being so lazy and good-for-nothing… [rolls her eyes] I couldn’t manage it by meself. Which is a shame, ’cause I’d like to give my girls a better life.
C: Your life sounds terribly hard, Emma! Is it the same for all cottars?
E [grimacing]: ‘’Course it is! Specially for us women, who got the house and children to cope with, as well as the work we do for other folk. An’ I’m not the only one struggling to earn enough to keep a roof over our family’s head. In my case, I got an idle clout for an husband, but there are lots of widows too, since the Death…
C [lowering voice]: Emma, are you willing to tell me what you think of Sir Richard and Lady de Bohun? Is he a good lord?
E [raising eyebrows again]: D’you really want to know what I think? [C nods] Hah! Well, her ladyship’s probably quite nice, though I’ve never talked to her, an’ I don’t s’pose she even knows who I am! But his lordship… [grimaces] Well, he’s only interested in what he can get out of us, ain’t he? As much work for as little wages as he can get away with! Even since the Death, he’s not really budging. Even though there’s half the number of us left, so twice as much work for each of us to do, he still won’t raise our wages. I tell Bart we ought to go, leave Meonbridge and find an employer willing to pay a fair wage for a fair day’s work… [pauses, then purses her lips] Mind you, Bart don’t ever do a fair day’s work, so what’d be the point? [when she looks up, her eyes are glistening]
C [regretting her choice of question]: Oh dear, the reeve’s noticed I’ve kept you talking, so I’d best let you get on.
E [shrugging]: Naught ever changes for us cottars… [sighs and bends down again to her weeding]

Carolyn Hughes
Author of Fortune’s Wheel, the first of “The Meonbridge Chronicles”

Twitter: @writingcalliope
Website and blog:

I also post a blog on the 20th of every month at

Previous Post: Superstitions at Sea - Scratch a Stay and No Whistling!  

Superstitions at Sea

      From Pirates Truth and Tales by... well, by me!
Sailors were a superstitious lot. Were pirates as wary of causing bad luck as their merchant and Royal Navy counterparts? Maybe because they led a life where they were in control of their freedom the rituals and taboos were not so important. On the other side of the deck, perhaps superstition was  even more necessary in order to stay alive and catch that next Prize.

For sailors, certain days of the week were regarded as bad luck to do things, particularly in the Western. Christian, world. Friday was a bad-omen day to set sail from harbour. This came from Good Friday, the day when Christ was crucified. The first Monday in April was the day Cain killed Abel, the second Monday in August was when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God and the last day of December was the day Judas committed suicide. All bad luck days.

Also from the Bible was the fear of a Jonah, someone aboard, either crew or passenger, who was the conduit for bad luck or bad things to happen. There is such a character in the Patrick O’Brian novels which were made into that excellent movie, Master and Commander.

Candlemas Day, celebrated forty days after Christmas Day, was also thought to be a bad day to set sail. In pre-Christian custom this day was associated with the approaching end of winter and coming of spring, a day to bring as much light as possible into the world to chase away the darkness. There was, additionally, a belief that the weather on this day would predict what the year was to bring:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain
Winter shall not come again.

Which, if you were a sailor makes good sense to take note of. Roaring waves and rolling clouds also indicated an omen not to set sail –  common sense more than superstition.

The belief that a woman aboard would bring bad luck stemmed from the Roman and Greek mythology of the female deities such as Sirens who lured sailors to their death. Given that it is possible several women served as crew disguised as men this superstition seems somewhat amusing. In some cultures mermaids and mermen were considered to be lucky as they granted wishes.

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currently in Amazon top 100 Historical Fiction
Sea birds were lucky omens, the albatross being the prime one, but it was bad luck to kill an albatross. This large seabird can have a wingspan of up to twelve feet and range over the Southern Ocean and the Pacific, although some do stray into the North Atlantic. The are superb in the air, riding the thermal currents and covering huge distances with very little effort. They feed on fish and squid, and are colony nesting birds making use of remote islands to breed. Which may explain their importance to sailors: the birds could indicate a way to fresh water, a haul of fresh fish and even wind direction. It was also believed that birds carried the soul to heaven after death.

For some obscure reason, bringing bananas aboard was a taboo. Maybe because they often had tarantulas or poisonous spiders hiding within the huge bunches? Whistling on deck was a no-no because it can call up a wrong wind, but maybe the origin is associated with being confused with the whistles sounded in connection with giving orders. It could also be connected with the legend that mutineer Christian Fletcher used a whistle-call as the signal to rise up against Captain Bligh aboard HMS Bounty. One exception was the cook. If he was whistling then he wasn’t sampling too much food!

Renaming a boat supposedly was bad luck, although given that pirates did this all the time maybe it did not affect them? Or could this be why so many pirate ships had the same name? Still, there was a tradition to avert the bad luck: you de-name the vessel in a special ceremony, then officially re-name it. Sounds like a good excuse to have a party and sample the rum to me.

Not all superstition was regarded as ill-luck, there were some good omens as well, although many were assumed to ward of bad luck …

Cats. Ashore in many areas a black cat was associated with witches and regarded as unlucky, but for sailors a cat aboard was assured to bring good fortune. This one is a practical belief: cats catch rats and mice.

Caul. Babies born with the uterus membrane in place around their head were believed to be protected from drowning. It is a very rare occurrence. Sailors would often purchase a caul from midwives and mothers to keep as a good luck charm. Needless to say, I us this particular superstition in my Sea Witch series (Voyage Four: Ripples In The Sand)

available on Amazon
Losing a hat over the side indicated that the voyage could be a long one, and eggshells had to be crushed into small pieces before tossing them overboard in case they attracted witches.

me hanging on to my hat on a very windswept Exmoor!
Pierced ears – the gold hoop earring typical of a pirate – were worn to assist the soul to the afterlife by paying for its passage. If death was by drowning, and therefore no formal burial could take place with a coin placed in the mouth or over the eyes, the gold would be there to pay the ferryman the required fee. (So now you know why my Jesamiah Acorne wears a gold acorn earring!) 

Tattoos were often designed to bring good fortune and ward off bad luck, a red-haired man was to be avoided, and certain words were not to be uttered aboard: drowned, goodbye and good luck being three of them. To scratch a stay brought good luck, as did turning three times east to west, the way the sun travelled – woe betide anyone who got it wrong and turned widdershins, west to east though!

The Patron Saints of sailors, (they had two) were Saint Nicholas because he calmed a storm with prayer, and Saint Erasmus also called Saint Elmo. He is said to have continued preaching even though a thunderstorm raged and lightning struck the ground beside his feet. An electrical discharge which occasionally occurs at the masthead was believed to be a sign of his presence and was called Saint Elmo’s Fire. 

And a way to counteract the seven years of bad luck when a mirror is broken, is to toss the shards into running water - presumably the froth of a ship's wake would serve the right purpose?

Read more about the truth and tales of Pirates  (Hardback edition now available)
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Do you know any odd superstitions? Do share them by leaving a comment below!

Room to Think – Space to Imagine

my guest this week - Richard Buxton

I’m Richard Buxton and I write historical fiction, both short-stories and novels. Almost always, there is a link to the US Civil War. It’s my bag, as they say. In April I published my first novel, Whirligig. This is how I describe it in the blurb:

Whirligig is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself.

I also occasionally liken it as somewhere between the writing of Bernard Cornwell and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. A little ambitious of me perhaps, but it at least gives people a rough idea of where I’d like to see myself.

I’m a few months in now and I’ve started to collect some reviews. I’ve been surprised how greatly perceptions of the book differ and I’m not talking minor nuances. For example, consider:

‘I thought that the book would be similar to Gone with the Wind… However, that wasn't the case.’


A sweeping saga set in both 19th century rural England and the American South and reminiscent of ‘Gone With The Wind’.


‘First, I need to point out that this isn’t a “war” story… [It’s] about one man’s determination to keep a promise.


‘Most of the novel was focused on battles and on daily life in the army whether it has ugly or beautiful moments.’

I suspect this is a common experience for authors selling their first book. It would be understandable as a writer to hop up and down and shout, ‘No! This is what it’s really about.’ But on reflection I started to take a certain amount of satisfaction from seeing such differing interpretations. It brought to mind a lesson from a workshop I attended when I was just getting into writing a few years ago. We were asked to consider a book as a triangle with the three points being a narrator, a point of view character and a reader. The space in between was where these three entities collided, a space for readers to add their own imagination and perspective. The result is always different; as unique as each individual reader; different ingredients, different outcome. It was a good lesson and encouraged me to write freely and without being prescriptive.

a sketch of a whirligig
I think this idea, of leaving space for the reader, also goes someway to explaining the ‘show, don’t tell,’ maxim.  By telling the reader exactly what someone is thinking or feeling, you deny them the pleasure of deriving it for themselves from what they observe. It’s like an annoying friend telling you exactly their unswerving opinion on a matter and leaving no room at all for yours. Where’s the fun in that?

It’s easy, especially as a writer of historical fiction, to overplay the detail. We perhaps want to prove that we know our period and we’re prepared to pile on the details to prove it. The hours I’ve spent researching 19th century hooped skirts or fashionable hat-wear only to tone it all down to its simplest form. One or two details are often enough. A reader’s mind is extraordinarily capable of populating an imaginary world if you feed them just a single image. David Mitchell is a genius at this. In reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, I began to notice how he parachuted quite random sentences into the middle of action or dialogue. I recall a scene in a traditional Japanese house.
The shadow of a bold rat trots along the oiled paper pane.’ While enjoying the wonderful image itself, your mind’s eye begins to paint around it: some latticed sliding doors, a low table, maybe a lotus blossom or two. When redrafting Whirligig, if I felt that a chapter lacked imagery, I started to do the same thing. It’s amazing how it underpins the physical reality of your story. The reader does more than half the work.

So I’ll celebrate regardless of whether a reviewer sees my work as I do, or sees it in a new and quite unintended way. It’ll mean I’ve given them the room to think, the space to imagine and just enough detail to build their own world.

Read the Discovering Diamonds
review HERE

Richard's website

Whirligig is available on Amazon UK 
and on


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~ Synopsis 

Throughout childhood, Jesamiah Mereno has suffered the bullying of his elder half-brother. Then, not quite fifteen years old and on the day they bury their father, Jesamiah hits back. In consequence, he flees his home, changes his name to Jesamiah Acorne and joins the crew of his father’s seafaring friend Captain Malachias Taylor, aboard the privateer Mermaid.

He makes enemies, sees the ghost of his father, wonders who is the Cornish girl he hears in his mind, and tries to avoid the beguiling lure of a mermaid.

An early tale of the young Jesamiah Acorne, set in the years before he becomes Captain of the Sea Witch.

published in e-book format only.

~ Extract

As ordered, Jesamiah had been crouched low beside the forward gunwale, shrouded by the torn canvas of an old sail. It had been hot and airless, giving only a limited view of the deck – the not knowing exactly what was happening adding to the fear building in his guts and bladder. Tom Markham had noticed his pale, green-tinged complexion.

"You alright?" he had asked, nudging Jesamiah with his elbow to gain his attention.

"I… I think so," had come the hesitant response as Jesamiah switched from fiddling with his earring to tugging at what he was hoping to regard as his lucky blue ribbon. "Although I’m not sure my belly agrees."

Tom had laughed. "Your first proper fight. You’ve done well in the practice bouts with Taylor, me and the other lads, but the real thing takes us all like you’re feeling. You’ll be fine once we get started. The blood-rush takes over."

"It’s my own blood-spill I’m bothered about," Jesamiah had answered with a grimace, his right hand tightening around the pistol he was holding, his left clutching a small, round buckler.

"There’s only one certainty in life, lad: death. Best to look the Grim Reaper in the eye and meet him in a fair fight. Go out screaming your lungs out because you’re aiming to kill him before he kills you."

It proved to be good advice.

When the signal came and the concealing canvas was thrown aside, the hidden men lurched upward in one bellowing mass. Even had he wanted to, there was no way Jesamiah could have remained behind. Lifted as a wave lifts a ship, he was swept along in the furore to pound his pistol butt and buckler on the rail, to scream and shout the death chant, to leap across to the Spaniard’s deck, his voice already hoarse from yelling.

He aimed, shot a man before a bullet finished him first. Reversed the pistol, sidestepped and used it like a club to fell another man running at him open-mouthed, dagger raised… He hastily tucked the pistol into his belt, drew his own dagger and slashed at another man – unaware of what he was doing, just doing it.

He protected his left side with the buckler, raised it as a boarding axe slewed down towards him, his arm jarring with the impact, but it was a wrong move by the axe-wielding Spaniard. With his opponent’s left side exposed, Jesamiah thrust his dagger into the man, up and under his ribs.

"Always under and up," Malachias had instructed, "never in and down, or your blade will do little damage, merely skim across the ribs."

Once, he thought he heard a girl scream, a warning. Had he not turned that fraction of an inch towards the sound it would have been his throat cut by a dagger blade, not his arm.

~ I am Tiola, ~ he thought he heard her whisper. ~ I am here to watch over you. ~ Then he forgot all about her – concentrated on staying alive.

BOOK LAUNCH! The Labyrinthine Journey by Luciana Cavallaro

Book 2: Servant of the Gods
Historical Fiction Mythology

Dear current and prospective readers,

My name is Evan Chronis. My creator thought it may be a good idea to reach out to you as I am the main character in a book she wrote. I’d like to say here and now, that I am pretty jacked off at her for dumping me in an era where the drinking water is brown, no one likes to bathe, and the clothes are coarse and uncomfortable. She makes me wear a dress!! There is an upside, and the cool part is I get to carry a sword and shield. She even let me use them, though she couldn’t help herself in almost killing me. [eye roll] 

I did get to meet a few heroes of mine, one who I thought was a mythical character. I still can’t believe I met Jason and sailed on the Argo! And I got to meet and spend time with Plato. Yes, the famous philosopher! I have to say, it was rather daunting speaking with him, but it was brilliant too. I also had a meet and greet session with an Amazonian queen. I didn’t think I had made a good first impression; the heat from the fire and the wine [ahem], didn’t sit very well. To the queen’s credit, she was more concerned about my wellbeing and thereafter, we spent a lot of time of time together. I shall leave it there.

Unfortunately, those pesky harpies returned and created havoc as usual. We also fought Skylla, a hideous monster that did a lot of damage to the Argo. Afterwards, with a little help from Poseidon and Ares, we were on our way to Crete when the Cyclops turned up, massive dudes who ran interference for Eris, the Goddess of Discord. In fact, she had sent the harpies and Skylla to stop us from recovering the sacred relics. She and another immortal are trying to prevent us from completing our quest, and to be honest, I am not sure if we will succeed. 

To the author’s credit, the story is packed full action, near-death experiences and I’ve visited amazing places and met extraordinary people. You will too. Come along and meet the other characters. Just between you and me, a few of the other characters I have to work with aren’t pleasant or friendly. 

See you on the flipside of page 1.
ISBN: 978-0-9874737-6-9
Available at Amazon and other major retailers.
Pre-orders available at Amazon

Connect with Luciana:
Mailing list 
 Link to facebook event



All nations: a mixture of the dregs of alcohol left in bottles.
Anne’s fan: a disturbance or thumbing your nose at the rules.
Bagpiper: a long-winded talker.
Bark at the moon: to waste your breath.
Bear garden jaw: foul language.
Beggar maker: a publican or taverner.
Belly gut: a greedy or lazy person.
Bring to one’s bearings: to see common sense.
Bull calf: someone who is clumsy.
Calfskin fiddle: a drum.
Cat sticks: thin legs..
Clodpoll: an idiot.
Cold cook: an undertaker.
Dutch concert: everyone playing or singing a different tune.
Eternity box: a coffin.
Fire a gun: to speak without tact.
Fish broth: saltwater.
Fly in a tar box: excited.
Full as a goat: very drunk.
Grog: watered rum.
Grog blossom: a drunkard.
Groggified: very drunk.
Gundiguts: a fat person.
Gut-foundered: hungry.
Handsomely: quickly or carefully.
Hang the jib: to pout or frown..
Hempen halter: a noose.
Higgling cart: a special cart used by hawkers or peddlers.
Hog in armour: a boastful lout.
Hornswaggle: to cheat, or trick.
Horse’s meal: food without a drink.
Hot: a concocted mixture of gin and brandy served warm.
Jack Ketch: an English executioner, his name became synonymous with hanging.
Jaw me down: a talkative fellow.
Loaded to the gunwale: drunk.
Look like God’s revenge against murder – very angry.
Lumping pennyworth: a bargain.
Marry old boots: to marry another man’s mistress.
Measured fer yer chains: to be imprisoned..
Ope: an opening or passageway between buildings..
Paper skull: a fool.
Pipe: a wine cask which held up to 105 gallons.
Pipe tuner: a crybaby.
Pump ship: urinate.
Rabbit hunting with a dead ferret: a pointless exercise.
Remedy critch: a chamberpot.
Ride to fetch the midwife: be in haste.
Run a rig: to play a trick, to cheat someone.
Rusty guts: a surly fellow.
Scallywag: a scoundrel.
Snail’s gallop: to go very slowly.
Soose: a coin.
Spanish trumpeter: a donkey.
Take a caulk: take a nap.
Tilly tally: nonsense.
Trodden on your/my eye: a black eye..
Turned off: hanged.


From Pirates! Truth and Tales
by Helen Hollick
In 1724 Captain Charles Johnson published a book entitled A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates. From it we get our concept of pirates and piracy in the ‘golden age’ of the early 18th century and our main source of information about the more notorious rogues. It has tales of what we take as typical pirates with missing limbs, eye-patches, parrots and burying their treasure. Originally published as two volumes the first, more or less respects recorded detail, although with a few exaggerated fictional flourishes, and covered the 1700s pirates, while the second delved into the earlier 1600s buccaneers and is harder to believe for accuracy - it is more fiction than fact.

Because its publication is contemporary with the height of piracy, the 1700s section is usually regarded as being fairly accurate, although one man’s view can be biased and who is to say what is fact and what is fiction? There is one enormous difficulty with the book, however. We have no idea who Charles Johnson was, as the name is a pseudonym. There was no Captain Johnson recorded as a ship’s master (nor anyone in the military.) The author very obviously had a good knowledge of all things nautical, so must have been a sailor (or a pirate?) and shows a detailed knowledge of the pirates, their lives and their exploits. There was a writer called Johnson who produced a work entitled The Successful Pirate about Henry Avery in 1712, but he did not write The General History. Maybe the writer did not want his name linked with piracy? Which leads to the question... why not?

There have been various attempts to identify his (or her!) true identity, but to date nothing definite has materialised. There are several candidates, so here are some suggestions put forward by various scholars - and a couple of my own theories.

You can come to your own conclusions.

NATHANIAL MIST: a sailor, journalist and printer and who had his own printing press is a popular candidate. Arrested and tried for sedition on several occasions he was fined £50 in 1720, sent to the pillory and three months in jail for his passionate Jacobite tendencies. (Freedom of speech and democratic political beliefs were not embraced in the 18th century.)

Bitterly opposing the Whig government he used the pages of his highly successful Mist’s Weekly Journal to attack Robert Walpole and King George (I) of Hanover. He frequently published his articles using a false name as author, or for the person he was condemning, although all his readers knew who he was talking about. 

(As example, if I were to mention Donald Rump and John Borrison, I think you would know who I meant.)

He also used a variety of authors who employed pen names, Daniel Defoe being one of them, despite being a known Whig supporter, an established spy and placed by the government to keep an eye on Mist, a fact which Defoe himself later confirmed. 

In 1727 Mist went a step too far by libelling the King and he fled to France, although his news sheets continued to be printed. A year later his presses were vandalised and destroyed. The journal was subsequently renamed and the still exiled Mist was spurred into supporting the Jacobite cause as much as he could. Maybe his efforts went too far, for by 1734 he had been ostracised by his fellow Jacobites, and in due course he was permitted to return to England. He died in September 1737. 

So what might connect him to The General History? It was first printed by Charles Rivington who had produced several of Mist’s books prior to 1724. The book was registered in Mist’s name at Her Majesty's Stationery Office. This does not necessarily mean he wrote it but was merely the publisher.

As a sailor, Mist may well have personally encountered some of the men and actions related in the book, but why would an active anti-government politician, who was determined to ridicule and lampoon the Whigs, suddenly decide to write a two-volume part-fictional book, under an assumed name, about pirates? A work that had absolutely nothing to do with politics?

DANIEL DEFOE: Born in 1660 in London is famous for the novels Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders. He has often been cited as being Charles Johnson because he was a writer of that era and produced several vaguely similar works in a similar style. Some copies of the book are even published with his name on the cover. Yet he published none of his other most interesting works under a made-up name, so why would he do so for this one?

His family name, of Flemish background, was Foe, his father being a tallow chandler. As a boy he would have experienced some of the most fearful events of London’s history, mainly the Great Plague of 1665 where over 70,000 Londoners died, and the Great Fire of London in 1666 where, in the area where he lived, the Foe’s house and two others were left intact.

Well educated, he had initially been expected to join the Presbyterian Ministry, but he preferred to become a merchant dealing with various mercantile goods and travelling widely in order to purchase and sell them. Unfortunately he went bankrupt by £17,000.

In his early thirties he travelled to Europe and by the time he returned to England, around 1695, he had changed his name to ‘Defoe’. Perhaps to escape more debtors? 

Another business venture failed while he was in prison in 1703 for political offences. He had written several political-based pamphlets writing against Catholic James II and had joined the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion, escaping the disastrous result of Sedgemoor by the skin of his teeth. With James fleeing into exile three years later, Defoe heartily welcomed William of Orange and Queen Mary, becoming the leading royal pamphleteer. (He would have made a good modern-day political spin-doctor.) In 1701 he published The True-Born Englishman, a witty poem about racial prejudices that he confessed to be extremely proud of. 

War with Europe, Spain in particular, was again looming. In 1701 five men from Kent called for better defences of the coast by handing a petition to Parliament and the then Tory government. They were immediately, and illegally, sent to prison. Showing great courage Defoe confronted the Speaker of the Commons, Robert Harley, with a document reminding the politicians that ‘Englishmen are no more to be slaves to Parliaments than to a King,’ referring, of course to the days of English Civil War, King Charles I and Cromwell. The Kentishmen were released and Defoe proclaimed a hero. Except by the Tory government who thereafter regarded him as a Whig supporter and a great danger.

As a Dissenter, Defoe then became embroiled in religious matters, which at this time were barely separate from political issues. He was accused of sedition and in May 1703 arrested, fined and sentenced to endure three days in the pillory. His literary popularity won out, however, for instead of pelting him with the traditional rotten garbage the ‘audience’ garlanded the pillory with flowers and heartily drank his health. 

Sent back to Newgate prison to complete his punishment, his business collapsed and the welfare of his wife and eight children suffered. He appealed to Harley who eventually agreed his release, which meant Defoe had to work for him in return. Harley was the government spymaster, which meant Defoe became a spy. (You are permitted to hum the James Bond theme here.) (And incidentally, Harley appears in the Fifth Sea Witch Voyage: On the Account.)
 Defoe seems to have enjoyed his new role as it meant doing the things he enjoyed: travel and writing reports and pamphlets. In 1704 he reproduced eyewitness statements in what is believed to be the first piece of modern journalism when he wrote in detail about the Great Storm of the previous year which devastated miles of southern England, uprooted thousands of trees, destroyed hundreds of homes and killed more than 8,000 people. 

The Act of Union with Scotland in 1707 gave him the opportunity to travel North of the Border and keep his new master, Harley, informed of events and public opinion. Between 1724 and 1726 he published three volumes of his Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain.

Not all his writing was political, he originally published several works of a spiritual and moral nature anonymously, and it is believed that in all he produced more than 500 titles as novels, satirical poems, essays, articles and religious and political pamphlets. 

But. He does not seem to have written much about ships, shipping or nautical matters. Nor pirates.

During Queen Anne’s reign, from 1704 to 1713, he produced The Review a serious and in-depth newspaper written almost entirely by himself. Initially a weekly publication it expanded to three times a week, even continuing while Defoe was again imprisoned by his political opponents. It unashamedly discussed politics, religion, trade and morals and was a forerunner of the modern people’s press. 

No pirates though.

With the crowning of George of Hanover after Anne’s death in 1714 the Tory government gave way to the Whigs, who in turn came to value Defoe’s writing and ‘intelligence’ talents. He produced various other work, most notably in 1722 with the appearance of Moll Flanders, A Journal of the Plague Year, and Colonel Jack, his last work of fiction being Roxana published in 1724. He died on 24th April 1731, but his most famous book, Robinson Crusoe had been published in 1719, based on the real marooning of Andrew Selkirk, with information supplied by Governor Woodes Rogers. 

Robinson Crusoe was not about pirates, though was it?

There does not seem to be much in Defoe’s life to connect him with the in-depth detail and knowledge of the sea, sailing and sailors explored in Johnson’s book. Where would Defoe have found the time to write something he knew very little about? He was a political, religious and moralistic writer who followed the common writer’s advice of ‘write what you know.’ Admitted he knew nothing about being marooned on a desert island for four years, but he did meet Selkirk, and like all good journalists, he would have squeezed every bit of the story out of him then turned it into an exciting, and highly profitable, read.

As for pirates… there is absolutely no connection.

WOODES ROGERS: My favourite candidate is Governor Woodes Rogers. 
  • He was in England, having temporarily retired as Governor of the Bahamas, and was facing debtor’s prison. 
  • He knew a lot about sailing and pirates
  • He claimed that he was approached by a man who intended to write a history of piracy, and dutifully supplied him with detailed information. This man, he said, was Johnson.
  • The General History was a ‘best seller’ on both sides of the Atlantic and Rogers found himself a national hero for the second time. Why? All he did was talk to a man who was writing a book.
  • His connection with the book, and presumably Johnson, made him rich again. 
  • Because of the nature of the book, and being, no doubt, concerned that someone might take offence, not least some of the still living pirates, he used the pen name and kept his identity secret. 
  • Rogers knew Daniel Defoe.
  • Daniel Defoe knew Nathanial Mist.
  • Ergo...Woodes Rogers was Charles Johnson.

Naturally I have absolutely no proof of this, but does it not make logical sense? 

More fancifully, we do not know what happened to Anne Bonny. Perhaps she wrote the book as a memoir of her days at sea? Henry Jennings had retired to his Barbados plantation. Could he have been the author? Or I could attribute its writing to my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne in a future Voyage of the Sea Witch

Now, there’s a thought …

Released on
a novella e-book:
how Jesamiah Acorne became a pirate!

details soon!