How Sea Witch Set Sail

 ~ The (true) story of how the Sea Witch set sail ~


London. A few Years Ago:

The agent sat thoughtfully in her office chair puffing at her cigarette.
"What you need to do, darling, is write a fantasy novel.”
"But I don't really do fantasy, do I? I spent ten years writing my Arthurian trilogy without any fantasy whatsoever because I wanted to remove Arthur from the myth and magic."
"Yes but Harry Potter is all the rage. Why not write something for teenagers?"
The author trudged down the four flights of stairs and out into the London rain. She crossed the road opposite the Ritz, wondering if she could afford tea there. Checking her purse, she toddled into Joe's cafe instead.
She really didn't want to write fantasy. Nor for teenagers. She liked writing historical fiction, she liked character interaction, the what motivates people, the invention of characters and what makes them tick. She liked writing about rugged heroes that were the sort of men you wouldn't want to get into a drinking contest with, but who would, all the same, be there to fix the fuse... and know where the torch was!

A Holiday. Dorset. A wet, windy October afternoon.
The rain had poured all morning, but by early afternoon a weak, apologetic sun was squinting from behind a barricade of grey cloud. The author decided to walk the dogs on the beach. She armed herself with weapons against the weather: a hat, a coat, wellies and her ipod. All week she had been researching her latest interest; the truth behind pirates. Now the film she had seen (and the character she had fallen hook-line-and-sinker for) was all very well, but it was not historically accurate. Tortuga, for instance, was cleared of pirates in the 1600's, Port Royal was no longer a town, just a naval base. Pirates did not turn into skeletons. But they DID wear bright ribbons, wave cutlasses about, get drunk and have an awful lot of fun.
As she was walking down the steep cliff-path, minding the bunny burrows and reminding one of the dogs that it was not a good idea to get stuck down one again, as he had yesterday and the day before, she wondered, "What would happen if a charming rogue, such as Jack Sparrow, met up with a white witch? Not someone like Hermione in the Harry P. books, someone more like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars? A good witch, who had the Craft. She can't do magic, has no wand or spells, but she can summon a wind, or talk to her lover via telepathy - if he is not blocking her thoughts.
The author crossed the stream at the bottom of the cliff, that smelt suspiciously of things that were not fishy (or were fishy, in the dodgy sense of the word) and stepped onto the beach.
Immediately she was almost knocked over by a blast from the wind and the dogs went haring off after those two seagulls that had been bugging them all week. The tide was ebbing, the breakers all white-foam and rolling excitement. She walked along the wet sand, listening to the soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean, cursing because the earpiece kept falling out of her ear.
She had the beach more or less to herself, even the seagulls had gone, although one of the dogs did find a dead crab.
Sitting on a rock, she gazed out at the ocean. Well, it was the English Channel really, but an author has a vivid imagination. It was not too difficult to picture the hot sun of the Caribbean, waving palm trees, the rich turquoise blue of the sea.... although it would have been easier if it had not rained again.
Quickly, she switched to a different scene. The Florida reefs, 1715.
Eleven Spanish galleons went down, laden with treasure. What if... what if.... her mind was racing, her heart beginning to thud with excitement.
What if there was a 12th ship that went down? A pirate ship? A ship that a young, handsome rogue had just commandeered? His first captaincy... He survived the storm, would want to get another ship as soon as possible....
He had a brother, a half brother, who had bullied him as a child... a brother who had burnt his only possession.
The Author was getting REALLY excited now! The boy - for he was only a boy - fled the Virginia tobacco plantation and became a pirate. He had a few adventures, got rich on plunder, but was, underneath all the swagger and pretence, lonely. It was alright having whores, crumpet and strumpets, but there was also the horror of the hangman's noose dangling over him.
Then one day ... one day he meets a girl. He was in deep shit, wounded and being chased by East India Company agents and this girl... no, not a girl ... the white witch ... rescues him. They fall in love, but he misses the sea. Because of ... er, because of (the author decided to think of a because of later) because of dah di dah happening, there is a mix up.
The pirate assumed the girl didn't love him any more. And the girl, who was really a white witch, thought the pirate didn't love HER anymore. So they were both very miserable for a few months.
The pirate found solace in a rum bottle (as pirates do) and the girl gave in and married the rich creep who had been pestering her all this time. Then the pirate's brother caught up with him (very annoyed because the pirate had stolen his ship - one that happened to be full of tobacco to be taken to England to be sold)
The author's backside was getting a bit numb, so she moved to a softer rock, but found that the cushioning sea weed was wet, so walked on up the beach instead.
The annoyed bully brother is in league with the creep who married the girl... Tiola! the author thought, her name is Tiola. Tiola what?
The author kicked at a piece of drift wood, cursed in true pirate fashion. There was a rock behind the piece of wood that she hadn't seen. Tiola is a good witch, she is all that is good... a.l.l. t.h.a.t. i.s. g.o.o.d ... an anagram! An anagram of ... furious muttering .. an anagram of Tiola Oldstagh. Yes!
The author walked on, she was nearing the far side of the bay now, and the tumble of rocks that were full of fossils and things. Or so the guide books said. She was blowed if she could find one.
The annoyed bully brother is in league with the creep who married the girl Tiola. The two men are plotting to capture the pirate and have him hanged - Captain Woodes Rogers, a real figure in history, has just become Governor of Nassau and is offering a pardon to all pirates. The two creeps arrange to meet at Nassau, guessing that the pirate will turn up, looking for amnesty. Which he does - but the bully brother nabs him & chains him up in the bilge of a ship & heads off back to Virginia where he has promised the other creep that he will hang ... only the bully brother has no intention of hanging the pirate, he wants to have his fun first and punish the pirate for stealing his ship.
Tiola is a witch and she loves her pirate. She tells the creep who is her (forced) husband to go jump in a lake and boarding the pirate's ship (which he has called Sea Witch) sets off in pursuit of her true love - having to conjure up a wind to do so.
Meanwhile because the witch is a witch and because the ship is special, the girl and the ship sort of become one and .... and the author could see a small sub-plot coming here, something about Tethys, goddess of the sea who wanted the pirate for herself ....
The author was quite pleased, it seemed a good basic plot. Lots of character interaction, the chance to get to know these two young lovers, the boy meets girl, boy falls in love, boy loses girl then finds her again plot, but if Shakespeare could use it over and over ... not that the author was anywhere as good as Shakespeare, but she had five other books published and loads of people seemed to enjoy her writing style and the way she brought life into her characters.
So all she needed was her pirate.
She couldn't use Jack Sparrow (as much as she would like to use him!) ... she had reached the rocks, turned around. The wide sweep of the beach was deserted. The rain had washed away everyone who normally came to the beach of an afternoon. She looked at the wet sand where the tide was scurrying in with lace-edged patterns of foam. Saw a man standing there, twenty or thirty yards away.
He was tall, rugged. Had an untidy chaos of curled, dark hair, with a few blue ribbons fluttering in the wind tied into it. He wore knee high boots, a faded coat and a three cornered hat. He was looking out to sea but he turned, grinned at her, showing the flash of two gold teeth.
With his left hand, he gave the author a small, acknowledging salute. An earring dangled from one ear... an earring shaped like an acorn.
"Hello Jesamiah Acorne," said the author.


(original photo by Simon Murgatroyd)
When I got home I started writing what was to be the first Voyage - Sea Witch. The story wrote itself, the words pouring from me. I could not stop writing. Jesamiah's adventures consumed me. I had so fallen in love with that pirate!
I couldn't even stop writing over Christmas, though I did stay away from the PC on Christmas day itself - for the sake of my family. Christmas Eve, Boxing Day - from dawn to dusk, I wrote.
When I finished, quivering with excitement because I knew I had written something special, I sent the finished manuscript off to my agent. 
I didn't hear anything for six weeks. When I finally plucked up courage to telephone her I was devastated to hear that she did not like it. Disappointed, but determined, I re-wrote the opening (ditching almost 50 pages) and re-submitted. Again she disliked it.
I asked why.
Because it was not suitable for teenage boys came the answer.
I was dumb-struck. I hadn't written it for boys - I had no intention of writing it for boys - this was an adventure romp for those of us adults who like adventure romps. It's about a rogue of a character, a charmer. A pirate. It was a blend of Hornblower, Sharpe, Indiana Jones, James Bond and Jack Sparrow. It was deliberately intended to have a few "adult" scenes with "adult" language. It was for adults for goodness sake!
She also hated the name Jesamiah Acorne. She said it was silly.
Well, too bad that is his name. I didn't make it up, I was "told" it the day I met him on the beach.
I was offered an ultimatum. Either I change the name and write the story for boys, or find another agent.


I am the first to take advice from my editor where changes to grammar, spelling, the layout of the story etc are concerned. But completely change the story I adored to something I did not want to write? No.
My ex agent and I parted company - and she informed me that my mainstream publisher was not going to re-print any more of my books. I was truly on my own.

It's been hard promoting my books more or less on my own ever since, I've come close to despair on occasion - including when the small UK company  I had moved to went broke recently. But I have faith in my Jesamiah. I now self publish the books,  and I intend to write more of Jesamiah's adventures.

 I know I have a winner on my hands here.
It just might take me a long while and a lot more hard work to actually manage to sail past the winning post.... but I will get there. I will.



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4 comments:

  1. I've read several times of your courage at sticking to your guns over your story despite the agent, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. You have to be true not only to yourself but to your characters. A friend of mine who loves my fantasy work always says she feels as if she could turn a corner and walk into one of my characters and start chatting to them (well she'd like to do a bit more than that, but...!), and I think that's because they came to me as your pirate did. You don't change the name of "someone" like that anymore than you would a person you were introduced to in the hear-and-now - it's who they are. Either you write them "as given" or you leave them be, which your agent clearly didn't appreciate not being a creative herself.

    I'm also glad that you too get the first burst of inspiration from seeing something like a film - as long as you don't actively plagarise, a writer's muse is their own, and who's to say where it will come from? The journey may start from a common point, but thereafter each man (pauses to have 'moment' at the thought of pirate!) goes his own way, and these very real characters can be most insistent, can't they?

    Thoroughly enjoy your blogs (and the dogs' asides!).
    L. J. Hutton

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your lovely comment (sorry for the delay in getting back to you - it went into the spam box :-( )
      I can't tell you how wonderful it is to get this sort of support from people like yourself. Saying 'thank you' is quite inadequate, but .... thank you!

      Delete
  2. What a beautiful insight into how Jesamiah came to be! Now, of course, I must re-read the book.

    ReplyDelete

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