is rare to be able to say when a book began. This one started on
13th June, 2001 in an e mail sent to my editor at Bloomsbury. We
had been working on Sorceress, and had been thinking about the part
of the story where Mary goes to Montreal and meets a French buccaneer.
My editor, Sarah Odedina, suggested I could make more of their relationship.
To which I replied:
also think Mary and the pirate will work well. I'm quite excited
about that - I almost want her to run away with him - but I'll
have to restrain myself - perhaps I'll write another book about
a girl and a pirate, I've always liked pirates...
Her reply confirmed that our enthusiasm was
mutual and there it was - my next book. The girl quickly became
a pirate herself, and was rapidly joined by another. I decided that
she would be from Bristol, partly because my daughter, Catrin, was
at university there and I was going to visit her the next weekend,
and partly because that city with its long trading and seafaring
history seemed the natural place for her to live. By the time I
came back from my visit I knew where she lived, what her father
did, where he was buried, where she would go (but not yet why),
who she would meet there and therefore who the other girl pirate
things I write about are very often rooted in my own childhood.
I remembered how much Id loved Treasure Island, both the book
and the film, and how Id spent rainy afternoons drawing pictures
of pirate ships. I hadnt known then that there had been women
like Anne Bonny and Mary Read fighting alongside the men, but I
did remember preferring Long John Silver to Doctor Livesey and Squire
Trelawney and failing to see why they had any right to the treasure
- it belonged to the pirates all along, it seemed to me. I also
remembered being fascinated by the ballads about girls who dressed
as boys and went off to be sailors and soldiers. This led me back
to the ballads again - not just to find out more about these female
sailors bold, but because the world I wanted lay within the
stories and experiences of ordinary people evoked by the vivid,
haunting, extraordinarily poetic voice of dockside and ships
deck. The ballads brought me nearer to my characters and the world
in which they lived and gave me the name of my heroine, Nancy, and
her sailor lover, William. I made tapes and played them over and
over again. They made what I was writing real to me and helped me
live within the story.
I find songs tremendously evocative and ballads were a powerful
way into the world which Im trying to create. I used some
of the titles and words to title the different sections of the book.
These are some of the ballads that provided the soundtrack to my
of the ballads:
Dark-Eyed Sailor Trad/Arr Steeleye Span
I Courted a Sailor Kate Rusby
Her Mantle so Green Trad./Arr. OConnor
House Carpenter (Daemon Lover) Trad./Arr. Pentangle
Peggy Riley Trad.Arr. Sinead OConnor/Lunny/C.V.
Female Drummer Trad./Arr. Steeleye Span
Jackeroo Trad./Arr. Bob Dylan
The Black Freighter (Pirate Jenny) Brecht / Weill
John Riley Trad./Arr. Joan Baez
Once I had a sweetheart Trad./Arr. Pentangle
Sails of Silver Steeleye Span