Monday 6 August 2018

Writing Non-Fiction. How Hard Can It Be? by Helen Hollick

We are having a swashbuckling day and it’s all about pirates. Yes, me lovelies, I did say pirates! Top selling author of the Sea Witch series, with the rouge pirate, Jesamiah Acorne, Helen Hollick is going to shed light on real pirates in her new publication, Pirates in Truth and Tales. So please help yourself to a tot of rum and settle down for an entertaining look at fact and fiction.

Writing Non-Fiction. How Hard Can It Be?
by Helen Hollick

Pirates were the terrorists of their age, the sailors of the eighteenth century who went ‘On the Account’ hoping to gain an easy-come fortune. The fictional world of pirates is somewhat different to the reality. What are the facts behind the fiction? Where does fact end and fiction begin? Helen has written a series of nautical Voyages based around her fictional pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his ship, Sea Witch, but her latest UK release in paperback is a non-fiction book – Pirates: Truth and Tales published by Amberley Press, which explores our fascination with the real pirates and those who are favourites in fiction. Today, Helen drops anchor for another interesting addition to her on-line two-week Voyage around the Blogs with a pirate or two for company…

Quick answer to the question in the title of this article: harder than you think, and definitely harder than writing fiction.

For one thing, when writing fiction you can make a lot of it up. Yes, you have to get the facts right: the right dates for historical fiction, the right technical knowledge for science-fiction, the right detail even for contemporary fiction. I mean, if you were writing a novel set in the USA in 2018 – let’s say a thriller, where there is a plan to assassinate the President – you would not have him travelling along to a major conference in a battered old Only Fools and Horses-type bright yellow three-wheeler would you?

I was approached by Amberley Press to write a book about Pirates in Truth and Tales. That was basically the brief, which was fine as it seemed a fairly broad spectrum to explore. Naturally, as a fiction author I took it exactly as was written on the cover. Pirates as they were in truth, and as they are in tales. I wanted to explore why so many of us are fascinated by these cutthroat men – and women – of the past. They were not nice people. They were thieves, murderers, rapists, kidnappers, torturers and the terrorists of their time. I’m talking the early 18th century, but those labels apply to any pirate of any age, even those of today who haunt the seas off the coast of places like Somalia. What we, the reader, like is the escapism fantasy created by Hollywood and novels. The Johnny Depp / Errol Flynn type pirate and the loveable rogues of our childhood: Captain Pugwash, Captain Hook, Long John Silver… my own Jesamiah Acorne.

My plan was to produce chapters of fact about the well-known pirates, men like Blackbeard, Charles Vane, Sam Bellamy, Stede Bonnet et al, blend in a few not so well knowns and include some interesting facts about life at sea – what did they do in their spare time when they weren’t being pirates, what were their superstitions, what did they eat and drink? (And no, pirates did not only drink rum!) In between these chapters I wanted to introduce some fictional excerpts to compliment the preceding section. So we have the scene where my character, Captain Acorne, meets with Edward Teach, old Blackbeard himself. (This was in the third Voyage, Bring It Close.) Another excerpt was by Swedish author Anna Belfrage, who included the subject of Indentured Service (or more correctly slavery) into one of the books of her time-slip Graham Saga. I included Frenchman’s Creek, the Pirates of the Caribbean Disney Franchise and Starz TV series Black Sails which was based around events before the opening chapter of Treasure Island, although this version was strictly for adult viewing.

The factual research required was hard work, but absorbing and highly interesting. The fictional additions were fun. I was pleased with the result, despite the typo bloopers which crept into the final published hardback version. Hopefully most of these have been corrected for the paperback version which is on sale in the UK now, and the US very soon. Hopefully you will sail over to Amazon to plunder a copy for yourself – and enjoy dipping in and out of the different chapters at moments when you can put your feet up with a glass of wine and a chance to voyage off across the sea with some swashbuckling pirates. Maybe you will even be tempted to increase your treasure trove by purchasing some of the novels I mention? If you do, thank you!

© Helen Hollick
Pirates: Truth And Tales published in paperback in the UK July 2018 and November 2018 in the US – but available for pre-order.

Buy the Books: Amazon Author Page (Universal Link)

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Twitter: @HelenHollick

Follow Helen’s Tour:
These links will take you to the Home Page of each blog host – Helen says thank you for their interest and enthusiasm! For exact URL links to each article go to Helen’s website:  which will be updated every day of the tour.

30th July: Cryssa Bazos  -  Dropping Anchor to Talk About Pirates

31st July: Anna Belfrage - Ships That Pass… 

1st August: Carolyn Hughes - Pirates of the Middle Ages

2nd August: Alison Morton - From Pirate to Emperor

3rd August: Annie Whitehead - The Vikings: Raiders or Pirates?

4th August: Tony Riches - An Interview With Helen Hollick (and maybe a couple of pirates thrown in for good measure?)

5th August: Lucienne Boyce - Anne and Mary. Pirates

6th August: Laura Pilli  - Why Pirates?

7th August: Mary Tod - That Essential Element… For A Pirate.

8th August: Pauline Barclay - Writing Non-Fiction. How Hard Can It Be? 

9th August: Nicola Smith - Pirates: The Tales Mixed With The Truth

10th August: Christoph Fischer - In The Shadow Of The Gallows

11th August: Debdatta  - What Is It About Pirates?

12th August: Discovering Diamonds - It’s Been An Interesting Voyage…

13th August: Sarah Greenwood - Pirates: The Truth and the Tales

14th August: Antoine Vanner - The Man Who Knew About Pirates


 Helen moved from London in 2013 and now lives with her family in North Devon, in an eighteenth century farmhouse. First published in 1994, her passion now is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of the nautical adventure series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown) the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (US title I Am The Chosen King) explores the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely praised as a more down-to-earth historical version of the Arthurian legend. She has written three non-fiction books, Pirates: Truth and Tales, Smugglers in Fact and Fiction (to be published 2019) and as a supporter of indie writers, co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new writers. She runs the Discovering Diamonds review blog for historical fiction assisted by a team of enthusiastic reviewers. 
Helen is published in various languages.


Helen Hollick said...

Thank you for inviting me to 'drop anchor' here on your blog Pauline I'm about half way through my Voyage Round the Blogs ... time to sit down with a glass or wine (or maybe rum?) and raise a toast to all you wonderful blog hosts and visitors!.... "Cheers!"

Lucienne Boyce said...

Interesting to hear about the particular challenges of writing non fiction history as opposed to historical fiction. Look forward to reading Pirates!

Unknown said...

After many years as an academic editor, I'm jumping into nonfiction currently in my Brainstorm Your Book series, and I agree: It is much harder than writing fiction, and it requires a whole different level (and style) of research. I admire your ability to take your fiction knowledge and repurpose it with more depth.

Pauline Barclay said...

Helen it is a true pleasure to have you here and more so with your pirates. x

Pauline Barclay said...

Hello Lucienne, thank you for stopping by.

Pauline Barclay said...

Hello Mari, thank you for taking time out to stop by and meet Helen and her pirates.

Helen Hollick said...

Thank you Pauline.
Lucienne, I've enjoyed the experience but making up the fiction is more fun!
Mari, I wrote Pirates Truth and Tales in a similar style to how I write blog articles, with the facts as accurate as I could (disregarding the plethora of typos that were missed in the hardback copy :-( but otherwise chatty and non-highbrow. *laugh* I'm not a highbrow-type person!

Alison Morton said...

A difficult course to sail!
As fiction writers, we often have to research a whole region or costume, or real personalities or trade routes to the point of obsession, just to get a couple of sentences right. But for non-fiction, it's harder. I've done a couple of non-fiction books myself, Helen, so I an very respectful of the hard work you've put into this.

Pauline Barclay said...

Thank you Alison for stopping by and another thank you for leaving a comment. :)

Helen Hollick said...

I must admit to getting a taste for non-fiction Alison - as long as I can do this more 'light-hearted' sort of approach, I don't think I could be serious enough for anything academic :-)