Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Black Banner - Helen Hart

Ahoy there, clamber aboard the Bonny Marie and join an amazing adventure on the high seas with young buccaneer Becky Baxter! This is an entertaining, exciting young adult read depicting the lives of pirates in the eighteenth century. 

Thirteen year old Becky Baxter wants nothing more than to leave behind her unkind Ma and her life of poverty in the backstreets of Bristol, and meeting sailor Zac Price one day she talks her way onto the crew of the Bonny Marie setting sail from Bristol in 1719. But wait, Becky? A girl on a ship? Becky becomes Billy, and determines she will keep her true identity a secret, however hard it may be. She joins Captain Scarbrill and his crew and slowly learns the ropes, the highs and lows of being away at sea. 

But what’s that on the horizon? A black banner! Pirate captain Logan and his crew seize the Bonny Marie and Becky decides to join them! Cue a life of riding the waters targetting merchant ships and procuring gold and other treasures from those ships they encounter! Where will this all end? Will the pirate lifestyle be able to endure? This is a cracking buccaneer adventure tale for young adult readers. And this adult enjoyed it very much too!


Thank you very much to the author for providing a review copy of this novel.

'The Black Banner' is available now in paperback and Kindle editions, published by SilverWood Books., from Amazon UK and Amazon USA.

The author is part of the loveahappyending project highlighting new authors. 

Visit Helen's own author page here, where you'll also find some writers' tips.

Interview with the author, Helen Hart

What gave you the original idea for the story of The Black Banner?

I always knew I wanted to write something for young teens/YA. I've never really grown up and I've always loved reading YA novels because the stories are so much more exciting than most adult novels. Being a young adult (or teen) is an exciting rollercoaster time where you learn who you are, how you fit in, who you can rely on. You’re discovering so much for the first time, and every experience is intense. This is reflected in YA fiction. Characters tend to be smarter, more energetic and more resourceful than their adult counterparts. The baddies can be really bad. And the settings can be fantastic – after all, there aren’t that many adult novels with pirates or highwaymen or supernatural creatures. So... I'd had a few rejections for an adult novel I'd written, so I sat down to write the book I really REALLY wanted to write... not writing for the readers, or the publishers, or a literary agent, but just for me. I dreamed up the character of Becky Baxter who lives in poverty with her rather unpleasant mother, and thought to myself "If I were Becky, what would I really want to happen to me to get me away from this horrible life I'm living...?" And so Becky's adventures began. And in all honesty, who WOULDN'T want to go back to be a 13 year-old girl with no responsibilities except disguising yourself as a boy and  throwing in your lot with a gang of pirates on the high seas of the Caribbean? 

Why did you decide to concentrate on a female pirate?

I think I concentrated on a female pirate because boys have all the fun in novels, so I wanted a girl to do a bit of 'swashing and buckling'. And as a reader I've seen boys do this kind of thing before - just think of young Jim Hawkins in 'Treasure Island'. So I wanted to take a different angle and it seem natural to throw a girl into that lifestyle, with all the associated difficulties of concealing her true identity. I was looking for the excitement of Joan of Arc and those real-life girl pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny.

What fascinates you about this period in history/about the lives of pirates in particular?

That's a good question... I guess the 17th and 18th centuries seem to me to be very exciting times. Yes, I know there was disease and hardship and no antibiotics... but the clothes were great (all those tricorn hats, lace cuffs and velvet coats). It was a time when adventure and entrepreneurial spirit was seen as a good thing - go to sea, make your fortune! Nowadays there are so many rules, and society has so many expectations (and everyone is worried about health & safety, and satisfying lawyers about 'acceptable risk'). A few centuries ago, adventurers were actively encouraged to go to sea and 'take' the shipping of enemy nations in legalised piracy known as privateering. Pirates took a step outside of that and lived totally outside the law. I know that many were cruel and deeply unpleasant criminals, but it's nice to think that some acted with honour like handsome Captain Logan Corder in 'The Black Banner'. 

Do you have a favourite book?

I love the 'Angelique' series by Anne Golon (writing back in the 1950s in collaboration with her husband, as Sergeanne Golon). She wrote such wonderful rich, epic  stories, full of historical detail about the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Angelique is an amazing heroine - beautiful, resourceful, quick-witted and kind. She's what every romantic heroine (and every real-life adventuress) should aspire to be! I've read almost every book in the series (and there are many of them, let me tell you, 13 in all!) and re-visit some of them quite regularly, at least every two years - my favourites are 'The Road to Versailles' where Angelique has to live as a thief and pickpocket until a chance encounter sets her on the road to becoming the favourite mistress of the King, and 'Angelique in Revolt' where she turns against the King, who she suspects may have engineered the murder of her beloved first husband Joffrey de Peyrac. Such classic and exciting adventures... no other books come close for me.

What are you currently reading?

I'm re-visiting Daphne DuMaurier in a big way - I picked up a collection of her short stories in a little independent bookshop recently and was reminded how wonderful her writing is, and how humanly fallible yet likable her characters are. I'm re-reading 'The House on the Strand' now (probably my all time favourite of hers) with the intention of going on to 'Rebecca', 'My Cousin Rachel', and 'Jamaica Inn'.

Are there any writers who influence or inspire you in your writing?

Well, how funny that we should just be talking about the mistress of great writing herself... Daphne DuMaurier. I can't say I'm a good enough writer to have been able to take her as a influence, but I'd love to think that I've read and re-read her so many times that some of her craft has rubbed off on me. A reader once told me that they felt my writing reminded them of Anya Seton, which is a HUGE compliment. As for authors who I HOPE influence me? Well there are so many I admire, that we could be here a while... if I had to name just one, it would be Robert Westall. He was a genius at conjuring up compelling characters and fast-paced plots. He mixed adventure with genuinely heart-breaking tragedy to create unforgettable books that deserve to be read again and again. There’s also Maggie Prince who hooks the reader from the first page, and doesn’t let go. Her believable heroines have great adventures amidst a rich cast of unique and fascinating characters. I also admire a lot of Catherine Fisher’s work, especially her fantastic YA novel ‘Corbenic’ which is a modern and utterly brilliant take on the Grail legend. And finally (although I could go on...!) Mary Hooper is a great favourite of mine – she weaves magic with words, and I couldn’t put down her Great Plague novel ‘At the Sign of the Sugared Plum’ (which has such a gorgeous cover, too).

Do you have a favourite place where you do your writing?

I have my study at home. It's a tiny room next to the kitchen, so I can make regular cups of tea to keep me going (it's an English habit, lol). I have a small window that looks out over our garden where I set up a bird table and I like watching birds come in to peck at the food I put out. However, I try not to look out the window too much as it's a distraction... I try to stay in the world I'm conjuring for my characters, so when I'm working on a novel - whether it's pirates, or Victorian vampires, or samurai sisters - I tend to pin up a lot of maps and pictures of the time so I'm immersed in that world. That's the nice thing about being a writer... you can disappear into another time and place. It's a bit like time travel!

Thank you so much for your time, Helen!


  1. Great interview and it sounds like a fantastic read! Love the pic of Helen in costume!!

  2. What a great interview - and Sergeanne Golon and the fabulous Angelique series is one of my top all time favourites. I've never met anyone who has read them too. Everyone enjoys a good swashbuckling pirate adventure - can't wait to read this to my grand kids when they are a little older!

  3. And which of us girls do a little 'swashing and buckling' as children. Oops, that reminds me of the time my brother got a sword in his Christmas stocking. I was sooo green with envy... I swapped our stocking. He got the doll! Haw, haw. Fab review! Great interview. :) xx

  4. Fabulous to get to know Helen a little better, a very interesting lady. I also love Daphne DuMaurier and find her work inspiring. I think writing for the YA market is becoming more popular and I'd definitely want to meet a character that has adventures. Give the girls some fun!

    CJ x

  5. What a fascinating interview and it's rekindled my love of pirate fiction. When I was - ahem - younger I used to read everything connected with pirates, although I can't remember many of the authors now. Films as well. I'm old enough to remember Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. This book has definitely gone on my TBR list as a must.

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  7. Oops, somehow deleted my own comment! Here it is again...

    Thank you for the lovely review and the great interview questions. It was such fun doing this with you, Lindsay. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book.

    (Linn... I think Angelique is a forgotten gem. I read and reread the books regularly, and I'm so pleased to have met another fan!!)

    Thanks for all the lovely comments.

  8. What a fantastic review! I love pirate stories and, what's more, I've got two boys who do, too! They may be a little bit too young at this stage but once I've read The Black Banner, I will decide...and share if I can! Amazing interview, too, and... well, I never, I'd forgotten all about Angelique! My parents had the whole series and I remember reading them all. Wow! Great minds...?!? Thanks to Lindsay for bringing this great review and fantastic interview. xx

  9. A great review and an interesting interview. Great to know more about you and your writing, Helen. Wishing you great success with your swashbuckling adventure story - The Black Banner!
    Janice xx

  10. I love good interviews, and this is really great! Since I was a child, I have loved pirate stories, so what could be better than a story about a female pirate! I will be spreading the post around while reading The Black Banner.

  11. Very cute cover and great interview. I'm also a Daphne DuMaurier fan!

  12. I wish I had a young adult to give this to! Something to stir the imagination and what a great excuse for dressing up! Good luck Helen - as if you need it.

  13. I love pirates (well I write about one of my own #laugh )but I write for adults, so it was great to read a children's book about swashbuckling on the high seas - if you're looking for a good read for your children, and they love the Pirates of the Caribbean, Treasure Island etc ... then this is it!


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