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

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Ripples in the Sand - Helen Hollick - Blog Tour Guest Post

I am delighted to welcome historical fiction author Helen Hollick to my blog today as part of her 2013 blog tour launching her new book Ripples in the Sand

Helen has kindly offered some tips for budding historical fiction writers.

Thank you for inviting me on to your blog Lindsay, it is a great honour to be here!

You asked me if I had any tips for budding historical fiction writers – hmm, I’ll have to put on my thinking cap for this one. You see, all HF writers seem to have different approaches. Elizabeth Chadwick is a dedicated, organised writer. She researches her facts meticulously and writes to a set pattern and deadline almost every day. Other writers draft out a plot and rough idea first, then go back to fill in the gaps with the research – and I have to say this, some writers don’t even bother with much detailed research at all, and in consequence make some absolute howlers. One writer I have heard of had a scene where her characters could smell the sea from London. Apart from the fact that in the early 1800’s London stank so much from detritus in the streets and floating in the river Thames it would have been impossible to smell anything that did not have an obnoxious smell, the sea is almost 40 miles from London. Too far to smell! And even the sea at Southend (where the river estuary is) doesn’t smell of the sea because it is mostly mudflats.

Does it matter that such errors are made? I suppose it doesn’t if the idea is just to write a rollocking good historically-set adventure story (or romance, or thriller, or whatever) but if the writer wants the reader to believe what is happening in the story attention to obvious detail is essential.

I once read a cracking good read of a novel based in Roman Britain. I got halfway through to a scene where a Roman was sitting, back propped against Hadrian’s Wall, eating a rabbit and potato stew. Not everyone is aware that it was probably the Normans, some 700 or so years later, who introduced rabbits into Britain, so maybe that error can be forgiven – but I thought it was common knowledge that Sir Walter Raleigh, during the reign of Tudor, Elizabeth I, brought the potato to England from the Americas.
For me, the novel was ruined.

I’m not saying I don’t make errors! In the original edition of Harold the King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US) there is a reference to a ‘double-headed axe’. An axe with two heads (blades) was not around in 1066, but actually this was a publisher’s typing error – it was supposed to read ‘double-handed’, i.e. held with two hands. I also used snowdrops in the same novel. I searched for ages to try and discover when snowdrops were introduced into England – couldn’t find a reference (this was in the days before the power of the Internet). I later discovered that it was not, as many people think, a native of Britain or introduced by the Romans, but possibly only arrived in the 16th century. My saving grace is there is no hard evidence; the facts of snowdrops seem to always have the words perhaps, possibly and maybe attached!

I do worry that there is now too much emphasis on the accuracy of historical novels, that they must be exact down to the smallest detail of the smallest reference. Is historical fiction becoming historical faction? Are writers so concerned with getting the facts right that the actual story is disintegrating a little? I mean, does it matter if one writer says Queen XXX had blonde hair, another said she was a brunette? We all know that Elizabeth Tudor was a red-head…. But as she wore a wig for most of her life, I wonder: was she? Underneath she was possibly bald of very grey!

So I think my main tip would be: research your facts, but concentrate on building believable characters doing believable things – and write a good story, not necessarily in the form of a history text book though!

I enjoy writing my pirate-based Sea Witch Voyages because although the nautical detail is as spot-on as I can get it (thanks to a lovely nautically knowledgeable maritime author, James L. Nelson, who checks the detail for me), and the historical element is basically accurate, most of the story is pure fictional imagination. I write Captain Jesamiah Acorne’s adventures for fun. Fun for me to write and for my readers to enjoy.

What I do like doing is tweaking history to be plausible – so in Bring It Close, the third Sea Witch Voyage, Jesamiah becomes involved with the dastardly Blackbeard. We know a lot about this awful man, one of the most notorious of pirates, because the records of the trial of his captured crew were written down. In my story, Jesamiah is responsible for Blackbeard’s demise – but he was most adamant that his name was not to appear in the official records. So they aren’t there!
A very tongue in cheek way of re-writing history! *laugh*

For my next book, I am considering trying my hand at writing an adventure based on my Arthurian Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. I had an idea for a character who had served in Arthur’s cavalry, but badly injured he could no longer fight on horseback, so was at a loss what to do with the rest of his life. He becomes involved in a murder and a stolen horse – and Fate changes his life for him.
Or I might write the fifth Sea Witch novel…. I do so adore my Jesamiah Acorne!

About the book...

The fourth voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne, pirate captain and charming rogue.

Approaching England’s North Devon Coast Captain Jesamiah Acorne is worried. A Royal Navy frigate is trailing in his wake and Sea Witch has a hidden cache of brandy and indigo aboard. His instinct is to hoist full sail and flee, but he cannot attract attention, for his wife, Tiola, is ill and getting worse. She says the sea is affecting her, but Jesamiah has never seen seasickness like this before - is it something worse; something to do with her being a white witch perhaps?

Tiola’s brother, Ben, is in gaol, arrested for smuggling. At a loss of how to help him, opportunity comes in the unexpected form of Sir Ailie Doone. He offers Jesamiah a highly secret but lucrative commission to go to Spain and bring back to England a man who will lead a Jacobite rebellion. It seems an ideal solution, but first Jesamiah must break young Ben out of gaol. Once escaped from the threat of the gallows, the boy can sail with Jesamiah on the Sea Witch leaving Tiola ashore to recover in peace.

Except, being captured and interrogated by the Spanish and meeting with an old friend, the beautiful English spy Francesca, is not part of Jesamiah’s plan. Once again he is in danger of losing his fidelity, his freedom and maybe even his life.

Tiola meanwhile, has her own fears to face. Why is the ethereal spirit of the sea, Tethys, so determined to have Jesamiah for her own? To save him, Tiola must find a way to recall her previous lives and discover why events of the past have influenced the hatreds of the present.

Like ripples in the sand blending together when disturbed, she must influence the fragile ripples of time...

Ripples in the Sand is published via SilverWood Books

About the Author

Helen Hollick lives in London but is moving to Devon in 2013 with her husband and adult daughter. In between researching the background information for her historical novels, and her pirate series about Jesamiah Acorne, she spends most of her time helping with her daughter’s horses as chief groom and general runaround. She has a university diploma in early medieval history – and a passion for pirates.

Thanks Helen!


  1. An author I haven't read for such a long time - the last was her Pendragon's series, I must get a hold of this.

    1. Thanks for commenting Tracy, and it's nice to hear you've already enjoyed works by this author!

  2. Thank you so much for inviting me onto your Blog - and for the superb write-up. I've had a most enjoyable tour - helped by wonderful bloggers such as yourself!

    Polly: goodness, you've missed several of my books then! There's Forever Queen (called A Hollow Crown in the UK) which reached the USA Today bestseller list and its sequel, I Am The Chosen King (called Harold the King here in the UK) then there are the first three Sea Witch Voyages: Sea Witch, Pirate Code and Bring It Close. Thank you for your nice comments about the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy

    1. Thanks for being a guest on my blog Helen, it's lovely to be part of this tour. I am looking forward to reading your novels. Thank you for offering this advice and sharing your knowledge and experience with us.


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and leave a comment. It's great reading your comments and I really appreciate them :)