Sunday 12 August 2018

It's Been An Interesting Voyage Round The Blogs by Helen Hollick


 I don't usually promote myself or my own books but I hope visitors 
to Discovering Diamonds will forgive a little self-indulgence for one day? 
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I started a sixteen-day on-line 'virtual' book tour on July 30th, Voyaging Around the Blogs with the paperback release of Pirates Truth And Tales, and my Sea Witch Voyages series of nautical pirate-based adventures. With only two more harbours left in which to 'drop anchor' I thought I would take advantage of the #DDRevs Weekend Spot to not just do a bit of trumpet tootling, but to explore a few thoughts about Blog Hops, Tours, Chains and such. Are they worth the effort?

Basically, 'hops', 'tours', 'chains' are the same thing: authors post a series of articles either written by themselves or other authors/guests, on their own Blog or via 'hopping' from one Blog to the next with links to the next post. It is hard work, especially for the author concerned but also for the Blog Host. Well it is hard work if done properly.

The idea is to attract new readers for our books, Blogs, Websites, Facebook Page, Twitter Account - well to us as authors. It is all very well having a presence on social media and have our books listed on Amazon, but one person (especially indie writers) can be a mere tadpole in an ocean of millions of other authors. Only the very top writers are 'whales in a pond' status (J.K.Rowling, George R. Martin...) and have no need to tout their wares. The rest of us do. 

Ideally to make a Blog Tour (or one of its variations) a success the host needs to market/advertise as well - and not just 'their' day of hosting an article, review or whatever, but the other ports of call as well - in other words networking, one link linking to the the next which links to the next and so on. In practice, this rarely happens because individual authors are too busy promoting their own books (understandably) and keeping themselves afloat and in the public eye. Do remember, though, if you promote other authors by sharing, re-tweeting etc., they are likely to promote you in return. The opposite also applies!

I wrote sixteen different articles for my tour, all of them related one way or another to my book Pirates Truth And Tales (OK, a few did overlap a little.) 

Articles ranged from a pirate who declared himself a Roman Emperor, via Were Vikings Pirates Or Raiders? Medieval pirates. Female pirates. The noose - the inevitable end for pirates. Why do readers love pirates and Governor Woodes Rogers of Nassau, 'the man who knew about pirates'. 

I enjoyed writing them, as I also enjoyed writing the book. I did have doubts about writing non-fiction when Amberley first approached me, but then I figured that I had been writing non-fiction articles for various blogs for several years, so why not take the research notes I had amassed for the background information needed for the Sea Witch Voyages and turn them into a book? Why not take a look at the truth about pirates and add in the Hollywood version and the romantic fictional side as well? I was delighted with the result, although disappointed that the publisher managed to print the hardback edition from an uncorrected version of the files I submitted, resulting in too many typo errors. (An error corrected for this new paperback edition, although, inevitably, a couple of very minor missed typos remain.)

The errors served a huge purpose, however, by proving that us indie writers who use POD (Print on Demand) have several huge advantages over traditional mainstream writers:
  • We take as much care as we can to ensure the edition that 'goes live' is correctly formatted and are the correct files to be published.
  • We edit, edit, edit, edit - unlike mainstream publishers who seem to be cutting financial cost corners as much as  they can.
  • If we blunder we can very quickly re-edit and re-publish. 
  • WE are in control!
But as for Book Tours... are they worth it? From a sales perspective, alas, probably not. For networking and reaching a wider audience probably yes. Note the word 'probably'.

For enjoyment and meeting new people - definitely.

Two disappointments for me: very few people leave comments beneath posts (the same applies here on Discovering Diamonds) but that may, in part, be a problem with Blogger/Google and WordPress especially, I've noticed, now that GDPR has come into play. Comments are just not getting through... in my case I think pirates are plundering them.

I am also a little disappointed that I have not had many new subscribers to my newsletter. We are told that sending out newsletters is vitally important...but is it? That's a different subject though - maybe one for a future weekend here on Discovering Diamonds?

Journey Back Through My Voyages 
and visit the 'harbours' where I 
'dropped anchor'
Two (totally independent!) Reviews 
Pirates Truth & Tales by Helen Hollick  (Non-Fiction)

One might ask why we need another book that focuses on the ‘Golden Age’ of piracy – you know the one that takes place mostly in the Caribbean between 1713 and 1730 – but Hollick’s examination is far more than simply about those swashbuckling scoundrels. She sets the stage in her foreword, summarizing several key points:
a. real pirates versus their fictional counterparts;
b. society’s changing attitudes toward them, as well as its fascination with them; 
c. definitions for all the various terms that denote pirates;
d. piracy through the ages; and
e. reality vs romanticism.
To emphasize these points her first chapter discusses “What We Think We Know about Pirates,” while the second focuses on “What We Ought to Know” and includes the caveat “(Skip This Chapter If You Don’t Want To Be Disillusioned).”

Within the 328 pages, she introduces us to a wide array of pirates, including some who rarely show up in other history books. Aside from the usual suspects (in no particular order) – Henry Jennings, Charles Vane, Samuel Bellamy, William Dampier, Bartholomew Roberts, Blackbeard, Jack Rackham, and William Kidd to name only a few – we also meet Daniel Montbars, Jan Baert, and Ignatius Pell (only a sampling). In addition, you’ll find a handful of governors, including Thomas Modyford, Alexander Spotswood, and Woodes Rogers. There are chapters on the 1715 wreck of the Spanish treasure fleet, medicine, ships, weaponry, clothing, and safe havens, not to mention interesting tidbits like the pirate plunder that funded a college.

Don’t fear though! Women get a fair shake, too. In addition to Anne Bonny and Mary Read, you’ll learn about Jeanne de Clisson, Elise Eskilsdotter, Ladies Mary and Elizabeth Killigrew, Jacquotte Delahaye, Anne Dieu-le-Veut, Jeanne Baret, Rachel Wall, and Grace O’Malley. What you might not expect are the other women who went to sea, such as Jeanne Baret, Hannah Snell, and Mary Lacy. Or the fact that a number of sea-songs concern females who donned male attire, joined the Royal Navy, and then were unmasked.

Nor is piracy the only topic explored within this book, although these are all related in some way. Since many pirates began life either as naval personnel or merchant marines, and because they rarely left behind detailed notes on the mundane details of their daily lives, Hollick discusses the tobacco and slave trades, indenture, fidelity, tattooing, shipboard life and navigation, and superstitions.

But wait! If you think that’s all, there’s still more. After all, the subtitle of this book is “Truth and Tales.” Not only does Hollick examine fictional pirates in print and film, she talks about writing from her own perspective as the author of the Sea Witch adventures, which star Captain Jesamiah Acorne, and she treats us to excerpts from some of his piratical adventures, as well as from Celia Reese’s Pirates! and James L. Nelson’s The Only Life That Mattered. Among the pirates of fiction you’ll find Captains Hook and Sparrow, Long John Silver, and Black Sails. As for Pirates of the Caribbean, she also shares the impact this series of movies has had on people’s lives. While she shares what books and movies get right and wrong, she also makes a great observation:
The limitless realm of the imagination when telling stories or writing fiction gives us leave to plunder reality as blatantly as those rascal scallywags plundered treasure. (29)
In addition to all this information, the book also includes a timeline that begins in 1492 with Columbus’s “discovery” of the Caribbean and Americas, and ends with the death of Governor Spotswood in 1740. There are a Glossary of Terms – more varied than often seen in nautical books – and Nautical Measurements, which come before the bibliography. There is no index, but scattered throughout the book are color photographs with interesting captions.

Another item that Hollick addresses pertains to an often-asked question: What about a pirate named so-and-so? To reinforce the fact that the majority of pirates are simply unknown or merely names in a document, she lists the crews of Stede Bonnet, Blackbeard, Edward Lowe, George Lowther, and Charles Vane. Most simply provide the person’s name and the trial’s outcome – all that is known about them. Only a few include additional information.

The book consists of fifty-three chapters, each two to thirteen pages long with the majority falling somewhere in between. Her explanation of the War of the Spanish Succession is concise and easy to understand, one of the best I’ve encountered. Much of the information on sea shanties and tattooing, which predominantly covers the time period after the Golden Age, pertains to sailors in general. The same is true about prisons and punishments, but all four subjects are enlightening. On occasion it’s difficult to distinguish what’s more myth than fact – good examples being Blackbeard’s many wives and pirate flags – since there are no footnotes or endnotes and myths are one topic she doesn’t cover.

The statement that the skill of smuggling led to the Revolutionary War and American Independence is an oversimplification. Gory details are explicit, but the book is geared toward adults and mature readers, just like her Jesamiah Acorne stories. There are enough misspelled words – not including the differences in spelling between British and American English – and missing words that readers will notice. But there is far more to recommend this book than these minor problems.

There are also two chapters that deserve special mention. The first is highly helpful for those who wish to mimic the way pirates spoke on Talk Like a Pirate Day. Hollick lives in the West Country, the region where many seamen and pirates hailed from in the past, so she offers her expertise so you can learn some Devonish and speak it with a West Country accent.

At least for me, the most intriguing chapter concerns the real identity of Captain Charles Johnson, the mysterious author who wrote A General History of the Pyrates. She talks about the two current likely candidates – Nathaniel Mist and Daniel Defoe – and provides plausible reasons why neither choice is convincing. She puts forth her own contender– and no, I cannot even be tortured into sharing who that person is – which makes perfect sense, even if there’s no hard evidence to support this possibility. Even the reason for using the pseudonym of Charles Johnson works.

Don’t be fooled. This pirate book is unlike any other one. It resembles a scavenger hunt, and you’re never quite certain where the trail will lead next. Yet Pirates is entertaining and enlightening, with a good mix of facts and fiction. At times tongue-in-cheek, Hollick’s narrative holds your interest and keeps the pages turning. The inclusion of details outside the narrower scope of piracy provides a global perspective, rather than simply viewing the Golden Age marauders in isolation. Two additional strengths are the inclusion of lesser-known facts and general information that can’t be found in other piratical volumes. The questions she poses make you think and question what you’ve read in other books on piracy.

But this book may not be for everyone. Those who seek serious pirate history will probably want to look elsewhere. Pirates is geared toward readers seeking general information spiced with an entertaining cornucopia of fact and fiction that makes the book a tremendous resource for a pirate trivia game.

© Cindy Vallar 2017

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Helen Hollick's latest release,  Pirates: Truth and Tales is a clever concept, as she uses a non-fiction book to show how her extensive research has led to the success of her popular fiction. This fun exploration of the history and legends of the world of pirates is packed with interesting facts and fascinating details. Hollywood has, as usual, done it's best to mislead us about what it might have been like to live the life of a pirate.

The truth is much more complicated, as an amazingly wide range of seafarers might be termed pirates - but there are plenty of stories which are supported by historical evidence. Improved technology means that long-lost 'pirate' ships are being discovered, so our knowledge of how the real pirates lived continues to develop.

I was particularly interested in Helen's exploration of the lives of some famous seafaring writers, such as Daniel Defoe, who I knew little about. I enjoyed reading Robinson Crusoe as a child but hadn't realised Defoe is among the founders of the English novel.

We learn it was the Pirates of the Caribbean series that inspired Helen's Sea Witch series, and we sail with her as she looks at the difference between a buccaneer and a corsair, a brigantine and a caravel.

Complete with excerpts from Helen's novels and the words of sea-shanties to sing along to, this is a great book to dip in to - and like any pirate ship has treasure in the hold. Highly recommended.

© Tony Riches

Available in paperback or kindle from an Amazon near you
(including in Italian for the first four Sea Witch Voyages!)

Paperback from Amazon
The Sea WitchVoyages
of Captain Jesamiah Acorne
Voyage One
Voyage Two
Voyage Three
Voyage Four
Voyage Five
A Novella Prequel -
How Jesamiah became a Pirate


  1. I'm going to miss these little dives into a forgotten world - and you are quite within your rights to include your own website as one of the ports. Comments - or lack of them - are always a difficult subject but a lack of them doesn't necessarily reflect the quality or enjoyment of the article/review/whatever in question. Having followed your voyage since cast-off, I have left some comments on the way BUT ... in one blog I couldn't find a comments option, two disappeared and I think one is still awaiting moderation! Now: I realise that the blogger is often subject to the templates provided, but many Comments options are difficult to find - to post this I am afraid that I have had to scroll a long way past the actual article I wanted to comment upon. And the section provided is in itself small and rather unclear. and on many one has to 'identify' oneself and then prove one is not a robot - always annoying! But this is the same over many blogs and cannot be directed at this or any one particular blog. I offer this not as a criticism but as a possible explanation as to why comments are not as forthcoming as one might hope ....

    1. Unfortunately the layout of where comments are located is set by blogger, so I guess the idea is to read the post then leave a comments at the bottom - I personally find it very annoying to get to the end then have to scroll back to the top to find the comment button (often on Wordpress) Sizing is difficult too ... *sigh* Glad you've enjoyed the tour though Richard

  2. Helen, you must be exhausted after your virtual voyage! I have learned so much about a subject of which I confess I was pretty ignorant. Congrats on the release of the paperback and thanks for dropping anchor at my blog during the trip :-)

    1. And thank YOU for updating the link list every day and sharing!

  3. Helen, I know the pain of what I call tweetfacelinkblogging to launch a new book. I'm getting ready to do it with my new novel. Just know that I've read some of the books on the tour, i've got a Kindle copy of Pirates, and I appreciate everything you do for other writers. Toot your own horn all you like.

  4. Great recap Helen, and I think you bring up some interesting points. There's a fine line between "generating awareness" and "engaging with customers" and I think there are many people who read, but don't comment, who turn up later as a Twitter or FB friend, and tell you how much they enjoy your work. I do agree, these are lovely opportunities for networking with authors - but then so was your very successful Christmas Discovered Diamonds event. Thanks for all you do for Indie writers, and wishing you smooth seas all the way home!

    1. Thank you Elizabeth - I have another exciting/interesting event planned for this December!

  5. Another good blog, I've enjoyed your tour immensely and am about to read the last couple. And I'll be very interested to hear what you have to say about newsletters...

    1. Thank you Lucienne, I do very much appreciate your support.

  6. Helen,
    I should let you know the reason I did't comment on your blog tour is because I hadn't heard nor read some of the authors, books and blogs that you visited. Plus to say I absolutely loved Sea Witch and would go on and on about how much L adored it I felt would be unfair to those authors, because I hadn't read them. (And then if I did, what if I hadn't liked the as much?) I wouldn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.)
    As for comments on blogs, I agree with you. I don't leave them unless I really adore the books, or if I learn something new. I'm starting a blog, and to be honest, even though I hope to find people who love the 17th century as much as I do, I'm not sure how much promoting or traffic I will get, so the blog just might turn into a bunch of facts I need for my own research. You never know. At the RWA conference this year, many of the workshops focused on newsletters and giveaways for promotion purposes. I loved this post from you, as well as your encouragement for indie authors. I'm still trying to figure it out. Meanwhile, as soon as I am done with my submission requests, I will read the next installment of Jessamiah's journey. I can't wait to buy your book in November.

  7. Hi Tricia - having a blog can be useful for lots of reasons, just as a place to put thoughts or research notes being one of them! It's perfectly OK to leave comments on other author's blogs, by the way, as you're commenting on the _article_ posted and the person who wrote it, not the Blog owner. Obviously the idea is to also draw attention to that blog owner if she or he happens to be an author but not all bloggers are authors! (Three on my tour are not authors). I am so glad you enjoy my Jesamiah's nautical adventures - I'll get the next one (Gallows Wake) finished as soon as possible.


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