Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gentleman of Fortune: Evelyn Tidman talks PIRATES!

The Christmas Season is upon us at last! I've finally managed to wash up the last Thanksgiving dish (it's amazing how many plates and bowls it takes to cook Thanksgiving dinner and dessert!), and now it's back to work. Evelyn Tidman, the author of Gentleman of Fortune - a swashbuckling novel about the the adventures of the pirate Bartholomew Roberts - is visiting Writing Belle today. I've been very excited to interview Evelyn because adventure stories on the high seas have always been among my all-time favorite tales. 

Me: I have always been fascinated by pirate stories. Tell us about your book. 

Evelyn: GENTLEMAN OF FORTUNE is a swashbuckling adventure about the eighteenth century pirate Bartholomew Roberts and his crew. It is the story of a man who is at first reluctant to join the pirates, but finds himself ‘persuaded’ because they need a navigator and sailing master. Before long, he becomes their captain, and the most formidable pirate in history. He is so successful that the Admiralty sends two naval ships to put a stop to his career—well British trade in the Atlantic has come to a standstill because of him. And then there is the beautiful LĂșcia . . .

What kind of research did you have to do to create your story?

The initial research was to find a suitable candidate, since I wanted the story to be as true to history as it could be within the realms of a novel. I needed someone with enough historical information so that I could put all the pieces together. I also wanted someone who could be a hero, a good-looking man (Roberts was known to be tall dark and handsome, so was known as Black Bart!) and with some saving graces. And above all, I wanted a good story. Bartholomew Roberts fitted the bill completely.

As it turned out there was a wealth of information on Bartholomew Roberts, written down by someone that many think to have been Daniel Defoe. He even had the opportunity of interviewing some of Roberts’ crew (I won’t say how, as it would spoil the book). And then came the background knowledge. I had to find out how to sail a square-rigged ship and how one ship differed from another. I had to learn what life was like on board. I had to learn about slavery, and the different locations the pirates visited, and clothing, and food—and the list is endless! But I wanted it to be as near to fact as possible. 

Tell us something interesting about Bartholomew  Roberts, a fun fact! Or two!

How many facts would you like? He was a fascinating man. For a start, he was tea-total. While his crew were often blind drunk, he was stone cold sober. Was that because of his upbringing in Wales where Presbyterian preachers were proclaiming abstinence from alcohol? Or was there some other reason?

Also, strangely for pirates I thought, he was very strict about how they treated female captives. His articles or laws that all members of the company had to sign stipulated that a female was to be treated well, and a guard was to be posted to protect her honour.

Roberts was no murdering cutthroat. Once a ship surrendered (and they nearly all did) the captives were treated well, the pirates preferring to lure men into piracy rather than force them.

Unusually for this time period, when slaves were captured, those that wished to could join the pirate crew and have equal shares with everyone else. Those that did not wish to join were put ashore at a place where they had a chance of escape. When, on one occasion his crew violated this command, Roberts was gutted.

And Roberts captured over four hundred ships in just two years. That’s an average of nearly four ships per week, a phenomenal tally. No wonder the Admiralty wanted to take him out!

What got you started writing a book like this? Where did the inspiration come from? 

I was always fascinated by pirate stories. I grew up on Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, Long John Silver and so on. I wanted to write an entertaining swashbuckling adventure about pirates, but I wanted it to be real, not Hollywood fiction. I wanted to know, and in turn to tell my readers, what kind of people eighteenth century pirates were. Were they all bloodthirsty murderers like Blackbeard was supposed to be? What made them become pirates? What was pirate life like?

How much of your book is fact, and how much is fiction?

It is mostly fact. Even some of the dialogue is real. Everything the pirates did is true. I did not have to invent much at all! Indeed, I had to leave out quite a large slice of what Roberts’ company did for there was so much information! Of course, I have dramatised the story, and added a little something which I have pointed out at the end of the book. Only eight people in the story are fictional. Obviously, as a writer, there has to be a certain amount of author’s licence, but I have kept it to a minimum.

Is Captain Roberts your favorite pirate? (I must say my favorite pirate would be Jack Sparrow, even if he IS fictional!)

I love Jack Sparrow too! But I loved all the pirates in my book as I got to know them. Their personalities came through in the original research and I have tried to preserve that. But, tall dark and handsome as Roberts is/was, I’m half in love with him! 

I'm curious as to how you create your novels. How long does it take you to write a historical fiction novel?

In this instance, it is difficult to say. Probably about eighteen months including the research which I tend to do in the evenings instead of watching the TV. I wrote it on a typewriter to begin with ten years ago, and then transferred it to a word processor and eventually to the computer. (All that retyping!!) Once I start writing, I think it takes me about six months plus another six months for editing.

What's next for you? What's your current WIP?

I’ve written another book, ONE SMALL CANDLE which is the story of the Pilgrim Fathers and their epic voyage to New England on the Mayflower, which is also available through Amazon both on Kindle and as a paperback.

Currently I am working on another true story about the English civil war, focussing on an aristocratic family and a siege. The first draft is already written, and I am working on the edits now. Give me about three to six months and it too will be on Amazon.

Thank you so much for stopping in, Evelyn!! Have a wonderful Christmas season! 

Thank you Summer for inviting me.

About Evelyn Tidman
I was born in London (I won’t say how many years ago – never ask a woman her age!). As soon as I could read and write I began writing stories. Marriage to the love of my life and four children interrupted this creative flow for a number of years, but during that time I discovered history. Not the dry nuts and bolts history of school, dates and politics and this law and that law. But real history, about people and events. How people lived, how they coped, the day to day minutiae of life and loves and happenings.

Pirates have always held a fascination for me, ever since Errol Flynn in Captain Blood. And Hollywood has given us a fair assemblage of swashbuckling adventures in that genre, with Pirates of the Caribbean the last in a long line. All of it, of course, bearing little resemblance to the real thing. So what was the ‘real thing’? That sent me to research and find out. Could there possibly be a hero or two lurking in the pages of history?  Or were they all cut-throat villains? 

So I discovered Bartholomew Roberts. He was an ordinary man, with absolutely no intentions of becoming a pirate until circumstances overtook him. I found it fascinating how this man, once hooked, took to piracy with intelligence and vigour, yet at the same time had a reasonable side to him, a human side. His treatment of the few women prisoners he captured was humane, kindly even. He released slaves on the ships he captured, and some of the men joined the company. But he struggled to keep control of his large company which came to resemble a small army. Not a drinker himself, he had to deal with unreasonable, belligerent and sometimes vicious drunks among his company.

This man, then became the subject of my book Gentleman of Fortune. I enjoyed researching his life, and that of his crew, and the research took me to realms I never thought I would need to traverse – sailing ships, and slavery, and Africa, and the Caribbean, and South America.

Meanwhile, I live quietly with my husband on the Norfolk coast in England, and enjoy the sea and the countryside. 
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Get fictional - it's fun! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again soon!