Helen Hollick: How NOT to fall into the pitfalls of writing an (unintended) series

I’m delighted to welcome Helen Hollick back to the blog to celebrate the release of the latest Captain Jesamiah Acorne adventure. And what breath-robbing story it is! More later… 😉

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels which explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her own, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write…

Welcome, Helen! Over to you…

Writing stories, especially an ongoing series, can be great fun. Can be. It can also be an enormous headache, especially if, at the beginning, the series wasn’t intended as a series. (I know the feeling! – Alison)

When I wrote Sea Witch, way back in 2005, I had only envisioned a one-off nautical adventure that had been inspired by the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl. I wrote the book because I loved the movie and wanted to read something similar – swashbuckling fun with a lovable rogue hero and a splash of supernatural fantasy with a little bit of, well, lets say ‘romantic adult content’, if you get my drift. I couldn’t find anything. Back then, novels were only straight nautical, primarily with male characters for a male-readership market, or young adult for mid-range teenagers. So I decided to write my own. As you do!

But that first one did well, and I rather fell for my hero, Captain Jesamiah Acorne. Voyage Two followed, then Three – and now I have recently launched Voyage Six, Gallows Wake, with a novella prequel story, When the Mermaid Sings adding to the series.

The stories, the plots, are not a problem – trouble follows Jesamiah Acorne like a ship’s wake, so there is always plenty of trouble to land him in (and get him out of!) But the continuity with previous Voyages is the cause of MY trouble!

Every writer of every novel, whether it be historical, fantasy, alternative, romance, thriller, or contemporary has to be conscious of continuity. Obvious things such as a character with blue eyes at the beginning must have blue eyes at the end. A short person cannot suddenly become a tall person. If it is raining at the start of a scene, it must be raining at the end of the scene – or mention that the rain has stopped. A big no-no  I often come across in novels is the phases of the moon – a full moon becomes, two days later, a new moon. And the sun wouldn’t be in the west before noon…

Keep a close eye on other practical things as well, the smallest blooper that was not researched for factual detail can ruin what should otherwise have been a good book – hummingbirds, for instance cannot be found wild in England. Would a young Victorian lady really be sitting an English garden, reading, in late January? Keep watch on what your characters do or say – and keep note of their everyday character as well as their quirks and foibles.

With a series a writer has to check all the little ‘incidentals’ with the previous stories. And believe me, keeping track of it all is hard work! Keep a notebook or spreadsheet (whatever you are comfortable with – I have my Captain’s Log!) Jot down even the smallest bit of information … ‘lost his ring in Bk 2’, or ‘hates cheese’ etc.

And the biggest tip of all? If you can’t remember, or cannot find a previous reference, don’t put it in. Did he have a scar on his left or right cheek? Drat … I can’t remember. Oh well, rather than ‘He scratched at the scar on his right cheek’ just cheat and put ‘ He scratched at the scar on his cheek.’ And just hope that his scar is on his cheek, not his forehead… Believe me, someone, sometime will notice! (So true!)

See what I mean? Continuity can be an enormous headache. But writing a series can also be – frequently is – great fun!

I can endorse everything that Helen says, especially about continuity. Sometimes, readers are kind and let you know about slips and blips, but you can disappoint fans and wound their enjoyment grievously if you mess up on continuity. 


Connect with Helen
Website: www.helenhollick.net
Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick
Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenHollick
Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick

The Voyages


Just published…   

GALLOWS WAKE – The Sixth Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne

Where the Past haunts the future…

Damage to her mast means Sea Witch has to be repaired, but the nearest shipyard is at Gibraltar. Unfortunately for Captain Jesamiah Acorne, several men he does not want to meet are also there, among them, Captain Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, who would rather see Jesamiah hang.

Then there is the spy, Richie Tearle, and manipulative Ascham Doone who has dubious plans of his own. Plans that involve Jesamiah, who, beyond unravelling the puzzle of a dead person who may not be dead, has a priority concern regarding the wellbeing of his pregnant wife, the white witch, Tiola.

Forced to sail to England without Jesamiah, Tiola must keep herself and others close to her safe, but memories of the past, and the shadow of the gallows haunt her. Dreams disturb her, like a discordant lament at a wake.

But is this the past calling, or the future?

Buy Gallows Wake here:  Amazon Author Page (Universal link) https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
Where you will find the entire series waiting at anchor in your nearest Amazon harbour – do come aboard and share Jesamiah’s derring-do nautical adventures! (Available as Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback)

My review

A Sea Witch voyage is always a pleasure to look forward to, but this one is a real cracker. And like the waves on the sea, just as you are getting over the roll of last high and low incident, another crashes into you. Hollick’s ingenuity and ability to pile on the pressure may bring about not mere gasps, but actual stopping of breath.

Apart from the pace, the sheer level of atmosphere and period detail shines through. And she writes a good fight, too! Betrayal vies with noble intent, love struggles with doing the right thing, while courage never fails. But the author writes the time as it was with fear of witchcraft, mob movements, casual brutality and constant danger at sea. Exhilarating as adventures are, death is all too present and injury often means a descent into poverty, starvation and a miserable end. This is not the 21st century.

But of course, it’s the people who count. Jesamiah is his usual direct self – very much a man of his century – and one who does not know the word ‘shirk’. He’s not always polite 😉 but goodness, you would want him on your side! Tiola, haunted by the past is nevertheless practical, loving and courageous. She needs to be. And I was delighted to meet an intriguing character from the past again…

Even if you haven’t read any other books in the series (why not?) go and get this one. Highly recommended.
Now, when’s the next one out?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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