Helen Hollick in 'Exile'

Delighted to welcome Helen Hollick back to the blog. Helen, her husband and adult daughter moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farmhouse through being on BBC TV’s popular Escape to The Country. The thirteen-acre property was the first one shown – and it was love at first sight. Helen enjoys her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including Exmoor ponies, dogs, cats, hens, ducks and geese and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.

First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then 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), novels that 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 also writes the pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages, where you can read more about Jesamiah Acorne, son of Charles St Croix – and about the Doones.

Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of glaucoma, she is also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘cosy mystery’ genre with the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s. The first in the series, A Mirror Murder, incorporates her own often hilarious memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of a Smuggler and she is planning on writing about the ghosts of North Devon (in particular, those who are resident in her house). She also runs a news and events blog and a Facebook page for her village, and supports her daughter’s passion for horses and showjumping.

Helen is the organiser behind the recently released Historical Stories of Exile. She knows a thing or two about pirates, the mysterious origin of the Doones and nefarious goings-on in South West England!

Banner for Historical Stories of Exile

In the autumn of 2004, my (ex) agent suggested I should write something other than historical fiction. I suggested pirates, after all Jack Sparrow was – with the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – a massive hit. I liked the idea. I loved the movie but wanted to read something similar – a rollocking nautical yarn with a touch of fantasy. I’d found several good young adult adventures but nothing for adults. And I wanted ‘adult’, something with a bit of ‘spice’, if you get my drift.

I went on holiday to Dorset, England and took some non-fiction books about real pirates with me to start researching. By the end of the week, I had a pile of historical notes from the early 1700s and several ideas for an exciting pirate-based plot with some plausible supernatural elements. No main male protagonist though. I went for a walk on the beach, sat on some rocks, looked up and saw him standing a few yards away. My pirate in full regalia. He nodded, touched the brim of his three-corner hat, his gold acorn-shaped earring glinting. “Hello, Jesamiah Acorne,” I said.

Was he my imagination or had I seen a ghost? Whatever he was – is – he has been the lead hero of six nautical adventures and one shorter novella ever since:  the Sea Witch Voyages.

The agent rejected Sea Witch, claiming that ‘adults are not interested in pirates.’ We parted company and I went solo as an indie writer, with the Sea Witch Voyages becoming a popular series for many adult readers.

By Voyage Four, Ripples in the Sand, I decided to bring Jesamiah, his white witch wife Tiola, and his ship, Sea Witch from the Caribbean to England, North Devon to be precise, the area around the wild remoteness of Exmoor. Which gave me another idea…

View over Exmoor

Exmoor  as it is today – ©Free- Pixabay

There is a classic tale associated with Exmoor: R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone. Descendants of the Doone family of outlaws were just what I needed for my pirate’s adversaries. Thus, Sir Ailie Doone and his dastardly grandson, Ascham, were created.

These characters, Ascham Doone in particular, have now appeared in three Voyages, Ripples in the Sand, On the Account and Gallows Wake. As with any writer of a fictional series, I needed background to my characters. For Jesamiah and Tiola, I have a full biography, but I was curious about the Doones.

Blackmore set his tale in a location familiar to him, using real places (the village of Oare close to Badgeworthy Water on Exmoor, for instance,) and even local family names – the Ridds being one of these.


© Kevin Young, CC BY-SA 2.0

But were the Doones ‘real’? If so, who were they, where did they come from and how did they end up as outlaws on Exmoor? I have no idea from where Blackmore garnered his information or inspiration, but in 1901 – too late for him to use, as Lorna Doone was published in 1869 – Ida M. Brown wrote a pamphlet about the Doones for the West Somerset Free Press:  https://www.lerwill-life.org.uk/history/doones.htm.

Her claim was that she had researched the Doones and discovered their identity as a noble family accused unjustly of murder and subsequently exiled from Doune Castle in Scotland. She gave dates, the family tree and a plausible account. Unfortunately, it seems that she made most of it up, basing her ‘facts’ on a few known truths but embellishing the rest.

So the Doones, like my Captain Jesamiah Acorne, are characters of imagination, but this is all the better for writers of fiction, for we can make things up to suit our galloping minds and the appetite of our enthusiastic readers.

For my contribution to the anthology Historical Stories of Exile I decided to delve into the ‘history’ of the Doone clan, and devise a suitable explanation of how they ended up on Exmoor – while incorporating Jesamiah himself and his smuggler father, Charles St Croix. Who knows, in several years’ time my explanation might be interpreted as fact!

Connect with Helen
Amazon Universal link: https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
Blog: https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com/
Newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick
X/Twitter: @HelenHollick

Click here to buy the first in each of Helen’s series: https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick


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,  Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, starts the Foundation stories. The sequel, EXSILIUM, will be out in February 2024.

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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