Thursday, September 11, 2014

Here there be Pirates: Q&A with Nick Smith, author of Gentleman of Fortune

Nick Smith is one of the seven piratical authors to participate in the Here there be Pirates Book Giveaway in celebration of Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19.

Nick was generous enough to answer some questions about his books and fascination with pirates, as well as his new novel Gentleman of Fortune, the sequel to Rogues' Nest.  You can win a copy of Gentleman of Fortune or one of the other six pirate novels at the end of the interview.  Be sure to visit Nick Smith at his website and follow him on Twitter!

On to the interview!  Arrr!

What made you want to write about pirates in the first place? What is it about them that intrigued you as a writer?

My granddad bought me my first set of Lego when I was four. It was a small shipwrecked raft of pirates. I think that is my earliest memory of being exposed to pirate culture, and it stuck! Poor Granddad, if only he’d known what he’d released upon the world...

For any D&D veterans out there, I used to play a lot of online role-playing games (basically, you play the game in character). On one persistent world I was fed up of every character being either sickeningly good, or a laughable evil maniac, so I designed a greedy Chaotic Neutral swashbuckling pirate rogue. He mixed it all up a bit; he was cantankerous, unreliable, flirtatious, unpredictable – and dare I say it – a very popular character. He was a lot of fun to play, and left a marked impression on the game. So much so, that when I revisited five years later – people still remembered him!
Whilst I have been making stories up since a small child, this online experience was writing fast-paced action and exciting dialogue with many collaborators – all in real time! I think it was extraordinary practice for a teenager trying to learn his craft.

So what intrigues me about pirates? What DOESN’T intrigue me about them? They rock the party. You have real pirates who came from very different walks of life – a full ensemble of complicated characters. We have those who became so out of desperation and necessity, such as runaway slaves, or beaten indentured servants in the Caribbean, to rich playboys who thought it sounded like a fun idea at the time. We have psychopaths like L’Olonnais, who would hack people apart for fun, and eat his victims’ hearts, and crazies like Blackbeard who committed barbaric atrocities just to be remembered; we have girls like Mary Read (supposedly) kidnapped and forced into a life a violence where they thrived and became inspirational leaders; or buccaneers such as the mysterious Exquemelin, carefully documenting the folklore of the Indian tribes of the Caribbean, as well as the various flora and fauna of the different islands.

Tell us a little about your book, GENTLEMAN OF FORTUNE, that you’re giving away for this event. 

Gentleman of Fortune is the latest novel in my BUCCANNEERS series. All my works are set around the War of the Spanish Succession, which was arguably the First World War - it saw grand alliances, massive pitched land battles (the Battle of Blenheim), and vast naval actions (the Battle of Vigo Bay), conflicts in Europe, North America, the West Indies. It was also smack bang in the middle of the Golden Age of Piracy. The politics of the era naturally filter through the books.

The novel follows Jacob Hollum, a sailor and sometimes smuggler, from Whitby in North Yorkshire. He ends up implicated for the murder of a rival and so flees the country – and his sweetheart Cait – to an estranged family in North Holland. They turn out to be pirates. They take him under their wing so to speak. The novel follows his descent into their dangerous world, of how his actions take him further away from fading dreams of home and his dear Cait.

On taking the most wonderful prize of a Spanish Galleon he discovers not only a hold packed with indigo and silver, but the most beautiful of souls - Maria Fanez, Spanish maiden (and the heroine of my first novel ROGUES’ NEST). His thoughts of home dissipate further. When a bloody disagreement between his fellow cutthroats strips everything away, Jacob is caught between pursuing his new sweetheart, or the lure of riches. He ends up in a perilous situation, where even his skill with the cutlass may not be enough to see him safe...

He's pretty fickle, and an anti-hero to boot. Even though he does some pretty bad things, and makes some poor choices, I hope the reader will still cheer for him.

In reality, pirates were awful people that most of us wouldn’t want to run across if we were sailing a ship, but in our culture they’ve been romanticized so often that it’s almost expected by some folk. Do you have trouble balancing reality with the romanticized aura of the pirate, or do you not worry too much about that when crafting your tales? 

Not at all. I thrive on the realism! My aim all along was to write authentic swashbucklers, to have the reader thrown amongst the limb-tearing realism of round shot shattering an oaken hull, to experience the fickleness of a pirate crew arguing over leadership, to have loyalties thrown into question, to witness the black deeds of my characters.

As I said before, there were so many pirates, from all walks of life – especially at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession – when the large British navy was deemed surplus to requirement. Many of these hardened warrior sailors just carried on in the same role. They flocked to the Caribbean to plague the shipping routes of old enemies. Whilst the barbarities committed by buccaneers and pirates are well documented, for many of them it was just a business, and often vessels were taken without much bloodshed at all. There’s little incentive for a merchantman to lower his sails and heave to if he thinks he’s likely to be murdered outright.

There’s still plenty of romance, love, and lust in my books without the clich├ęs Hollywood would have us believe are true of pirates. Just don’t expect too many of my characters to be duelling fifty redcoats at once, dancing cheekily between the spars, foiling the evil governor, or wrestling with their consciences about a princess.

How often do you turn to real-life pirates for inspiration in creating your characters or plot?

All my major characters come from my head, but I am so well read in pirate lore and history, that some of it is bound to leak out... I have included various real people in my books, such as eccentric inventor and lighthouse engineer Henry Winstanley, or President of the Board of Trade Lord Thomas Grey, or the famous William Kidd.

As for plot? Like the father of Historical Action Fiction Bernard Cornwell, I set my books in the realms of reality, with a generous smattering of very real historic events and characters. That of course makes it harder to write, but also more fun entwining my characters into political turmoil, rebellions, naval actions etc, and seeing how they could have influenced the outcome.

What makes your series (or book) different from other piratical adventures out there? What’s your main goal with your pirate stories?

I write authentic gritty swashbucklers. I have spent a long time studying the period, as well as the realism of the Age of Sail – the harsh life, the subtle technicalities of weather and handling a vessel. I have been told by reviewers and history enthusiasts that this comes across very well in my writing.

As a long time martial-artist I knew I had to get the hand-to-hand combat correct. Sloppy unrealistic fighting turns me off a book faster than shoddy grammar ever will! Expect visceral adrenaline-pumping melees, sprays of sticky gore, and the stench of black powder in your nostrils.

My main goal is of course to entertain, and if you find the wrong actions of anti-hero rogues with an innate habit for trouble your sort of protagonist, then I hope you’ll enjoy my work...

Bonus Question: If you had to design a pirate flag for yourself, what would it look like?

Damn it… now I’m actually going to have to go waste precious writing time in designing an actual flag aren’t I? This is a highly irresponsible question. I’m currently homeless and trying to reorganise my life. Curses...

 Win a copy of Gentleman of Fortuneor one of six other novels...

 …including Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters by J.M. Aucoin, Heart Like an Ocean by Christine Steendam, The Witch from the Sea by Lisa Jensen, The Alliance by SK Keogh, Sea Witch by Helen Hollick, The Pirates of Alnari by Dan Eldredge, and Gentleman of Fortune by Nick Smith.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

The contest begins on Monday, September 8th and runs through September 19th (Talk Like a Pirate Day).

To enter, just sign in above. You can earn additional entries by liking the authors’ Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. The more of our social media accounts you follow, the more entries you get. The more entries you get, the better your chances are of winning. Simple as that.

Nick Smith is a Twenty-Nine Year old Northumbrian. He grew up in a rural pocket of the bleak and industrial North East of England.
A well-travelled individual with a truly mongrel mix of Yorkshire, Lithuanian, Irish, Moroccan, and Spanish blood, Nick considers himself a citizen of the world. In 2012 he carried on the family tradition by marrying a Turkish Armenian Kurd aboard the antique sail ship the HMS Trincomalee.
After a stint of teaching Science in the Channel Islands, he has left his fisherman’s cottage behind, and returned to his home county of Durham in search of pastures new….


Helen Hollick said...

I'm reading this bok at the moment - love it!

Lisa Jensen said...

Great post! So, who did design that flag...?

Dan Eldredge said...

I think it was Captain Aucoin.