Fact in historical fiction

Blending Facts Into Fiction 

by Helen Hollick

My Sea Witch Voyages are nautical adventure yarns set in the Golden Age of piracy, the early 1700s. As with many a typical sailor’s yarn, part of the tales are solid sailing facts, others can be distinctly fanciful. That blend of fiction – even fantasy – is made believable by the inclusion of facts. Get the facts right, then a reader will believe the fictional bits.

I use several real historical figures as additional characters alongside my scallywag protagonist, Captain Jesamiah Acorne, because the history is important as a background to his various sea-going adventures.

 

In the latest Voyage, Gallows Wake, Jesamiah meets up with Edward Vernon, who was a real, respected Admiral. But in my story, set in 1719, Vernon is still a relatively unknown Captain. Jesamiah has had a run-in with him in the past (in the second Voyage, Pirate Code) and here they are, to meet again.

 

I’ve invented this part of Vernon’s career, of course, but in factual history, Vernon had a long and highly distinguished career, after forty-six years of service, becoming an admiral. Born in November 1684, he died in October 1757, making him thirty-five at the time when Gallows Wake is set.

 

In 1739 Vernon was responsible for the capture of Porto Bello, during the War of Jenkins’ Ear. He served as a Member of Parliament on three occasions, and had a reputation of being particularly outspoken on naval matters, making him a somewhat controversial figure.
I expect you have heard the slang term ‘Grog’ for rum which has been diluted with water? ‘Grog’ is attributed to Vernon, whose nickname was ‘Old Grog’. He was well known for wearing coats made of grogram material. Originally, this was Grosgrain a corruption of the French word. Gros gram is a coarse, loosely woven fabric of silk, silk and mohair, or silk and wool. Gros means thick or coarse, while grain is from Old French graine from either seed or texture. Vernon introduced watered rum into his naval squadron, which the sailors soon began to call ‘Grog’.

Vernon is also the eponym of George Washington’s estate Mount Vernon, and the many places in the United States which are named after it. George Washington’s older half-brother served on Vernon’s flagship HMS Princess Caroline in 1741. In honour of his former commander, he named his Virginia estate Mount Vernon.

I have slightly altered some of the dates and places in order to put Vernon where I wanted him in the summer and autumn of 1719 – Gibraltar and Spain, (he was possibly in the Baltic, in fact) so the events that happen in Gallows Wake are entirely fictitious, but the man himself is not.

It was quite fun giving him an adventure with my Jesamiah Acorne.

Read an excerpt from Gallows Wake

“Captain?”
Edward Vernon looked up from the letter he was writing, annoyed at being disturbed in the sanctity of his Great Cabin, but half expecting it. They were not long under way and there was always uncertainty during the first hours of making sail. Especially where his dithering second lieutenant was concerned. A young man of nineteen years old, he had the prospect of a good future ahead of him were he only to apply himself, but Lieutenant Lancelot Lande well-earned his nickname of ‘Three Ells’, for his name, his general uncertainty and over-used, ‘Look Lively Lads’ the latter two of which the bosun, Almitty, seized upon to make use of his cane. Not that Vernon disapproved of genuine discipline – far from it – but unnecessary brutality soured the men, and there was a loyal, hard-working crew aboard Bonne Chance. Despite the sadistic nature of ‘Gawd Almighty’, Mr Almitty.
Lande entered, did not stoop low enough beneath the overhead beams and knocked his hat off. He blushed, retrieved it and stood smartly before Vernon’s desk, which even after this short time at sea was already littered with cluttered paraphernalia.
“My apologies for interrupting your solitude, Captain. Writing to your lady wife, are you? I will do so to my dear mama, if ever I find the time. Not that she appreciates letters pertaining to a nautical bent, but…”
“Yes, Mr Lande, I pen a paragraph or two for Mrs Vernon at the close of every day. How may I help you?”
Mr Lande twirled his hat between his stubby fingers. “Well, ’tis a tad unorthodox, but there’s a chap aboard, a passenger bound for Cádiz. He is something to do with the children we have aboard.”
Vernon focused on the hat. How many times had he told Lande not to wear the thing below deck – for the reason shown. Low ceiling beams and the height of men were incompatible. Hats got knocked off, and looked comical in the eyes of the crew and undignified for the officers. Ignoring the hat issue, he said, “The children, and their escort, are of no consequence to me Mr Lande. I have made it quite clear that they are to remain below and out of our way. Fortunately, it is but a short voyage to our destination. I estimate, twelve, sixteen hours at most if wind and weather suit?”
“Aye, indeed, sir.”
“So, what is the problem? Everything is in order, is it not? Where is Mr Coffney?” Vernon faked a smile, despite his irritation.
“First Lieutenant Coffney is busy, sir, with an incident concerning one of the men.”
An incident? Something I should be informed of? Vernon wondered, then dismissed the thought. Unlike Lande, Coffney was a capable officer, and obviously the matter was of no large consequence, else he would have been informed of it.
“I am more than content to leave our passage and those children in the capable hands of yourself and Lieutenant Coffney.” Vernon indicated his letter. “So, I would very much like to finish this paragraph and then seek my cot. It is, after all,” he extracted a pocket watch from his waistcoat, flipped its gold protective case open and studied the hour. “It is approaching a quarter less eleven of the clock. Should these children not be snuggled in their blankets, and asleep?”
Lande did not return the smile. “I think they are, sir. I apologise for the interruption, but it is not about the children. Least, I do not think it is. Mayhap it will wait until morning? Although he was most insistent.”
“He?”
“Our passenger.”
“Is it, then, important?”
“The gentleman said it was.”
Give me strength, Vernon thought; said with patience, “Who is this gentleman? What does he want?”
“What he wants I do not know, sir, but he said he requires to speak in private with you as a matter of urgency. He made the request to Lieutenant Coffney as soon as he came aboard, before we sailed.”
“And you have only now brought the matter to my attention?”
“Aye, sir. We were busy getting under way and Mr Coffney did not wish to disturb you.”
“But you feel I may be disturbed now?”
“The gentleman has been most persistent. He says it is government business.”
Vernon pursed his lips. So, this was the government representative for these blasted children? As a captain, Vernon considered that he was perfectly capable of delivering them to their devoted parents without some fop of a government attaché interfering. He sighed. Could there be more to this mission than he perceived?
“I had better see him. Please show him in, Mr Lande.”
Lande gestured a salute, made to replace his hat, thought better of it and tucked the thing beneath his arm. “Very good, sir.”
Vernon returned to his letter, heard someone enter, did not look up but continued writing.
A soft cough.
He finished the sentence, placed the quill pen in the inkpot, dusted the letter with sand, then sat back in his chair, folding his hands over his stomach. Looked at a cleanshaven, well-dressed man of about his own height of four inches under the six foot, but a little stouter of build. Hat tucked beneath his arm, he made a slight, respectful bow. Vernon noticed that his hands were work-worn and bore a slight trace of tar beneath the nails. No rough sailor, but a man who knew work when required?
“Good evening to you, sir,” Vernon said, congenially, but with a little curiosity to his tone. “How may I be of assistance?”

THE VOYAGES:

SEA WITCH Voyage one

PIRATE CODE Voyage two

BRING IT CLOSE Voyage three

RIPPLES IN THE SAND Voyage four

ON THE ACCOUNT Voyage five

WHEN THE MERMAID SINGS – a prequel to the series (short-read novella)

And just published… GALLOWS WAKE
The Sixth Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne
by Helen Hollick
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?

From the first review of Gallows Wake:
“Hollick’s writing is crisp and clear, and her ear for dialogue and ability to reveal character in a few brief sentences is enviable. While several of the characters in Gallows Wake have returned from previous books, I felt no need to have read those books to understand them. The paranormal side of the story—Tiola is a white witch, with powers of precognition and more, and one of the characters is not quite human—blends with the story beautifully, handled so matter-of-factly. This is simply Jesamiah’s reality, and he accepts it, as does the reader.”
Author Marian L. Thorpe.

BUY LINKS:
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 Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback. Or order a copy from your local bookstore!

ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK

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 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 writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages.

Helen 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 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…

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

A Place in History – Israel

Israel in the 1940s – The Laundry Room

by Lynda Lippman-Lockhart

 

 

 

 

What is there about traveling to foreign ports that is so evocative, compelling, and necessary? I have always been a proponent of getting away, giving into a change of attitude and altitude, and most of all—educating myself and my family. It is good for the soul and certainly good for the brain. There isn’t a trip that I haven’t learned something that has come in handy in the future. Each one of my books arose from a particular place I have visited or lived. Apparently, the place made an impression on me.

The Laundry Room is an example. It all began with a promise and a prayer. The new rabbi at my synagogue stood on the pulpit of his congregation during the High Holidays promising to take a group to Israel in the near future.  My husband and I were two of the first to sign up.

I remember arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport and marveling at how modern it was with its clean lines and lack of clutter. Our luggage was right on time, and we loaded our tour bus, finding those familiar to sit next to. Our guide Jeremy, began the tour as soon as the bus left the airport. I don’t know what I expected but was amazed at the melding of new and old in the city of Tel Aviv.  The traffic was almost as bad as New York’s. Our first stop was on the Mount of Olives, a part of the Judaean Mountain chain and the ancient Judean kingdom. It was there we beheld Jerusalem and all of its splendor as the sun set in the west, casting a golden glow over the city, hence Jerusalem of Gold, a popular Israeli song. We left the mountain and headed toward the coast and the center of Tel Aviv, a thriving metropolis with signs of bombed buildings next to new. The contrast was startling to say the least.

That night we had dinner at the hotel and then walked to what we were told would be a gathering of people to commemorate Israel’s Independence. What we were not prepared for was the blast of sirens at which time everyone stopped in their tracks, buses, cars, people. There was complete silence for five minutes; and afterward, our guide explained this was their way of thanking all who gave their lives so that freedom would prevail. It took all of us some time to recover from the awe of that moment. At the park, thousands of young people congregated as they listened to one after another speak on freedom and the country. What caught me off guard was how young the military was and how these young people were standing around with guns slung over their shoulders. All citizens eighteen and over are compelled to serve in the military for a minimum of two years—male and female.

The next morning, we were headed to Caesarea. On the way, we passed the technology center of Israel, Herzliya, and continued to a bucolic seaside spectacle. It was here at Caesarea that Herod built a temple dedicated to Tiberius Caesar.

Little remains, but some of the mosaics that have managed to survive time and ware, are magnificent. The clear, aqua waters of the Mediterranean wash gently upon the shore, spilling over into the largest natural pool I’ve ever seen.

We arrived at Masada after passing bands of Bedouins hunkered down with their animals and tents. They live as they did in biblical times. Upon reaching Masada, we were told it was the last stronghold of a band of Judean rebels trying to escape the rage of the Roman soldiers bent on their destruction. Here, in the dusty terrain, high above—in what resembles a southwestern mesa—960 men, women, and children held off 8,000 Roman soldiers for several months. When it appeared their plight was hopeless, they decided to take their own lives instead of becoming slaves of the Romans. They drew straws to see who among them would be the last to take their own life. Standing on the top of the mesa, brings to mind how precious life really is and makes one think of Egypt and the lives of the Israelites before escaping Pharaoh’s domination. The bus trip to the Dead Sea was silent.

Of all of the stops we made, the one that remained with me when I arrived back in the States was the Ayalon Institute (1), not because of its beauty or tragic event, but for courage and dedication to a cause.

I could go on and on, but for some reason, it was the Ayalon Institute that held fast. I tried to do some research when I returned home, but there was little. I wrote to the institute to ask for a brochure, but instead received a personal email from a Judith Ayalon, one of the 45 youth that built, supplied, and ran an underground ammunition factory that would play a major role in the establishment of Israel as an independent country. She and I would correspond for the next two years. The visual of teenagers fashioning bullet casings out of copper or filling those casings with gunpowder is hard to erase. There was nothing special or memorable about the terrain, but what took place there will never be erased from my mind. A well-kept secret until 1986, this historic site has become a major stop for those visiting Israel and a place I will never forget. The Laundry Room covers those historic events from beginning to end.

© Lynda Lippman-Lockhart

  1. “Now a museum, the Ayalon Institute was a secret ammunition factory disguised as part of a kibbutz to fool the British back in the 1940s. Jewish people used the factory in their efforts to fight for the independent state of Israel. Organizers went to extreme measures to build and sustain this secret factory within the kibbutz.” (From: https://www.touristisrael.com/ayalon-institute/16168 accessed 14/05/2019)

About Lynda Lippman-Lockhart

Originally from St. Petersburg, Florida, Lynda now lives in Columbus, NC, with her husband and a moyen poodle. Lynda retired from teaching eleven years ago and took up writing after winning first place in the Florida Writers Conference short story contest. She says her first book was a fluke in that she was sitting out on the deck of their summer home with her poodle Bogie and the title Oodles of Poodles came to her. She started writing and the subsequent book became a huge success. The next book was historical fiction, The Laundry Room, mentioned above. Lynda’s latest work is a crime novel Nine Minutes to Kill, which invites the reader to help solve the crime. She is currently editing her next historical novel Con Artist about Goya, the queen of Spain and her lover, and a scandalous painting: ‘The Naked Maja’.

About The Laundry Room:

The British Mandate over Palestine is coming to an end. The purpose of the Mandate was to divide a portion of the now defunct Ottoman Empire into two British protectorates: Palestine, which would include a home for the Jewish people, and Transjordan, an emirate under the rule of the Hashemite family. The problem: how will these two diametrically opposed peoples survive after the Mandate ends? In 1946, when the King David Hotel outside the “Old City” of Jerusalem is bombed, peace-loving Laila Posner becomes a victim. Swept up in the blast, she flies through the air like a dove and lands as a hawk, transformed for all the wrong reasons.
Upon recovery, Laila joins a group of young people—many of whom have been orphaned by the Holocaust—sent to Palestine for protection. Forty-five of these Young Pioneers form a kibbutz and resolve never to let someone else direct their lives. The success of the kibbutz reaches the ears of the Haganah, the Jewish secret police, who approach the kibbutz with a proposition: participate in a clandestine operation to save the Jewish state. It is during her time at the Ayalon Institute—a name given to disguise its activities—that Laila comes of age, taking a leading role in the operation of the kibbutz and running the secret factory.
In the face of daily challenges to survive—volatile compounds, marauding Arabs, and the fear of discovery by the British—Laila finds the strength to go on. Amid the turmoil of the time, a close-knit community is formed, spawning lifetime attachments and love. Laila, however, never forgets the young British soldier who came to her assistance during the bombing of the King David Hotel, which causes friction between her and her kibbutz sweetheart. His intermittent presence in her life leaves her feeling uneasy about her future.
The selflessness of these youths who came to the aid of their country is a testament to how heroes are formed out of ordinary human beings.

For more on Lynda Lippman-Lockhart and her books go to:

Horses in historical fiction

Writing about shying, bolting, and unfortunate equine accidents

As prey animals, instinct tells equines to run at a whiff of danger. They shy at what we may consider to be imaginary objects, this is because their eyes can detect movements to the side of them, which we do not see, and their ears can pick up signals we do not hear.

The moment the horse decides to take off to get away from a perceived threat, it lowers its rump to get a power start from the hind legs. (Watch the start of a horse race and you’ll see what I mean.) In a hist-fic story, this can result in a pillion rider sliding straight off. The next action is for the horse to lower its head and stretch out its neck, meaning a rider taken unawares will be pitched forward, assuming the frightened animal doesn’t swerve off to one side, in which case the rider hits the ground hard.

Riders can be jolted out of a saddle and if they are not careful a foot can be caught in a stirrup, meaning they will get dragged and possibly kicked as well. A friend of mine became deaf due to an accident like this on hard terrain.

More often, though, with a bolting horse, the rider is pitched forward onto the horse’s neck, which sends the creature into an even greater frenzy. From this moment it may gallop flat out with no heed to trees, traffic or other hazards. The rider struggling to stay on will grab for the mane, but this pinching action on the horse’s neck is like a wolf’s jaws and quite literally anything can happen after that.

Even placid ponies have crazy moments. Trotting along an open stretch of countryside a dog shoots out of nowhere, the startled pony drops its hind-quarters to canter away or turns too fast and child or cart and cargo get tipped in the process. Dragging an over-turned cart will make the pony even more hysterical. That sort of thing happens. In real life, freak, silly accidents cause the most damage, but this sort of incident will have to be used with care in fiction so it does not look over-contrived.

The fallen horse

Horses stumble and slip on loose pebbles and rough terrain. They get stones lodged into their hooves making them go lame and forcing a rider to dismount to remove the stone. The bigger danger here is that if a horse slips badly and goes down the rider can become trapped underneath its body. I’ve seen and been in this sort of accident.

When a horse goes down, it may lie still for what seems an age while it gets its senses back then will scramble to its feet, fore-legs first. Horses generally avoid stepping on a living creature knowingly (except rats & snakes), but in this situation the rider on the ground is in danger of getting an iron-shod hoof pressed down on shoulder or head. My husband was in an accident when his 17 hand mare slipped backwards into a deep ditch trapping him in the saddle underneath her. After lying still for sufficient time to make me think they were both dead, she finally started to right herself. Eventually she scrambled out, and I managed to get down to see if my husband was still alive. He was, but very battered with various broken ribs, but his horse had done what she could to avoid trampling him. The ditch was full of dead brambles and undergrowth, which made getting out more difficult, but probably saved my husband’s life A very scary accident.