An exciting new collection of short stories is released today. It’s a collaboration between two remarkable writers, Caroline Smailes and Nik Perring, and comic book illustrator, Damien Craske. There are over fifty freaks and misfits in this collection and each story features a character with an unusual superpower.
To celebrate the launch, I’m hosting one of the stories from the collection right here, so you can all get a sneak peek:
[Super Power: The ability to make oneself unseen to the naked eye]
If I stay totally still,
if I stand right tall,
with me back against the school wall,
close to the science room’s window,
with me feet together,
if I make me hands into tight fists,
make me arms dead straight,
if I push me arms into me sides,
if I squeeze me thighs,
stop me wee,
if me belly doesn’t shake,
if me boobs don’t wobble,
if I close me eyes tight,
so tight that it makes me whole face scrunch,
if I push me lips into me mouth,
if I make me teeth bite me lips together,
if I hardly breathe,
if I don’t say a word.
I’ll magic meself invisible,
and them lasses will leave me alone.
Freaks is a collection of short stories written by Caroline Smailes and Nik Perring, and illustrated by Darren Craske. It is available as a paperback and also as an ebook.
One of the blogs I regularly read is that of short story writer
, do. It is simply brilliant.) On Wednesday, Nik blogged and encouraged everyone to put word-of-mouth into practice and spread the word about good books and good writing by blogging recommendations or by writing an amazon review. I already do that quite a lot with reviews here, on Amazon and GoodReads, so in honour of September 19th being Talk Like a Pirate Day, I thought I’d recommend the pirate books I love instead. My literary Pieces o’ Eight, if you like.
by Arthur Ransome. If there is one author responsible for setting me off on my piratical treasure trail of reading, it is Arthur Ransome and his wonderful twelve-book series. Having read and loved them when he was a child, Dad gave me the books when I was nine. I devoured the whole series and regularly re-read them.
Set in the 1930′s when children could play largely unsupervised in the summer holidays, the action in the first book takes place on a lake in the North (an amalgam of lakes in the English Lake District). The Walker children find Swallow, an old dinghy in the boathouse of the farm where they’re staying and use it to sail to an island (dubbed Wild Cat Island) where they set up camp. There they meet Nancy and Peggy Blackett, aka the Amazon pirates. They go to war to decide whose boat – Swallow or Amazon – should be flagship. The Blackett’s Uncle Jim, aka retired pirate Captain Flint, lives with a parrot on a houseboat on the lake. The children’s feud with him leads to the black spot and a great sea battle, which ends with cake and ice cream, as all the best ones should.
Although the main characters are the Swallows, it was Captain Nancy Blackett of the Amazon, who captured my imagination. She is bold, brave and always up for an adventure. I desperately wanted to be her. So much so that because the Amazon pirates wore knitted red caps, I insisted my mother knit one for me. (And yes, I still have it!)
Other honourable pirate mentions in the series have to go to
, where the action is set in China and the titular she-pirate is a Cambridge scholar, Latin junkie and lover of all things English, like Oxford marmalade; and
, Ransome’s own tribute to Treasure Island. Set in the Caribbean, the children sail the Wild Cat schooner and hunt for buried treasure on Crab Island, while being chased by real-life pirates.
by Daphne du Maurier. Growing up on the coast, in a town with fishing boats and a shipyard and surrounded by tales of smugglers and pirates, it’s probably unsurprising that I read Daphne du Maurier’s novels. This one has a beautiful, headstrong and bored heroine in Lady Dona St Columb and the French philosopher-pirate, Jean Aubrey, as its romantic hero. Irresistible.
by Richard Hughes. When I read this book as a teenager, it shattered any cosy illusions I had, both about pirates and children. It tells the story of a family of English children who are being sent back to England from Jamaica by their parents but fall into the hands of pirates. It’s a story that haunts me to this day.
by Alexander Exquemelin. A must-read for anyone interested in pirates, this is an eye-witness account by a surgeon who went out to work for the French West India Company in Tortuga in 1666 and enlisted with the buccaneers three years later. Yes, he actually sailed with pirates! Most notably, the infamous Welsh buccaneer, Sir Henry Morgan.
by Captain Charles Johnson. This book is an incredible resource on pirates in the ‘golden age of piracy’. Thanks to the dramatic writing style and inclusion of lurid detail about the pirates’ crimes, the book was an immediate success when published, despite its author being an unknown. (One of the candidates is Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, writing under a pseudonym.) Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Bartholomew Roberts went down in history, largely thanks to this book, and the modern idea of pirates stem from its pages. Novelists and filmmakers alike used the book as a source of inspiration for fictional pirates from Long John Silver to Captain Hook and it’s where many of the stereotypes, including marooning sailors, walking the plank, eye patches and parrots squawking “Pieces of Eight!” are believed to come from.
by Richard Sanders. This is an excellent book all about Bartholomew Roberts, also known as Black Bart or Barti Ddu. Born John Robert(s) in west Wales, he had a highly successful career as a pirate, taking between 300-400 ships during the two-and-a-half years in which he was one. His story is all the more interesting because he didn’t conform to the pirate stereotype in a lot of ways. He drank tea, not rum, banned women and gambling from his ships and was more interested in talking to those he defeated than making them walk the plank.
by Neil Gaiman. They don’t play a huge role in the book or the film but one of my all-time favourite writers deserves a mention here for the wonderful lightning-hunting pirates, Captain Johannes Alberic and the crew of the Free Ship Perdita. A refreshing update on the pirate theme that is pure genius.
by Robert Louis Stevenson. Well, you didn’t think I’d leave this one off the list and risk the Black Spot, did you? Not only does it feature the iconic fictional pirate Long John Silver but two of the three real-life pirates mentioned in the book, Howell Davis and Bartholomew Roberts, are Welsh. The subject of countless movie adaptations, the now familiar cast of characters and their story endure and continue to be the gold standard (or should that be dubloon?) of pirate tales.
I realise there are many more fictional pirates, like Captain Blood and Doctor Syn, that I could have mentioned here but I wanted to keep within the Pieces o’ Eight limit. (Let’s ignore the fact that I cheated with two additional Ransome mentions.) Do you have any fictional pirates that you’d include in this list or a type of person or character you read about a lot?
As you’ll have noticed from the dates of this blog post and its predecessor, I’ve had an extended break from blogging. First, I was on holiday in Scotland for a fortnight and then I returned home, refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to concentrate on little else but my current WiP. So, yes, I’ve been writing and not much else over the last few weeks. Okay, okay, I may have been tweeting and reading, as well. But only a little bit, honest.
I imagine that, for those of you anxiously waiting to find out which books I took away with me on holiday, the past few weeks have been torture. Sleepless nights and anxious days rather like the time(s) when you’ve been expecting to hear from a loved one, or about a job interview, or for exam results… No? Oh, okay then. No matter. But here are the books that were fortunate enough to make it into the book bag and come away on holiday with me. The lucky winners! I’m going to be doing reviews of some of these on the blog but, in the meantime, here are the titles and authors, together with how and why they made the cut:
Not So Perfect by Nik Perring (Roastbooks Ltd) – I love reading short stories and cannot go anywhere without taking some with me. This is a brilliant collection of short stories and came in a very handy travel size.
Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith(Voyager Classics) – An online pal kept quoting MMS in emails and chats, and recommended this book as a good introduction to the author. I promised him that I’d read it when I had some time on holiday. I am so glad I made that promise and now intend to track down MMS’ entire back catalogue. Yes, it was that good!
Peaceweaver by Judith Arnopp (YouWriteOn.com) – I was fortunate enough to listen to a reading from this book and meet the author at a Writers’ Day in west Wales. Either of those alone would have been enough to make me want to read the book. The two combined meant that I absolutely had to.
Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes (The Friday Project, an Imprint of Harper Collins) – I met (twet?) Caroline on Twitter and went to the London launch of this book where we met IRL. It seemed the perfect book to take on holiday as it’s set on the island of Malta. (I know I went to Scotland but still, this felt like it would be an ideal holiday read…)
Eva Shell by Kate North (Cinnamon Press) – This is the book that I ran back into the house and grabbed (refer to previous post for my book selection process). I’ve been meaning to get to it for some time now and simply hadn’t got around to it. Kate North was the tutor of the very first writing group I went to in 2003. I’d read some of her poetry before but have wanted to read this, her debut novel, since I bought it.
The Schoolboy by Holly Howitt (Cinnamon Press) – I was asked to read this book in order to compare it to TAG (see below).
by Stephen May (Cinnamon Press) – I had to read this and wanted to read it. I was asked to review it for Square magazine(my review is in Issue 8 of the magazine which is now on sale and available here) but I also wanted to read it because I had met Stephen while on a Writer’s Retreat at Moniack Mhor in Scotland. He read the first chapter of this book at the end of that week and I knew back then that I wanted to read the finished book when it came out.
So there you have them. My rather wonderful travelling companions. Have you read any of them? If not, which books did you whisk away from the bookshelf this summer?