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Pieces o’ Eight: Read Like a Pirate

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.

1. 

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.

2.

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.

3.

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.

4. 

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.

5.

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.

6.

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.

7.

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.

8.

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?


Wales Blog Awards longlist

And I’m on it!

I can’t quite believe it but I’m very happy. Especially as I’ve been longlisted in the ‘Best Writing On A Blog’ category. Thank you so much if you nominated The Nut Press.

Equally as exciting is the fact that a lot of people I know, either through Twitter, blogging, IRL or a combination of those, are also long-listed. So, if you’re looking for some great blogs, check out these lovelies:

Cardiff Bites –  Food, News and Reviews from Cardiff and Beyond – Nicola Tudor

Catherine Hughes – What I read, what I write, what I learn along the way… – Catherine Hughes

Corpulent Capers – Talking about food, travel and anything else that takes my fancy. – Gomez Adams

In a Welsh Garden – about a garden …. and trying to live right.

Journal of Plastik – an e-magazine/journal of culture and things relating to creative culture.

Pint of 45 – A User’s Guide to Drinking in Cardiff – Phil Jones

Rachaelblogs – A little place to share… – Rachael Phillips

Save the Vulcan – A campaign to save the Vulcan Hotel, a meeting place for all sections of the community. – Rachel Thomas

Stuart’s Photography – The Diary of an Amateur Photographer – Stuart Herbert

One of the great things about the Wales Blog Awards longlist is that I’ve now got 100+ blogs to check out. I’m so looking forward to finding out who is blogging in Wales and what they’re blogging about.

Finding a niche with Cardiff Bloggers

Cardiff Bloggers meet-up. 8 September 2010. Photograph © Elizabeth McGuire
Cardiff Bloggers meet-up. 8 September 2010. Photograph © Elizabeth McGuire

When I first started blogging just under a year ago, I did it because I thought it might be fun. It was also part of my attempt at trying out different forms of social networking. (I’d recently joined Twitter and was finally getting around to using Facebook. I know, I know, a little late to the party on that last one!) I thought that I would blog about books and chocolate and writing and life with a squirrel intent on world domination. (Between you and me, and I can say this as he probably doesn’t read my blog, I was hoping that if the squirrel had his own SquizzBlog he wouldn’t take over mine too much.) And I didn’t really think about it much beyond that. I certainly didn’t think about whether anyone, besides me, would read it and I figured it would either grow and evolve or fall by the wayside.

What I hadn’t been expecting to get out of blogging was finding myself part of a supportive and friendly community, or that it could be remotely sociable.

The Cardiff Bloggers’ meet-up is a great initiative organised by Hannah Waldram (Guardian Cardiff) and Ed Walker (your Cardiff), currently held in Pica Pica on Westgate Street and sponsored by Warwick Emanuel PR. The inaugural meet-up was in March with another at the end of May and their success paved the way for a Valley Bloggers meet-up in June. You get a chance to talk to fellow bloggers about their blogs, what works (or doesn’t) for them, ask questions, bounce ideas around and just generally chat.

Last Wednesday was the third Cardiff Bloggers’ meet-up and this time it focussed on Niche Blogging. You can read a great write-up on the Guardian Cardiff blog here.

One of the main things that I took away from the evening was how all the guest speakers – Nicki Tudor (Cardiff Bites), Phil Jones (Pint of 45) and Gwyneth Moore (Cardiff Fashion) – had started writing their niche blogs about subjects they loved. Nicki is a self-confessed foodie. When her friends told her that she was making their mouths water from writing about her meals out on MySpace, she decided to start blogging as Cardiff Bites. She shares recipes and her opinion about Cardiff eateries, and enjoys getting to meet and know other foodies and food bloggers. Phil likes going out and getting hammered with a mate and they thought it would be handy and fun to have a record of where they’ve been and what it was like. If it helps someone else find a good place to drink in Cardiff, all the better. Gwyneth has been interested in fashion since she worked in the industry and felt she wanted a Cardiff-centric blog, where there previously was none.

Even now they’ve been blogging for a while, it’s clear that none of them are too bothered about follower numbers or hits to their blogs. That doesn’t mean to say that they don’t want – and like – people reading their blogs or that they aren’t happy when people visit and read them or subscribe to and/or comment on them. Of course they do, and are. Who wouldn’t be? But if blogging stopped being fun, they probably wouldn’t hesitate to stop doing it tomorrow.

Hearing this from other bloggers cheered me up no end. It is all too easy to get caught up in blogging advice handed out through social networking sites, start worrying about content and stats and forget about why you’re blogging and who you’re blogging for.

I am, at best, an erratic blogger. I blog when I want to and when I have something particular to say – I might have been to a great event or read a good book I want others to know about. I can’t force myself to blog, say, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and every second Saturday. I don’t jot down ideas for blog posts, draft them in advance or schedule them. Not just yet, at any rate. I admire those that can do all these things. I wish I could but I think at the moment that would take the fun out of blogging for me. As would worrying about building up my so-called “author platform” and keeping tabs on how many people follow this blog, however they may do so.

Last Wednesday’s event was timely and so useful for me. Not only did it get me out of the house (very important to venture out into the real world every so often!) but I had the opportunity to hear from other bloggers about why they blog. And, first and foremost, they’re doing it because it’s fun, they enjoy it and they’re writing about something they love. Why are you blogging? And is it for the same reason now as when you first started?

Many thanks to Elizabeth McGuire (@PoshAudrey on Twitter) for permission to use one of her photographs from the evening with this post.

Turning the Tide by Christine Stovell

I loved this book. I don’t know about Turning the Tide but it certainly kept me Turning the Page. I had only meant to read a couple of chapters before bed but, each time I tried to put it down, I thought I’d just read the next chapter and then couldn’t put it down until I finished reading it at 2am!

This is a captivating story of one young woman’s determination and struggle to hang onto the boatyard that she sees as her only link to the past and her dead father. It leads to her clashing with a devilishly appealing property developer, Matthew Corrigan, who wants her boatyard and its land for his future development. As this will breathe new life into the surrounding area, forcing it also to modernise, it’s not just Harry Watling, the gutsy tomboy heroine, but others in the nearby town, who have to adjust to the changes Matthew and his development are introducing.

I warmed to Harry immediately (it is so refreshing to have a tomboy heroine), felt the same attraction and repulsion that she feels for Matthew, while also falling for most of the townsfolk, especially the irascible George who is Harry’s right hand man and surrogate father-figure and the local florists, who are like brothers to Harry and as brilliant creations as their floral art.

This is the second ChocLit title I’ve read in as many weeks and, if this and Trade Winds (reviewed here) are anything to go by, I can see myself going through their entire selection box.

Turning the Tide is Christine Stovell’s debut novel, published by ChocLit. She has previously been published by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press. To find out more about the author, Christine Stovell has an Author Website and you can Follow Christine on Twitter.

Blog, not blag, your way into a Party!

The Nut Press is at a BBQ Blog Party this Labor Day Weekend (it’s a holiday in the US, hence the spelling!) If you’re dropping by, hello there!

Squizzey and I baked some peanut cookies and a coffee and walnut cake (okay, so we bought the cake but we did actually make the cookies with our own fair paws) and they are truly scrumptious. I just hope they survive the trip and we don’t arrive at the party empty-pawed.

We’re hopping all the way over to Karen Gowen’s lovely blog Coming Down the Mountain: From Reclusive Writer to Published Author. She’s running a BBQ Blog Party over the four-day weekend, giving bloggers a chance to find new blogs to read and meet the bloggers who run them. All you have to do is comment on and/or follow the blogs of some of her party guests to get you started.

If you want to join in, hop over to Karen’s blog and follow it (right after you’ve followed this one and Squizzey’s SquizzBlog, of course!) Here’s how it works:

* Follow Karen’s blog
* Comment on the party post on Karen’s blog telling her what food you’ll bring to the BBQ, and say something about yourself and your blog
* Find at least three new party-goers to visit, comment on their blogs and follow if you like
* Click on the twitter and/or facebook icons at the bottom of the party post on Karen’s blog to invite more people to the party. That means more followers for everyone!

Really simple and a fun way to get to know other bloggers all over the world.

Are you coming? Okay, Squizzey and I’ll see you there. Hurry up before all the peanut cookies and cake are gone!

Trade Winds by Christina Courtenay

I knew I had to read this book as soon as I saw its gorgeous cover. It promised the irresistible lure of adventure on the high seas and more than delivered on that.

Set in 1732, Trade Winds tells the story of roguish and handsome Killian Kinross who is forced to leave his native Scotland and forge a new career in Sweden. There he meets and is able to help out Jess van Sandt, the spirited step-daughter of his new employer, by entering into a marriage of convenience with her. Shortly afterwards, he sets sail for China on a voyage which could make both their fortunes.

I got thoroughly caught up in the stories of Killian and Jess and loved them both, reading the book in two sittings because I just couldn’t put it down for any length of time and leave them hanging. They are such fantastic main characters that you’re really rooting for them.

This book is one of contrasts – feuding and happy families, love and passion, greed and self-sacrifice, loyalty and betrayal, adventure and the daily slog of survival.

Peopled with a great cast of characters who bring alive the period this novel is set in, it also provides a fascinating look at a period in history and at trading centres – Gothenburg in Sweden and Canton in China – with which I was less familiar.

I loved it and devoured it (Perhaps unsurprisingly as it’s published by ChocLit!) and will definitely be keeping a weather eye out for more of Christina Courtenay’s books in future.

You can read extracts from Trade Winds and find out more about both the book and its author on the ChocLit website. Alternatively, Christina has her own Author Website and you can Follow Christina on Twitter. She is also one of the contributors to a fantastic blog called The Heroine Addicts.

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