Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Black Banner by Helen Hart

Pirates were the scourge of the seas but they've always totally fascinated me.  Why would anyone want to take the chance of dying on the water or in battle just to get some gold?  And just what would inspire a young girl to pretend she was male and sign on as a cabin boy?

The author and publisher sent me a copy of this book for review (thank you).  You can purchase a copy on Amazon right now, it was published in June.

This is a rollicking good tale about a young girl escaping her mother's drunkenness and a future forced marriage to an old man.  She manages to get signed on a ship and leaves her old home behind, but she has to work like the devil and toughen up to keep up with her work requirements.

Pirates and ship captains were both unforgiving and mostly mean.  This book is written for young adults so while there are enough of the horrors of ship life revealed, "Billy" finds a kind pirate captain and has a better chance at life because of it.

No one is going to get bored while reading this story.  There's good interaction between the characters, the action is hot, and the soldiers are after them to stop pirating.  This is a good read, get a copy!

I also interviewed the author.  I asked:

Why did you pick the ship you did; did it have some particular interest to you or did you research it just for your story?  Have you always liked pirate stories?  How long did it take you to get to your final edit; was it short process or a long time?

Here are her very interesting answers:

I didn't really pick the ship - it picked me! I did lots of reading and research about ships, and the sort of vessels that would have been sailing in the 17th century. There weren't wide varieties of ships capable of doing the sort of ocean voyages described in 'The Black Banner', so once I'd narrowed my research down to era, size, and capability, it had to be a ship like the 'Bonnie Marie'. 

I've always loved pirate stories. They're exciting, and offer a different kind of freedom from that which we're used to nowadays. We live by so many rules in modern society, but out there on the sea, the renegade crew of a pirate ship has stepped outside of society and they make their own rules. As a child I adored stories like 'Treasure Island' and 'A High Wind in Jamaica' so the chance to write a pirate story of my own was one to grab with both hands!

I worked very fast on The Black Banner. I had to! I'd always thought it would take ages to interest an agent, so I sent off the book long before it was finished. Then when my agent loved it, accepted me on the basis of 50 pages, and wanted to send out the manuscript to publishers right away I was in a tricky situation. I had the choice of losing the opportunity, or writing three-quarters of a book in as short a time as possible. I finished 'The Black Banner' in 7 weeks. I still can't believe I did that! I've never worked to fast before or since (thank goodness... I was writing at every spare moment including deep into the night).
I also asked her to tell me a bit about herself:
Helen has been a published author since 1999. Represented by London literary agency Pollinger Ltd, she has written a number of novels under pseudonyms for Scholastic, Oxford University Press, HarperCollins, Virgin Books and a range of overseas publishers. Her work has been translated into many languages including Swedish, Danish, Japanese and Greek.  One of her Young Adult novels, written as Maya Snow, was shortlisted for the Solihull Children's Book Award 2010. 
Helen is one of the founding partners of publishing consultancy SilverWood Books ( which helps writers get their work into print. She is the co-founder of the successful 'Get Published Masterclass' in Bristol and was a judge for the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2010 and 2011. Her most recent book is the swashbuckling pirate adventure 'The Black Banner'.
She's a very pleasant lady and writes a good book.  I enjoyed chatting with her and recommend this book for young readers and old.
Happy reading.

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