Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Emma Rose Millar, whose novel Five Guns Blazing is currently available on Amazon.
So Emma, what first attracted you to the era you’ve written about in Five Guns Blazing?
Eighteenth-century London with its bawdy houses, pickpockets, gin shops and Tyburn hangings has always fascinated me. I imagine it as a very atmospheric era with fog and the stench from the Thames and a twisting labyrinth of alleyways with criminals concealed at every turn. Combine that with events at the time in the rest of the world, particularly America and France, then as a writer there are endless possibilities open to you. I studied quite a bit of eighteenth-century writing during my degree: Voltaire, Defoe, Congreve and many of the Romantic poets. I wanted Five Guns Blazing to have a Moll Flanders feel to it with a heroine who readers would really root for. Also, in what other century could you possibly imagine using the word jerrycummumble?
What sparked your first foray into historical fiction?
I’ve never dabbled in any other genre. I love history and historical drama; I can’t imagine ever writing a book set in modern times. My first novel, Strains from an Aeolian Harp was a dark tale of opium addiction and domestic violence. The subject matter lent itself to being set in the 1920s when divorce could not be granted on the grounds of cruelty alone and matrimonial difficulties were swept under the carpet. Setting the novel against the backdrop of 1920’s society allowed me to create a stronger sense of a woman being trapped, not only by her husband, but by the legal system and the morals and manners of the day.
Tell me a bit about your research process – are you able to stay focused, or do you find yourself distracted by new, interesting snippets or stories?
We’re so lucky these days to have the internet. If we need to find out what someone was wearing or eating or the slang terms they might have used, all the answers are right there at our fingertips. When I was in my twenties I was always writing a few chapters and then giving up on the whole project. Research in those days was painstaking; I’m full of admiration for anyone who managed to write historical fiction pre-internet. I wouldn’t say I have a process – I’m quite a chaotic character – and I do get distracted all the time, but mostly by my five year old or my day job and various other things that crop up in my extremely disordered life!
Which is your favourite of any real historical characters who have appeared in your writing?
Without a doubt it would be Pierre Bouspeut. Sometimes the truth can be stranger than fiction; it hardly seems possible that this man could actually have been real! Pierre Bouspeut, or Bosket, or Delvin had fingers in as many pies as he had names: he owned a hairdressing salon, dressmaker’s shop and coffee house, and of course he was a celebrated gay villain, who lived in the pirate haven New Providence where vagabonds sold their wares at market and where all social ‘norms’ went to the wind.
It was here that Pierre met the notorious Anne Bonny. Legend has it that Anne tempted him into a life of piracy with tales of gold and bolts of fine cloth up for the taking on the high seas. In their most audacious escapade, Anne dressed Bouspeut’s tailors’ dummy as a corpse, smeared it with dog’s blood and sat it at the helm of her ship. She stood over the dummy holding aloft an axe and ordered the rest of her crew to play dead. Upon seeing the ‘ghost ship’, the crew of a French merchantman were so terrified that they immediately handed over all their cargo.
When Anne joined forces with the pirate John Rackham she took Pierre with her. Some sources suggest that the two men had a sexual relationship. This would not have been uncommon on the sloop where women, out of superstition, were not permitted, (apart from Anne that is, and later her lover, Mary Read). What seems more certain is that Bouspeut probably would have designed and made Rackham’s infamous calico suits and the black velvet pants which were Anne’s signature garment.
There is little information about Pierre Bouspeut apart from his connection with Anne Bonny and John Rackham. Similarly, his fate is not known. Perhaps he was shot by the King’s men on board Revenge or he may have been sentenced to death and later executed. I would like to think however that he escaped from Jamaica and carried on his glamorous existence elsewhere, living to a ripe old age, surrounded by a dozen handsome sailors.
Have you ever had to include a real historical character you’ve really disliked?
Yes, but then every book needs an anti-hero, or in this case heroine: Anne Bonny is the archetypal anti-heroine: ruthless, double-crossing and fiercely independent. She was born in Cork c1700, the illegitimate child of maidservant Mary Brennan and married lawyer William Cormac. When Cormac’s wife made the affair public, William and Mary left Ireland in shame, taking Anne with them to America. William’s legal business prospered there and he had soon made enough money to buy a plantation.
But Anne’s fiery temper and dare-devilish nature did not sit well in polite society. Planters in the Cormac’s circle did not wish their daughter’s to associate with Anne, who had gained a reputation for drunkenness and for riotous behaviour local taverns with fishermen. Supposedly, she killed a serving maid in her father’s household for crossing her, and seriously injured a young man who tried to sexually assault her, (but we can forgive her for that at least!)
When Anne was sixteen years old she fell in love with Captain James Bonny, who was either a penniless sailor or small time pirate. Anne’s father disapproved of the match, wanting Anne instead to marry a plantation owner. But in typical Anne style, she went ahead and married James anyway, moving with him to the den of iniquity which was New Providence.
Anne soon tired of her marriage to James and cast her eye around for a means of escape. Fate threw her in the path of pirate John Rackham, more widely known as Calico Jack, a rake, devilishly handsome, the Casanova of the seas. It did not take much for Rackham to prise Anne away from James and the pair ran off to sea.
Anne was a ruthless pirate, proficient in the use of pistols and knives. Sources suggest that Rackham was captain in name only and that it was Anne who ran the ship, terrorising all that sailed close to her. Anne was not the only woman on board; there was another woman, the female pirate, Mary Read. Some sources suggest that Anne and Mary were lovers, that Anne was besotted with Mary and that Rackham was both jealous of and fascinated by their relationship.
In 1720 Anne’s pirate adventure came to an abrupt end when she was arrested for piracy and sentenced to death. But that was not quite the end of the story. There is no record of Anne’s execution or of her release or escape from jail. What became of Anne is still a mystery and remains constant source of conjecture. All that we can be sure of is that Anne was one of the most colourful figures of the Caribbean 18th century whose legend will live-on forever.
If you could visit any historical event or period (as a witness only, no changing things!), which would it be, and why?
Very shallow answer coming up here I’m afraid: the 1920’s simply for the dresses the haircuts, the fabulous earrings and cloche hats – and of course I’m a massive jazz fan. I’ve got a lot of 20s style stuff in my house: art deco mirrors, chrome lighting etc. I see it as a bygone era of glamour, romance and cocktails. In reality of course it was a time of hard work, tin baths and outside toilets, but I prefer to gloss over those parts!
Finally… You’re allowed a whole afternoon to yourself with anyone from history. Who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
Oh definitely Judas Iscariot. He may seem like a strange choice but I am completely obsessed with him and what his motives might have been for doing what he did, (if indeed he had a choice). I have read so many different theories about him and often wonder how different the last two thousand years might have been were it not for his act of betrayal. I would love to write a novel about him but I think that might be a little too controversial!
Emma Rose Millar was born in Birmingham – a child of the seventies. She is a single mum and lives with her young son who keeps her very busy and very happy. Emma left school at 16 and later studied for an Open University degree in Humanities with English Literature. She has done a variety of jobs including chocolatier, lab technician and editorial assistant for a magazine but now works part-time an interpreter. Emma writes and edits historical fiction and children’s picture books. Her first novel was shortlisted for the Chaucer Award in 2013. She is now working on her third novel The Women Friends which is based on the painting of the same name by Gustav Klimt. Emma is an avid fan of live music and live comedy and enjoys skating, swimming and yoga.
Emma can be found online here.
Five Guns Blazing: “Never had she imagined she would be brought so low, and all for the love of a very bad man.”
Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the back streets of London, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny. In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust. As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?