Shining Light on our Ladies

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I’m delighted for Patricia MacPherson, my 18th-century cross-dressing protagonist, to be among those fictional ladies in the spotlight this week, as part of Helen Hollick‘s October blog tour celebrating female protagonists through the centuries. Blog tours are fun ways to be introduced to authors you might not otherwise be familiar with. Welcome aboard my blog, a Sea of Words; charting a course from imagination to publication. As you can tell from the title, the major focus of my blog is the process of writing.

I was thrilled when Helen invited me to participate because I’ve been at work for several years now on Leaving Havana, the third book in the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series.

Patricia MacPherson came to me in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She appeared in my imagination, insistent that I tell her story. It was the middle of the night while I was at the helm of the HM Bark Endeavour (yes! — I was taking my turn steering the famous replica ship!) on a passage from Vancouver to Hawaii in1999. My husband and I had joined the ship with a few dozen other middle-aged wannabe sailors, as “voyage crew” — temporary hands to help sail the old girl on a part of her journey around the world that year. When we signed on we agreed to stand our watch, climb aloft to make and furl sail, help clean and maintain the ship, and obey the captain and officers. For three weeks we essentially lived the lives of 18th century sailors, standing our watch, steering the ship, and scrambling up the ratlines and out on the foot rope beneath the yard arm high above the deck, to let loose or take in canvas. We took our turns at galley duty, we maintained the vessel, and when our watch was over we strung our hammocks from the deck head an slept, exhausted, until the ship’s bell roused us again. It was very much like a time machine back to life aboard an 18th century British sailing ship. I would later write an article published in Sailing Magazine about my experience, entitled Three Weeks Before the Mast.

But by the time I disembarked in Hawaii I also had the beginnings of a novel in my mind — a story about a young woman aboard an 18th century sailing ship — much like the ship I had just been a part of. The ship was my setting — I knew it intimately. Like me, my female protagonist would not be just a passenger.  One thing I had discovered first hand was that women can do anything men can do, when it comes to sailing or maintaining a ship. Maybe there was more truth than I realized to those old 18th century British ballads and broadsheets about girls going to sea dressed as men.

Although the character Patricia, had made herself known to me, and although I knew the setting like the back of my hand, I had a lot of research to do — six years’ worth — before I had a finished manuscript. In that research I discovered many documented cases of girls who really did go to sea disguised as boys. In most cases they were only discovered while being treated for life-threatening battle wounds. Think of the many who might never have been caught!

My novel Star-Crossed was published by Knopf in the fall of 2006 as a Young Adult historical novel. In 2007 it was chosen by the New York Public Library to be among the Books for the Teen Age.  I wrote the rough draft of a sequel, but Knopf wasn’t interested in a series; they had published it as a stand-alone. My agent declined.  But Tom Grundner, founder of Fireship Press and Editor-in-Chief, wanted to acquire my series and in 2011 Surgeon’s Mate; book 2 of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series was published. In 2012 Fireship Press published a slightly revised Star-Crossed  (now out of print) as Barbados Bound; book 1 of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series.   Tom was enthusiastic about my books and we were discussing a third book when he died suddenly. My plans for the third book were abandoned for a time, as I felt I had lost not just an editor but a mentor.

Patricia has languished for a few years, seemingly lost at sea, while I’ve completed several other novels I had in the works. Tired of waiting to be rescued, she has managed to jury-rig a sail and find the wind to fill it. She insists I continue her story. I’m not sure I could have, had I not found a new mentor and several trustworthy writing “mates” who know nautical history and are supportive and encouraging of our efforts — Patricia’s and mine. I am very grateful for these writers — and for the readers who have taken the time to let me know how much they want to read more adventures of Patricia MacPherson. Unlike Star-Crossed, the version Knopf published , the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure series are adult novels, not YA . Adobe Photoshop PDF

Barbados Bound (first published as Star-Crossed by Knopf in 2006 as a stand-alone YA historical novel.)

Portsmouth, England,1760. Patricia Kelley, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Barbadian sugarcane planter, falls from her imagined place in the world when her absent father unexpectedly dies. Raised in a Wiltshire boarding school sixteen-year-old Patricia embarks on a desperate crossing on a merchantman bound for Barbados, where she was born, in a brash attempt to claim an unlikely inheritance. Aboard a merchantman under contract with the British Navy to deliver gunpowder to the West Indian forts, young Patricia finds herself pulled between two worlds — and two identities — as she charts her own course for survival in the war-torn 18th century.

In writing Patricia MacPherson’s story I wanted to explore what it might have been like for a young woman in the eighteenth century to live, work and reinvent herself aboard a ship.  Although it’s a work of fiction, I have attempted to maintain historical accuracy.

Eighteenth century merchantmen and British Naval ships did indeed carry women — wives, girlfriends, passengers, prostitutes, laundresses — even though the Admiralty had rules on the books prohibiting it.  Children too, were commonly found aboard ships.  Some were born on the passage and some went to sea at an early age for their livelihood.

According to numerous sources, some women really did enlist in the navy and army in male disguise.  Several accounts tell of women who worked for months, and in some cases years, before being found out.  These impostors carried out their duties, performed bravely in battle and were only discovered to be female after being wounded in the line of duty.  (The artifice may have occurred more often than has been recorded, simply because some women may have successfully carried it off.)

Thought the work was hard and not without danger, a ship provided room and board, and a chance for adventure.  In fact, it still does.

Surgeon’s Mate; Book 2.

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It’s late October, 1762. After surviving the deadly siege of Havana, Patrick MacPherson and the rest of the ship’s company are looking forward to a well deserved liberty in New York. But what happens in that colonial town will change the surgeon’s mate’s life in ways she could never have imagined. Using a dead man’s identity, young Patricia Kelley MacPherson is making her way as Patrick MacPherson, surgeon’s mate aboard His Majesty’s frigate Richmond. She’s become adept at bleeding, blistering, and amputating limbs; but if her cover is blown, she’ll lose both her livelihood and her berth aboard the frigate. The ship’s gunner alone knows her secret – or does someone else aboard suspect that Patrick MacPherson is not the man he claims to be? Surgeon’s Mate, book two of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series, is a work of fiction inspired in part by the historical accounts of actual 17th and 18th century soldiers, sailors and marines who were in fact women. Included in this group were Christian Davies, Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy, Mary Anne Talbot, Deborah Sampson, to name but a few.

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(Here’s a photo of me at the 2012 Historical Novel Society Conference costume party — cross-dressed as Patricia’s male persona, Patrick MacPherson.)

Leaving Havana; Book 3 of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series 

In this work-in-progress Patricia continues her association with Yankee smugglers at great risk, and is reunited with three people from her past, making some rash decisions with enormous, life-changing consequences.  Look for it to be released by Spring, 2016…

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Now let me hand the microphone to Helen Hollick, an amazing historical novelist who writes in several different eras.  If you are an historical novel aficionado, chances are, you already know this author — a force of nature, she is. I had the good fortune to be on a nautical historical panel with her at the 2012 Historical Novel Conference in London and since I have become acquainted with her and her work I’ve been greatly inspired by her writing process and her writing style — not to mention her energy and willingness to encourage and promote historical fiction by emerging writers.

 

Helen Hollick

Helen lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, Helen wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era, she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, very engaging, somewhat salty, pirate-based fantasy adventures. The ocean connects us all, and that’s how I first found Helen. As a supporter of Indie Authors Helen Hollick is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and inaugurated the HNS Indie Award. Please check out her blog post today, Let us talk of many things

As for her ladies — her female protagonists and supporting characters – every sea captain needs a woman to come home to, but Captain Jesamiah Acorne (ex-pirate) has three to choose from: Tiola ( a midwife and a white witch) ‘Cesca, an English woman with a Spanish name (a spy) and Alicia… well, all Alicia wants is Jesamiah’s money…

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A rollicking nautical adventure!

Now, let me reacquaint you with Anna Belfrage.
Anna is a delightful author I featured here on my Sea of Words blog last year. (See, Anna Belfrage talks of time travel and other writing secrets)

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Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

 

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.  When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

 Meet Anna’s ‘lady’…. She was blackmailed into marrying an unknown knight. She hadn’t expected having to save his life as well…

visit Anna and   – and a chance to win TWO of Anna’s books! Annabelfrage.wordpress.com

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We are historical fiction writers shining the light on our female protagonists; thank you for your attention!

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If you’ve enjoyed our posts please share and tweet #LightOnOurLadies. We appreciate your interest!  In case you came late to the party, here’s what you missed:

The first three weeks of the #LightOnOurLadies tour:

6th October: Helen Hollick  with Pat  Bracewell and  Inge Borg

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13th October: Helen Hollick with Regina JeffersElizabeth Revill and Diana Wilder

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20th October : Helen Hollick with Alison Morton  and Sophie Perinot

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Keep that spotlight shining, ladies!

 

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Shining a light on my lady | Anna Belfrage October 27, 2015 at 1:32 am

    […] So who is this Patricia person? Well why not pop over and meet Patricia Macpherson – aboard a ship and disguised as Patrick, a surgeon’s mate – but how long will the ruse last? Read more here! […]

  2. Helen Hollick October 27, 2015 at 1:55 am

    Thanks so much for joining the tour Linda – I wish you and Patrcia/Patrick many hours of happy sailing!

    • lindacollison October 27, 2015 at 10:07 am

      Thank you Helen, for inviting me! Always an honor and a pleasure to sail with you and your fleet.

  3. Diana Wilder October 27, 2015 at 3:43 am

    I love the costume – and I love the discussion of women in disguise in war time. After the American Civil War, one veteran was discovered years later to be female. Her pension was annulled – and her comrades objected strenuously. She fought with them, they said, no one knew she was a woman, she did her work and never complained and, by golly, was ENTITLED to her pension! And for a miracle she received her pension and lived out her days in the soldiers’ retirement home.

    • lindacollison October 27, 2015 at 10:06 am

      I do love a costume. One of these days I’m going to put on a real masquerade… Yes, women fighting in wars disguised as men fascinates me. I’m glad to hear someone received a pension for her efforts. I like reading about the women who were nurses during the various wars, such as you’ve written about. My favorite scene in Gone with the Wind is the horrific hospital scene…

  4. Elizabeth Revill October 27, 2015 at 5:18 am

    Fascinating reading about your lady. I love the concept. She appears to be a woman before her time but with attitude and courage to do what only men had done before. Patricia AKA Patrick is an inspiration.

    • lindacollison October 27, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Thank you, Elizabeth; I have loved the journey. Pleased to meet you and discover your work too!

  5. Inge H. Borg October 27, 2015 at 6:13 am

    Linda,
    When we started Helen Hollick’s wonderful blog hop, I head no idea I would find so many fascinating ladies (and that includes their writers) aboard ships, battling storms and love alike. Your Patricia/Patrick is one gutsy gal. Don’t let her drown whatever you do…
    And gutsy you were yourself during your own sailing adventure, I know. Having hung over the side of a sailboat (on my worst day), racing the dolphins in front of the bow (during much better days), I love to read of adventures at sea – especially in the days of the great clipper ships – and hope my “Permission to come aboard?” will be granted.

    • lindacollison October 27, 2015 at 9:59 am

      Permission granted, Inge. Welcome aboard! It’s been fun and informative being in the spotlight with you and the other talented writers in Helen Hollick’s #LightOnOurLadies blog cruise through the centuries. I appreciate your interest!

  6. Anna Belfrage October 27, 2015 at 9:38 am

    You know, I get seasick in a rowboat – so I doff my hat to Patricia, who not only must have a stomach of steel but also similar nerves, seeing as she lives her life in costume 🙂
    I agree with Inge: don’t let the poor girl drown!

    • lindacollison October 27, 2015 at 9:57 am

      Row row row your boat, gently down the stream… You know Anna, they have medication for that! Thanks for your support, and for throwing Patricia a lifeline!

  7. Patricia Bracewell October 27, 2015 at 9:47 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about both you and Patricia in this post, Linda. Just reading THIS was an adventure! I recently heard a talk by a novelist writing about the U.S. Civil War Period, and according to info she found via the National Geographic Society (I THINK I have that right) the number of women passing themselves off as men in that war was around 500. And, as you say, those were only the ones who were discovered because of wounds, etc. The actual number was probably much higher.

    • lindacollison October 27, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Patricia, thanks for your comment — and thanks for that information from the National Geographic Society! I will look that up and use it in a future blog. I really appreciate that! Oh, the things we learn from one another…

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