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Inspiration
It is rare to be able to say when a book began. This one started on 13th June, 2001 in an e mail sent to my editor at Bloomsbury. We had been working on Sorceress, and had been thinking about the part of the story where Mary goes to Montreal and meets a French buccaneer. My editor, Sarah Odedina, suggested I could make more of their relationship. To which I replied:

...I also think Mary and the pirate will work well. I'm quite excited about that - I almost want her to run away with him - but I'll have to restrain myself - perhaps I'll write another book about a girl and a pirate, I've always liked pirates...

Her reply confirmed that our enthusiasm was mutual and there it was - my next book. The girl quickly became a pirate herself, and was rapidly joined by another. I decided that she would be from Bristol, partly because my daughter, Catrin, was at university there and I was going to visit her the next weekend, and partly because that city with its long trading and seafaring history seemed the natural place for her to live. By the time I came back from my visit I knew where she lived, what her father did, where he was buried, where she would go (but not yet why), who she would meet there and therefore who the other girl pirate would be.
The things I write about are very often rooted in my own childhood. I remembered how much I’d loved Treasure Island, both the book and the film, and how I’d spent rainy afternoons drawing pictures of pirate ships. I hadn’t known then that there had been women like Anne Bonny and Mary Read fighting alongside the men, but I did remember preferring Long John Silver to Doctor Livesey and Squire Trelawney and failing to see why they had any right to the treasure - it belonged to the pirates all along, it seemed to me. I also remembered being fascinated by the ballads about girls who dressed as boys and went off to be sailors and soldiers. This led me back to the ballads again - not just to find out more about these ‘female sailors bold’, but because the world I wanted lay within the stories and experiences of ordinary people evoked by the vivid, haunting, extraordinarily poetic voice of dockside and ships’ deck. The ballads brought me nearer to my characters and the world in which they lived and gave me the name of my heroine, Nancy, and her sailor lover, William. I made tapes and played them over and over again. They made what I was writing real to me and helped me live within the story.


I find songs tremendously evocative and ballads were a powerful way into the world which I’m trying to create. I used some of the titles and words to title the different sections of the book. These are some of the ballads that provided the soundtrack to my imagination.

Some of the ballads:
Dark-Eyed Sailor – Trad/Arr Steeleye Span
I Courted a Sailor – Kate Rusby
Her Mantle so Green – Trad./Arr. O’Connor
House Carpenter (Daemon Lover) – Trad./Arr. Pentangle
Peggy Riley – Trad.Arr. Sinead O’Connor/Lunny/C.V. Lunny
Female Drummer – Trad./Arr. Steeleye Span
Jackeroo – Trad./Arr. Bob Dylan
The Black Freighter (Pirate Jenny) – Brecht / Weill
John Riley – Trad./Arr. Joan Baez
Once I had a sweetheart – Trad./Arr. Pentangle
Sails of Silver – Steeleye Span