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Monday, 17 September 2012

Barbados Bound by Linda Collison

Barbados Bound

It all started with a ship. On April 14,1999, I saw in the newspaper a startlingly anachronistic colour photograph of a three-masted wooden ship under sail. It looked like it had just sailed out ofthe eighteenth century. Below it, an intriguing advertisement:

Help wanted: Deckhands to man floating museum…a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sail as crew on Endeavour, the replica of Capt.James Cook’s ship that will visit Hawaii in November. Crewmembers sleep in hammocks slung together on the lower deck. They must be prepared to go aloftand work the sails at any time of day in any weather, not suffer from chronicseasickness or fear of heights, and be physically fit. Sailing experience is not essential…

     Six months later my husband and I were at the dock in Vancouver, signing ship's articles.
     We are sailors, my husband Bob and I. We have a sailboat of our own and quite a few nautical miles under our belts, but we knew essentially nothing about sailing an 18th century,three-masted tallship.  
     The crew promised to teach the recruits everything we needed to know, and so we leaped at the opportunity. It sounded like a great adventure, and indeed it was. In fact, it changed my life and gave me a new passion: Maritime history. I actually went back to college to study history, having majored in Nursing, the first time around.

     Bob and I spent three weeks aboard the Endeavour, as part of the foremast watch, crossing the Northern Pacific Ocean. We learned the names and functions of the hundreds of lines, sails and spars that power the ship; we learned to climb aloft on the ratlines, stepping out on the foot ropes under the yards to make and furl sail. We took turns steering the ship and were responsible for cleaning and maintaining her in eighteenth-century fashion. We slept in hammocks we strung from the deckhead every evening. The voyage crew,as we green-but-willing sailors were called, bonded quickly, for we were all init together and we all felt the same swing of emotions -- anxiety, fear,fatigue, exhaustion, sea-sickness, hunger, occasionally resentment – but most of all, exhilaration and awe. For me, those weeks on the Endeavour were nothing short of a time machine.

     When Bob and I disembarked in Kona, Hawaii, I carried with me the seeds for a novel. It would not be about Captain Cook or his extraordinary voyages, but it would begin in the mid-eighteenth century, aboard a vessel quite like the one I had sailed on. I wanted to explore what it might have been like to have been a woman aboard a ship; not a passive passenger but a woman who takes an active part, who is part of the crew. My research proved there were many women aboard ships in the age of sail.  At least thirty and quite likey more, who dressed and worked as men.Their stories, when told, have typically been romanticized and somewhat discredited. I wanted to bring out the gritty reality. Working aboard the Endeavour helped me experience that. My experience as a registered nurse, specializing in Emergency and Critical Care, also came into play.

     My first historical novel was five years in the researching and writing. It wasoriginally published as Star-Crossed by Knopf/Random House, and chosenby the New York Public Library to be among the Books for the Teen Age --2007. Yet I hadn't really written it for teens, but from a teenaged girl's perspective.  
     I was so caught up with the characters and the historical background that I wrote a sequel, Surgeon's Mate, which Knopf turned down. They weren't interested in a series. But Fireship Press was. PublisherTom Grundner offered me a contract for Surgeon's Mate, and offered to publish Star-Crossed under a different title as soon as he could acquire it. As soon as Star-Crossed was out of print I obtained a reversion of rights, rewrote the manuscript and signed a contract with Fireship Press.  Barbados Bound was published in July, 2012.   The story is essentially the same as Star-Crossed, but I was able to correct a few anachronisms, introduce a minor characterwho appears in the sequel -- and add back a little salty language taken out of the first edition.  At last both books are under the same publisher, or aboard the same ship:  Fireship Press.

     It all started with a ship and an adventure -- and the adventure continues.  Bob and I just returned from a four-day sail on Topaz, our 36-foot sloop.  Sailing inspires me because the sea is aforce to be reckoned with. The sea connects us, it covers most of the earth, it is a portal to the past. It provides a rich backdrop for a novel because of its power and its historical importance. The sea offeres both freedom and imprisonment, it nurtures and destroys.  I both love the sea and fear it, and I hope that conflict is apparent in my novels.  Conflict, external and internal, is what drives my writing.

Linda Collison

1 comment:

Ann Turnbull said...

What an amazing adventure, Linda! And how lucky you are to have hands-on experience of sailing a ship. Voyages come into so many historical novels and I always feel inadequate to the task of describing them, no matter how much research I do.