Tribute to the Pirate Queen

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day today I am honoring a famous woman in Irish history, Grace O’Malley, also known as “the pirate queen,” and “Granuaile.” Grace was an amazing woman who supported her countrymen in rebellion against the English, defended her family castle, and stood face to face with Queen Elizabeth herself.

photo-3Born in Ireland during the time of King Henry VIII, her father was a chieftain, her family seafaring, and her home deeply rooted in Clew Bay, County Mayo. Her family owned a string of castles protecting the coast, and the fishermen in the region paid a tax for that protection.

Story has it that Granuaile was a nickname her father gave her — it means short or cropped, and that’s exactly what she did to her hair when her father told her she could not accompany him on a trade voyage because her hair would get caught in the rigging.

Apparently she married two or three times, and had several children. When she took to the seas two of her sons, Tibbot and Murrough, were beside her.  With their ships tucked into the bays, they awaited merchant ships passing through their waters, then stopped and boarded them to demand a toll in cash or cargo.

In 1593 when her two sons and half brother were taken captive by the governor of Connacht, the pirate queen sailed to England for an audience with Queen Elizabeth to argue for their release. Even so, Grace defiantly refused to bow before the English queen because she did not recognize her as queen of Ireland.

Grace’s story is long and complex, twisting and turning as many Irish stories do. She inspired legends, poems and songs, and I had her in mind as I set the character Elvy on a path toward her territory in my book, Sharavogue.  For a good biography on Grace and her adventures, look for Anne Chambers’ book, Granuaile.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Who cares about historical fiction?

I suppose I’m not the only author who sometimes asks herself, “Is anybody out there really going to read this?” But I was pleased to read M.K. Tod’s 2013 Historical Fiction Reader Survey to find out that in fact there is a strong audience, and it is growing in the under-30 age group.

Tod’s survey (funded by the Historical Novel Society) reached nearly 2,500 participants, mostly female, during 2013 and her results were published in January this year. While it is not exactly a scientific survey and Tod notes the probability of bias because the survey was distributed through historical fiction blogs and websites, it still provides useful information.

pirate ship1670The highlights for me were that historical fiction is now mainstream, and most readers are aware when a book is independently published but it does not it does not stop them from making a purchase. The strongest driving factor for the purchase is a GOOD STORY. (This one’s my favorite.)

And, the top three reasons respondents read historical fiction? (1) To bring the past to life, (2) Because there are great stories, and (3) To understand and learn without having to read non-fiction. That’s right! The authors read all that stuff for you and weave the details together into something that is true, entertaining and educational!

At a recent book festival, a gentleman approached me and felt the need to tell me why he would not purchase my book. He said he believed historical fiction distorted the facts, and he did not know which parts were true, and which parts were fiction. I tried to tell him that usually you can tell that the events are real, and most of the details, but the characters are often from the author’s imagination as a device to help tell the story from a certain perspective. The author’s notes and acknowledgements also tend to explain what is true and what is fabricated. Many books, like mine, include a list of readings (if not a complete bibliography) and sources for historical accuracy.

He was not particularly open to what I was offering, but we can’t win them all. I am sure he continued through the book festival to find a hot new crime thriller.

Another big takeaway from Tod’s survey is about the importance of social media. Readers favor online sources for book recommendations. Seventy-eight percent said they use blogs, websites and other social media. I guess there is little justification for holding out on that one. My good friend Andrea Patten, a non-fiction author, says she uses Facebook religiously, but it is Twitter that attracts the most new readers. (Sigh!)

If you are an author of historical fiction I encourage you to read Tod’s report. I found the results inspiring!