Where did Pirate X come from?

by Sherryl Clark | May 21st, 2011

Back in 1999, I found a story in a book about pirates. This was a story about a man called Stede Bonnet, who gave up a life of luxury and money, and a big sugar plantation in Barbados, to become a pirate. The problem was – he wasn’t very good at it. In fact, he was pretty hopeless. He only lasted about 16 months and then he and his crew were captured and hanged. Along the way, he lost his ship to Blackbeard and also lost half of his crew at one point, and constantly struggled with the threat of mutiny. I loved this whole story and decided I wanted to write a historical novel based on it.

I did an enormous amount of research, I created a character called Will Shepherd, who ends up on Bonnet’s ship by accident, I added more fictional characters, and I wrote a novel that was 120,000 words long. Too long! I tried to cut it down and managed to whittle it to 115,000. In 2002, I took 40 pages of it to the SCBWI conference in LA, where the person I got for an editorial consult basically tore it to shreds, and offered me no suggestions on what to do next.


Blackbeard - one of the few images of him

I threw it in a bottom drawer and decided it had all been a waste. But the story wouldn’t leave me alone. Two years later, I pulled it out for another go. This time, I changed two major elements. It went from third person to first person narrator, and it became a timeshift novel. Will begins in present-day London, and goes back to 1717. And after a lot of cutting, I got it down to 80,000 words.

It’s now more than ten years later, and all that pirate research has not gone astray. I’ve written four Littlest Pirate chapter books (three of which are now picture books as well, the third due out 2011), a fantasy pirate novel called Pirates of Quentaris, and used pirates in a variety of other stories and poems.

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