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Friday, 8 March 2013

Enjoying cliché - Writing Tips from Helen Hollick, author of Ripples in the Sand

Today I'm delighted to welcome Helen Hollick, author of the bestselling Arthurian Trilogy which includes 'The Kingmaking', and now releasing her fourth book about the pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne. 

Hi Helen, I am looking forward to reading about Jesamiah Acorne. What for you makes a good hero, a good heroine and a good villain, and how do you make them believable and not a cliché for a modern reader?

In some ways, the clichéd hero, heroine and villain is partly expected and therefore enjoyed, but this depends on the book, the characters and the plot! I suppose my Jesamiah is a little clichéd in the fact that he is tall, dark, and good looking. He is the sort of hero you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley if you’d previously upset him – quick to smile, but formidable when angry – you can rely on him to be there (cutlass or pistol in hand) when he’s needed. He isn’t fazed by danger, won’t tolerate unnecessary cruelty or disrespect to women, but is not always ‘polite’ with his language. (He is a pirate, and pirates don’t use genteel language do they?) He is more than capable of getting drunk if the rum is available, and his morals slip occasionally when there’s a good-looking woman tempting him. But he is loyal to his men, and would give his life for his woman, Tiola – indeed he took a flogging on her behalf in the second Voyage, Pirate Code.

A heroine needs to be tough-minded, to know what she wants and be determined to get it. She must be true to her cause (be that her ‘quest’ or her man), capable of chucking the teddies out the cot when riled, but balance that with love without condition. As for the villain – the more dastardly the better *laugh*.

The adventures (and some tricky situations) that Jesamiah finds himself in possibly are clichéd – you know that if he is in trouble he is going to get out of it, as in any hero-type novel or movie, but the trick is to write at a good pace, keeping the pages turning and for the reader not to be able to guess how the hero gets out of trouble! Belief has to be suspended by action. No one believes any of the situations in the James Bond or Indiana Jones movies – but so what? They are not meant to be believed, they are meant to be enjoyed as a bit of escapism fun.

Jesamiah is a blend of C.C. Forrester’s Horatio Hornblower, Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey, Indiana Jones, James Bond and Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe… with a hefty dash of Captain Jack Sparrow added as a bonus! He has his flaws and weaknesses; he is not all ‘good guy’, there are times when you want to cheer him on – other times you could slap his face. That’s life – especially for an ex-pirate!

I enjoyed your book about writing and editing, 'Discovering the Diamond'. Can you give a historical fiction writer 3 short writing tips from the many 'gems' in your book?

Thank you Deborah – I wrote it with my UK main editor, Jo Field, because we were getting inundated with questions about writing, and found we didn’t have time to keep typing out the same replies. We figured a short, non-expensive, e-format booklet might prove useful, and we are delighted that Discovering the Diamond is serving its purpose and has been well received.

Three tips?

1. Don’t get so bogged down in research that you never get on with writing your story.

2. Don’t use ‘archaic’ language. ‘Gadzooks ye bounder’ might sound authentic, but believe me it is very irritating to read! Likewise, do not use modern language ‘OK’ sounds just as odd.

3. Watch those anachronisms. You cannot have ‘He froze like a rabbit caught in the headlights’ in a novel set in Tudor England where headlights haven’t been invented yet.

Thanks Helen, great tips and thank you for guesting on my blog.
Helen is published by


  1. Hi Deborah, thank you for inviting me onto your blog - you posed some thought-provoking question,m I hope your readers find my answers interesting.
    Must take this opportunity to say how much I enjoyed reading your 'The Lady's Slipper' I was lucky enough to win a copy in a Blog Competition. Many fiction books, because of lack of space, I read and pass on to a charity shop (thrift shop in the US?. Lady's Slipper I kept with the intention of having an enjoyable re-read at some point. The Lady's Slipper - for those who do not know - is an orchid...Having just moved to Devon, and being told that we have orchids growing in the woodland on our land I am looking forward to my re-read when I can walk across the field and admire my own orchids! Thank you Deborah for a good read (and a super blog!)

  2. Thanks so much Helen,for your lovely comments anout The Lady's Slipper. I hope your orchid walks are a delight. Devon is beautiful - I was at college there a very long time ago....

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