1 July 2012

My Guest - Nautical Author Linda Collison

Ahoy, Helen Hollick and the Sea Witch crew! Thanks for having me aboard.

I’m Linda Collison and I write historical fiction. I find myself in a long-term, not particularly monogamous, but definitely passionate yet conflicted relationship with DEEP WATER. 

It’s curious, how my love-hate affair with the sea began: I was born near the shores of the great saltwater estuary known as the Chesapeake Bay - but I never spent any time on a sailboat, having grown up with horses instead.  Flash forward several decades.  See me sitting in a little Sunfish opposite my boyfriend who suddenly begins to talk – give orders, actually -- in a strange language.  See the boom swing across and nearly knock me into the deep blue water.
Regaining my balance I say, “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to do that?” 
“Do what?”
“Whatever it was you just did with the boat that nearly knocked me in the water.  A little warning would have been nice.”
“Did you not hear me say “Coming about, helm’s a-lee?” 
“What the #@*& does that mean?  Is that even English? ” 
And so our first argument took place on a boat. 
Many years later I married my sailor and have since sailed many nautical miles with him aboard various vessels, including our own Topaz, a 36-foot sloop.  (See, I learned to speak nautical right proper!) 

Sailing came to me late, but creative writing came at a very early age. In fifth grade I entered – and won – an essay contest sponsored by the Maryland chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Now I was sure I was going to be an author (but I had no idea it would take so long or require so much persistence!)
I wrote my first full length novel when I was in my early twenties, at the kitchen table with toddlers crawling up my legs and supper burning on the stove. I entered it in a contest but it didn't win. It didn’t even place.  Actually, it kind of sucked. But I learned a lot about writing a novel. 

In the meanwhile, I went back to college and graduated with a nursing degree.  I took a few Composition and Creative Writing classes along the way and began to write stories and articles for publication.  But I couldn’t quit my paying job.  During the 13 years or so that I worked as a registered nurse I wrote about my experiences and had some of them published.  Truth be told, I liked writing a lot more than I liked nursing, but nursing gave me a steady paycheck, life experience, and poignant stories about real people. 

My sailor and I wrote two guidebooks together, which were published by Pruett, a small press in Colorado.  Encouraged, I wrote another novel and entered it in the erstwhile Maui Writer's Conference and this time I won the big one, the Grand Prize. Oh my God, I thought; the agents and editors will be calling, they'll be beating the door down, Steven Spielberg wants me, right?  NOT!   
My winning novel was never published. I received enough rejection slips to repaper my dining room. (Who among you is old enough to know what a rejection slip is? Nowadays they just ignore your cold query, there are no rejection slips; you even don't have the satisfaction of balling up that piece of paper and throwing it across the room. Or lighting it on fire...)
These were the days before self-publishing had become respectable and viable.  I decided I would roll up my sleeves and write another novel.  Problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about.  I wanted to be a novelist but I had no plot, no setting, no character.  

October, 1999. My husband and I signed on as voyage crewmembers aboard HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain James Cook's 18th century ship that was sailing around the world as a floating museum, taking on willing souls to help sail. Bob and I flew to Vancouver and signed articles before setting off to cross the North Pacific. Our duties included climbing aloft to make and furl sail in all sorts of weather.  We took our turns at the helm and in the galley.   We scrubbed decks.  We stood our watches and slept in hammocks strung from the timbers.

My three weeks aboard Endeavour transported me back in time to the mid-18th century.   Patricia MacPherson came to me in the middle of the night, in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean.  I was steering the ship, keeping her on course, thinking what it might have been like to have been alive in the 18th century, to have been a woman on a ship like this. Not as a passenger but as part of the crew. 

In writing Star-Crossed I wanted to explore what it might have been like to have been a cross-dressing young woman aboard a ship during the age-of-sail. All those stories about girls dressing as boys and going to sea – maybe they weren’t just stories. After all, here I was doing a man’s work, wearing a man’s clothes, sleeping in a swinging hammock next to my male watch mates (one of whom I was married to.)  If this middle-aged broad could do all of that ruffy-tuffy sailor stuff, then surely a bold young lass of yesteryear would have no problem. My subsequent research proved me right.
Star-Crossed would be more than six years in the making.  Published in 2006 by Knopf/Random House, the New York Public Library chose Star-Crossed to be among the Books for the Teen Age - 2007.  Meanwhile, I wrote the sequel.

Knopf wasn’t interested in publishing a series.  But Tom Grundner of Fireship Press was.   Fireship Press published Surgeon’s Mate  in 2011 and Tom offered me a contract for Star-Crossed  as soon as it went out of print with Knopf.  He recognized it for what it was: adult historical fiction, not YA.   Sadly, Tom did not live to see Star-Crossed revised as Barbados Bound under the Fireship label, to be released later this summer. 

I’m thrilled to be working with Helen Hollick on the nautical fiction panel at this year’s Historical Novel Society Convention in London on Saturday, Sept. 29! 
The panel discussion is called Ships Ahoy; the challenges and joys of writing nautical fiction.  We’ll be joined by J.D.Davies, Margaret Muir, Rick Spilman – and the spirit of Patrick O’Brien.
For more information, please visit here

Now for the dinner party! 
I could come up with a list of famous dead people I’d like to meet -- many of whom have been invited before by other guest authors on Helen’s blog.  But lucky me!  The living authors I most want to meet I will be having dinner with in London on Sept. 29.  I’m referring to the actual gala banquet at the HNS Conference where Bernard Cornwell will be giving the after-dinner talk.
Allow me to introduce them:

Helen Hart (who will also be at the conference)
Bernard Cornwell and Helen Hollick
Jenny Barden, whose first novel Mistress of the Sea, is based on Francis Drake’s first successful campaign in the Caribbean. Extracts from early drafts have been shortlisted for several national awards, and the novel is scheduled to be published in September 2012 by Ebury Press, Random House.

J D Davies, the author of ‘The journals of Matthew Quinton’, an acclaimed series of naval historical fiction set in the Restoration period. David is also a prominent historian of the period who won the prestigious Samuel Pepys prize for Pepys’s Navy. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and is currently working on a naval history of his native Wales.

Helen Hollick, as most of you know, is published in the UK and the US with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, officially making the USA Today best seller list with her novel Forever Queen.  And Helen writes pirates and sea witches better than anyone I know!  

Margaret Muir. Margaret’s work is well respected by readers of classic maritime fiction set during the Napoleonic era. Now, with five historical novels to her credit, she is writing a sequel to her age-of-sail nautical adventure, Floating Gold.   

Rick Spilman, guru of all things nautical and the host of the Old Salt Blog.  His first novel, Hell Around the Horn, is due out this summer.  An avid sailor, he has sailed as volunteer crew on the replica square-riggers “HMS ROSE” and “HMS BOUNTY.” He has been published in the Huffington Post, Captain, Forbes online, and canoeing and kayaking print magazines.

Thanks so much, Helen, for giving me the opportunity to talk about what inspires me to write historical fiction. I look forward to our Ships Ahoy roundtable discussion at the HNS Conference - as well as the dinner party to follow! 
Helen: My pleasure Linda - I am so looking forward to meeting you (and everyone named above!)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I see my ship coming in…

Yours, aye,

Linda Collison www.lindacollison.com 
Linda is on Facebook



  1. Great interview, Linda. The London gathering of nautical fiction authors from around the globe has the makings of a memorable event.
    I look forward to meeting the man who had to learn the vernacular.

  2. Wish I could go to the conference, just to get to meet all of the fabulous authors, especially you, Linda. But I take solace in picturing your boyfriend's perplexed expression when he said, "“Did you not hear me say 'Coming about, helm’s a-lee?'”

    Thanks to Helen for hosting.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I am a great admirer of Linda's work (yours too, Helen) and it's always insightful to understand the genesis of a fellow author. Have a eaingful time in England. I wish I could join you.

  4. thank you everyone - I enjoyed this read as well!

    1. Thanks all! Looking forward to meeting you...

  5. Thanks for the delightful and anecdotal introduction, Linda. It appears we share a similar interest—ashore and at sea—for the social miscasts of history. While looking at Star-Crossed and Surgeon's Mate (neither of which I've yet read), I began to wonder if you know about the enigmatic Dr James Barry, an early 19thC British military surgeon at the Cape, who made history with the world's first successful caesarean section? It is widely accepted today that Barry was born a woman but choose to live as a man in order to study at university and serve in the army. However, at that time, this fact was only 'discovered' after his death when, reputedly, or officially, his body was being prepared for burial. Anyway, my best wishes for the nautical fiction clan in London later this year.

    1. Nicolaas, I was not aware the Dr. James Barry was thought to be a woman living as a man. Thanks for passing this on to me; now I must read up on this.

      Barbados Bound is with Fireship, all copy-edited and awaiting publication. Barbados Bound is Star-Crossed, re-written and republished under Fireship Press. They will give a copy to reviewers and I would be honored if you chose to review it and Surgeon's Mate.

    2. I'm flattered that you should ask me to review Barbados Bound as I know this to be an important (re)publication. However, in all fairness, I'm hardly able to keep up with my own reading and so don't write reviews or articles at present. Much that I'd love to, again, such pleasures will have to wait. Perhaps I can do a well-considered comment online when the book is out...

  6. Currently I'm writing By a Yankee Moon, Book three of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Advenure Series. In this book I move beyond the first person (Patricia's pov) into limited third person. The story takes place in 1765, when friction between Britain and her New England colonies is beginning to cause sparks that will lead to the American Revolution.

    I am concurrently finishing a contemporary psychological thriller/paranormal that takes place at sea. The working title is Blue Milieu(Just can't seem to get out of deep water!)


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