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The Coffee Pot Book Club Presents "When The Mermaid Sings" by Helen Hollick

Please welcome back to the Tavern the lovely and talented author, Helen Hollick! We're celebrating her blog tour for her book, When The Mermaid Sings.

Psst, today is Helen's birthday, so grab a glass of champagne and let's hear what Helen has to say about her story...



Today, 13th April, is my birthday. (I can’t believe that I’m 69!) so the excerpt I have chosen for today – although a different date – is also my pirate’s birthday – and as the tour stop today is in Mary’s Tavern... well, we must have a tavern scene mustn’t we?

A brief bit about the Sea Witch Voyages:

I wrote the first Voyage (Sea Witch) back in 2005 after thoroughly enjoying the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Like most avid readers, however, I wanted more than just the movie, I wanted to read something that was as entertaining and as exciting. A nautical adventure with a charming rogue of a pirate captain, written for adults (with adult content) but with a dash of supernatural fantasy as well – elements of which had made that first movie such fun to watch. I found many nautical-based novels, but they were all ‘serious stuff’ – Patrick O’Brian, Alexander Kent, C. S. Forrester ... all good reads but without the fantasy fun, and barely a female character in sight. I simply could not find the book I wanted to read. So, I wrote my own.

The first Voyage led to more books in the series, and also generated several emails from fans who wanted to know how Jesamiah had become a pirate in the first place.

When the Mermaid Sings answers that question.

A prequel short read story to the Sea Witch Voyages of Captain Jesamiah Acorne

When the only choice is to run, where do you run to?

When the only sound is the song of the sea, do you listen?

Or do you drown in the embrace of a mermaid?

Throughout childhood, Jesamiah Mereno has suffered the bullying of his elder half-brother. Then, not quite fifteen years old, and on the day they bury their father, Jesamiah hits back. In consequence, he flees his Virginia home, changes his name to Jesamiah Acorne, and joins the crew of his father’s seafaring friend, Captain Malachias Taylor, aboard the privateer, Mermaid.

He makes enemies, sees the ghost of his father, wonders who is the Cornish girl he hears in his mind – and tries to avoid the beguiling lure of a sensuous mermaid...

An early coming-of-age tale of the young Jesamiah Acorne, set in the years before he becomes a pirate and Captain of the Sea Witch.


Sneak preview from When The Mermaid Sings

Port Royal – 4th December 1708

Jesamiah took stock of his new companions; apparently congenial men, most of whose names he had instantly forgotten, except for Captain Malachias Taylor and Peterson, the latter of whom, once his medical equipment had been thrust back into a bloodstained carpet bag, had settled into one of the Weigh Anchor’s corner seats and fallen instantly asleep, a fact attested to by several loud, stentorian snores. Taylor had skimmed through the names of the men, explaining that these were his regular crew: quartermaster, cook, bosun, first mate and so on. Jesamiah could only clearly recall the quartermaster because of his unusual name. Knucklebone Jake.

The rowdiness increased as the drink liberally flowed: beer, ale, rum, Dutch Genever, Portuguese port. Although the space within the crowded tavern was distinctly limited, the Mermaid’s bosun, John Cleyver, was dancing a lively jig with two of the ship’s sailors – Tab and Hench, Jesamiah thought their names were. Hench overdid the enthusiasm, collided with a serving wench and tumbled into a heap with her squealing and giggling beneath him.

His bladder near to bursting, tears of laughter skimming his cheeks, Jesamiah made his way from the tavern into the coolness of the night and headed for the latrine buckets. Urine was prized by the nearby laundry-house for bleaching linen. The almost brim-full buckets stank, but then so did most of Port Royal. Finished, more comfortable, Jesamiah buttoned his breeches and with the tavern’s raucous music loud in his ears, capered a couple of steps of the jig for himself.

He stopped, puzzled. Had they ceased playing that screeching fiddle? The off-key singing? Where a moment before the sounds had clearly carried, all was now silent apart from a mild rushing like the keening of a distant wind. Was that another voice singing? A woman? He walked to the far end of the alley and came out onto the harbourside quay. A dozen ships rested at anchor, their stern lights bobbing with the push of a slight breeze, the reflections flickering in the swell of the tide and the accumulated debris of flotsam and jetsam. He looked up at the stars; gave them a brief nod. He kicked a stone into the water. What was he doing standing here in the dark thinking about the stars? There were two hours of his birthday left – he ought to be celebrating! He turned, eager to rejoin his new friends, but then stood, rooted to the spot. Had he taken a wrong turn? The Weigh Anchor, with another ramshackle tavern next to it, should have been straight ahead. Instead, grand two- and three-storeyed brick-built merchant stores lined either side of a well-kept street; some had a fourth attic floor beneath gabled, shingle-tiled roofs. Smoke puffed from sturdy chimneystacks. Wooden walkways fronted glazed windows, some revealing the glow of candle and lantern light behind the slatted, red, green and blue painted shutters.

The church clock struck the hour of ten. Jesamiah swivelled to look at the steeple standing high atop its whitewashed tower. He felt hairs rise on the back of his neck, his skin crawl cold. There had been no such steeple, tower or church when Anna had dropped anchor. None of these buildings had existed, not one of them.

Then he heard the singing again and swung around sharply, his hand going to the dagger-sheath attached to his belt. She was sitting on the quay, her legs, hidden by shadow, dangling over the edge, her tumble of waist-length golden hair flowing over her shoulders. She had her back to him, sat staring out across the black water as she sang a sad, haunting song of lost love and drowned hope; a song so beautiful he felt his heart ache and tears of longing prick at his eyes.

She must have sensed his presence, for she turned her head, her sapphire-blue eyes staring into his. She stopped singing. A smile spread over her face.

~ You have come back to me! ~ she said, the quiet words sounding inside his head.

“No, I…”

Her smile widened.

~ I have been waiting so long for you to come back. ~ She stretched out her arm, palm uppermost, and beckoned him towards her.

~ Come, love me! ~

Entranced, Jesamiah took a step nearer. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.

~ Keep away from her, son. Step aside. ~ A man’s voice!

Jesamiah swung around. Did that hiss of responding anger come from his lips or hers? No one was there! He turned back to the girl, caught sight of her sliding from the quayside into the sea. Fearing she had fallen, he darted forward, peered anxiously into the dark water, but all he saw was the shimmer of a large, silver, fish’s tail.

~ Son, trust me, she is not for you. ~

That voice. His father? How could that be?

Jesamiah squinted into the shadows cast by the buildings. “Who are you? Where are you?”

~ Heed him; he knows what you do not. ~ A different voice, female, young, gentle, with an accent he partially recognised. Where had he heard it before?

As if he were a hound questing for an elusive scent, Jesamiah peered into the darkness, swinging his head from left to right and back again. Thought, for the merest heartbeat, that he glimpsed a black-haired young girl sitting atop a pile of sweet-smelling hay.

“Who are you?” he asked again, bewildered. Was he drunk beyond reason, perhaps?

Light flooded the alley to his left as a door opened, and Knucklebone Jake stepped out from the Weigh Anchor, the sound of his urinating against the wooden wall not quite drowned by the raucous laughter from within.

“Ho! Jesamiah, there you are!” he called. “We thought we’d lost you, lad!”

Jesamiah shook his head. “No, sir, I’m just sampling some fresh air.” All was as it should be. No glimpse of the past, no beautiful woman with a fish’s tail...

Escorting him inside, Jake chuckled. “Fresh air? We get enough of it at sea to addle a man’s senses! But you need be careful out there, boy, where the land meets the sea. You never know what mischief might be lurking, who or what may be hidden within the shadows!”

How I met Jesamiah Acorne (the tru-ish) story

Available on Kindle Unlimited and from these online retailers ~


Meet the Author

First published in 1994, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now branching out into the quick read novella, 'Cosy Mystery' genre with her new venture, the Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon, runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, and occasionally gets time to write...

Connect with Helen here ~


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