Updated: Apr 8
When I started writing my Pirates of Barra series, I thought I knew what I was doing—they’re pirates after all. I had the entire series plotted out in my head, and all I had to do was write it.
Little did I know, however, that my understanding of pirates and their Scottish reality were two very different things.
I understood that if I were writing about pirates and marketing them within that theme, my readers would have certain expectations. Let’s face it, the generic understanding of what a pirate is comes from the more widely known pirates of the Caribbean. The ships they used were iconic, as well as their methods and general aesthetic. Unfortunately for me, the more I researched my particular pirates, the more I realized the story I wanted to write—and the one that would be historically accurate—were not the same thing. In my mind, I had already planned on scenes taking place with a captain’s quarters and below deck. Yet, neither of these locations existed on the Scottish birlinn, and that changed important aspects of my story.
Somewhere I had to blur the lines.
I went back and forth with my publisher discussing whether I should write what readers would expect or err on the side of historical accuracy and see where it leads. In the end, I chose to continue researching history and let that be my guide.
The story I ended up writing was not the same one I started with—in fact so much had changed it was barely recognizable. What surprised me though, was that I liked it even better. I’ve gotten a few reviews from people claiming that my pirates were not accurate, because they don’t fit into the mold that they expect. However, not all pirates are made the same, and the time and place where they existed weighs heavily on how they were able to function. Even now, in the twenty-first century, we have Somali pirates, and no one would deny that title. Yet, they would not fit the classical Caribbean pirate aesthetic either.
I know several authors who have scrapped entire projects or broken down in tears because their story had to change during the course of editing. I’ll admit that changing one’s story half-way through can be frustrating, and even emotional at times, but I’ve learned there is a sense of surrender that has to happen for a story to really flourish.
In the case of my pirates, I had to completely rethink every scene that took place on a ship. I had to understand their relationships with each other, and with the pirate community as a whole. The better I understood the inner workings of their society, the richer my characters became. History is a treasure trove of resources and provides loads of content to draw from. All you have to do is take the time to listen to what it’s saying.