Wales / Writing

“Tomorrow they’ll hang the man they say killed my sister”

My old friend Chris Marshall [not as old as me] has written his first novel – a pirate adventure aimed at young adults.

Shadow of a Pirate, written under his pen name Kit Swift, has received great reviews and was even shortlisted for the Firefly Fiction Competition Wales 2022. Not bad for a first attempt!

Here, Kit/ Chris answers some questions about the book, how it came about, and what’s in store.

Why did you write the book?

I have always wanted to write and have often tried my hand at short stories and short dramatic fiction, but Shadow of a Pirate is my first novel. If I’m honest, it started life as a lockdown project during the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020; I know that I was lucky to be able to do so, but I found that carving out regular time to focus on writing was a great way of switching off temporarily during those challenging months.

But if you’re asking me why I chose to write a young adult novel featuring a strong, Welsh heroine, that’s simply because I wanted to write something I hoped my daughter, Sally, would enjoy.

How did the story come about?

Well, I’d had the novel’s starting line – “Tomorrow they’ll hang the man they say killed my sister” – niggling at the back of my mind for weeks before I knew I would write Gwen Morgan’s story. But that’s all I had! I knew that it might make a half-decent opening line for a story, but what that story might be was anybody’s guess.

Then I stumbled across my old copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, which was the first book I ever remember wanting to reread as soon as I’d finished it. I suppose I’ve been drawn to stories of buccaneers and buried silver ever since, and something just clicked. What if that opening line led to adventure on the open seas? So I stopped what I was doing and made myself sit down to sketch out what might happen next. An hour or so later I had five chapters mapped out and a rough plot for the whole novel.

How much research did you do?

A lot! The story takes place in the Caribbean in 1721 during the age of sail, and the historical context is an important part of the novel’s backdrop. This is the world that Gwen and her crew live in, so I wanted the location and the context to at least feel authentic without overloading my readers with endless historical details. Even so, I spent a surprising amount of time looking at old maps of Port Royal and Nassau, for instance, or trying to figure out how a single masted sloop was crewed, or how a cannon was loaded and fired, or what trees grow in the Caribbean and when they come into bloom.

Is Gwen based on anyone?

No, she’s totally fictional. Although there were other women pirates at the time, the most infamous of course being Mary Read and Anne Bonny, Gwen isn’t based on any of them. She’s a determined, strong, Welsh woman, though, so it’s perfectly possible that character traits of some of the people I have met here in Wales over the years have found expression in her.

What’s the reaction been like so far?

Everybody who has read the book has (so far!) been very generous. They’re probably just being polite but all the same I am very appreciative of their comments (and of course the reader reviews on Amazon!). I was also thrilled that Shadow of a Pirate was shortlisted for the Firefly Fiction Competition (Wales) 2022. As a first-time author who hadn’t at the time shared my novel beyond family and friends, having this sort of endorsement was very reassuring, and a real confidence boost.

What’s next?

I’m not finished with Gwen Morgan just yet. There’s at least another story in the works, which I’m hoping to publish next summer [2023]. I also have one or two other ideas that I’m hoping to find time to develop over the next few months, so watch this space.

You’ll find Shadow of a Pirate on Amazon here. And you may like this previous blog post about Long John Silver – he went to my school, you know?


If you’re involved in arts and entertainment, or publishing, please check out the services of Weltch Media here.

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