Monthly Archives: August 2015

Tie Him to the Bowsprit!


charles vane

“Tie him hand and foot to the top of the bowsprit!” ordered Vane. “Shoot him dead if he will not tell you the whereabouts of his treasure.” It was a reign of terror that was to last for five long years.

Charles Vane was one of the most prolific pirates of the Caribbean, known as much for his vicious temper and treachery as his financial success. It was from Vane that my leading gentleman, John Rackham learnt the tricks of his trade.

Little is known about Vane’s early life, but he arrived in Jamaica some time during the War of Spanish Succession. His piratical exploits began under the leadership of Henry Jennings in 1715. In July of that year, a Spanish treasure fleet was hit by a hurricane off the coast of Florida, spilling tonnes of gold and silver out into the sea. The surviving Spanish sailors brought ashore what they could but Jennings and his crew, (including Vane) ransacked their camp, making off with booty worth £87,000.

In 1718, King George I of England offered a royal pardon of blanket clemency to any pirate who agreed to return to an honest life by September of that year. Many pirates, including Captain Jennings accepted the pardon, not so Vane, who famously threw it back in Governor Woodes Rogers’ face and returned to a life of villainy, this time as captain of a small sloop, Lark.

Vane had recently stolen a French ship and had no intention of giving up his plunder in order to escape the noose. Instead, he packed the ship with explosives, set it on fire and sent it out towards a fleet of Royal Navy warships which had been drafted in to capture any pirates who refused the pardon. As the fire-ship exploded and the naval vessels retreated, Lark sailed away, loaded with Vane’s ill-gotten gains.

By 1718, Vane had recruited over forty of Nassau’s most hardened pirates including the infamous John “Calico Jack” Rackham. His fleet grew considerably and he captured twelve merchant ships in the month of April alone, bringing commerce in the area to its knees. Vane was despised, both by pirates and honest sailors. Notorious for his cruelty, he tortured crews of captured vessels, killed surrendered sailors and cheated on his own crew members. By July he had essentially taken over the town of Nassau.

Vane continued terrorising the seas until November 1718 when he ordered his crew to attack a frigate which was in fact a French warship. Outgunned, Vane retreated but the crew had lost confidence in him and rose up in mutiny against the captain. John Rackham usurped Vane at the helm, but being the gentleman that he was, Rackham furnished Vane and his few followers with a small sloop.

The final straw came for Vane in February 1719, when his ship was broken up in a storm, separating him from his consort, Robert Deal. Vane found himself shipwrecked a desert island in the Bay of Honduras and survived on only his wit until finally a ship arrived, commanded by former buccaneer, Captain Holford. But Vane was so hated among his sea fairing acquaintances that Holford refused to rescue him stating:

“Charles, I shan’t trust you aboard my ship, unless I carry you a prisoner; for I shall have you plotting with my men, knock me on the head and run away with my ship a pirating. I shall be back in a month and if I find you still here I shall take you back to Jamaica and hang you!”

Another ship soon arrived and none of the crew recognising Vane, they allowed him on board. Some time later this vessel met with Captain Holford’s and the two captains dined together. When Holford saw Vane working on deck he locked him in his hold and turned him over to the Jamaican authorities.

Vane was hanged at Gallows Point in Port Royal on March 29, 1721 and his body gibbeted. He went to his death without expressing remorse for his crimes.

For more on the life of pirates visit my author page: Emma Rose Millar, Author

Conflict, Passion, Tradition



The multi-talented Jeff Gardiner talks about Nigeria, the beautiful place that inspired his novel Igbo Land, and celebrates the rich culture and traditions of the Igbo people.

igbo cover

Igbo Land:

A new life begins for her thousands of miles from home.

Lydia and Clem Davie arrive in an Igbo village in Nigeria in July 1967 just as civil war breaks out, but Lydia has trouble adjusting to life in West Africa: a place so unfamiliar and far away from everything she truly understands.

Initially, most of the locals are welcoming and friendly, until one or two begin a frightening campaign of anti-white protests.

Lydia’s life is changed irrevocably after she meets enigmatic Igbo doctor, Kwemto, and war victim, Grace. Through them Lydia learns about independence, passion and personal identity.

Conflict and romance create emotional highs and lows for Lydia, whose marriage and personal beliefs slowly begin to crumble.

Will this house in a Nigerian bush village ever seem like home?

Nigeria is a much misunderstood place. Many people know it as world centre for corruption. We’ve all had those dodgy emails from the Bank of Nigeria telling us to put all savings in a ‘special’ account. There are still bombings and attempted coups to this day. It’s a messy place, politically, and yet it is also an inspiring place of beauty; rich cultural heritage and the birthplace of many great football players (Go, Super Eagles!).

Chinua Achebe is recognised as the father of African literature. His wonderful novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a terrific book that even inspired Nelson Mandela. Many world famous actors and singers are Nigerian; for example, Chiwetel Ejiofor (star of ‘12 Years A Slave’).

Whilst ‘Igboland’ tells the story of Lydia, an English girl thousands away from home and under the shadow of her husband Clem; the setting is an Igbo bush village at the beginning of the Biafran War. She meets Kwemto, a local doctor, and Grace, whose life has been ripped apart by the war. These two between them change Lydia’s life forever.

Igbo life forever

Nigerian Background

In 1914, when Nigeria became a single nation (under the leadership of British Governor, Lord Frederick Lugard) there were three distinct groups: the Muslim caliphates in the north; the mainly Yoruban southwest; and the Igbo people in the southeast. This is a simplistic but useful way of understanding things, although Nigeria is an incredibly complex nation, consisting of over 250 different tribes, each with separate languages.

Finally, in 1960, Nigeria achieved independence from Britain.

igbo from britain

The Biafran War

On 15th January 1966, a military coup resulted in General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo and head of the Nigerian Army becoming President under military rule.

Then on 29th July 1966, Northerners executed a counter-coup placing Col. Yakubu Gowan into power. July and September saw large-scale massacres of Igbos living in the north.

1967 saw the south-eastern region of Nigeria attempt to become the independent Republic of Biafra under the leadership of Igbo military governor, Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu.

The Biafran War officially began on 6th July 1967 when Nigerian federal troops advanced into Biafra, and this brutal civil war led to around three million deaths. The hunger and genocide became world news. For the next few years Igbo villages and farms were bombed on a daily basis. The pogroms, massacres, and starvation continued until January 13th 1970. Meanwhile, millions of Igbos were displaced, losing their homes and forced to travel south as refugees.

Martin Luther King, Jean-Paul Satre and even John Lennon spoke out against the atrocities. John Lennon sent back his MBE in anger of the government’s support of the Nigerian federal government (as well as his anger about the Vietnam War and the fact that his latest single was doing badly in the charts).

Since then and to this present day, military coups and parliamentary deals see political power change hands between tribes and parties. Some commentators suggest that the fight over oil revenues is very much to blame. Now that does sound familiar.

‘Igboland’ is a fond and sympathetic look at a country that I consider my spiritual home (having been born there). I want to celebrate the wonderful culture of the Igbo people, which is well worth exploring – especially their spiritual beliefs known as Odinani.

igbo odinani

(The photos were taken by my parents who lived in Nigeria from 1964-1970)



Jeff’s website:

Jeff’s blog:

FANNY HILL by John Cleland


Great post about ‘Fanny Hill’. I bought myself this and other 18th century works of the same ilk whilst researching for Five Guns Blazing. I wanted to give it an authentic, bawdy feel. A romp of a read!

The Harbottle Review

Memoirs_of_a_Woman_of_Pleasure_Fanny_Hill_1749_edition_title_pageHaving been reduced from gentility to Grub Street, then locked up in the Fleet for debt, John Cleland set about writing a book that would sell. Thus, from the depths of his imprisonment emerges Fanny Hill, a dazzling chaos of lust and fornication, vice and masturbation, sodomy and flagellation; in fine, something for all tastes. Its success seems secure, especially since our obtuse Lords Bishops have issued warrants for the arrest of Cleland and his printer, whom they charge with corrupting the King’s subjects, an injury for which the King’s subjects are presently falling over themselves to pay six shillings.

Make no doubt that this work consists in scene upon scene of graphically depicted coition, and is like to be read tucked inside the Daily Courant; yet it stands as a hopeful parable on the duality of humankind, and how our warring opposites, the flesh and the…

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Do You Really Need an Editor?


I’ve never made any secret of it, I kind of accidentally fell into writing thinking that as long as I had a story to tell and I could tell it fairly coherently, that was all I needed in order to write a decent book. Two novels later, I have completely changed my mind. A truly polished manuscript is not only one that has been proof-read; it has been checked for inconsistencies, repetition of certain words and clunky phrases. A good editor will do all this for you and can also advise on characterisation and plot.

I have heard so many authors saying things like, ‘A book is a work of art and therefore does not need altering,’ or, ‘If I hire an editor, my work stops being my own.’ All I can say is that enlisting the help of an editor in the first instance turned my manuscript into something that agents and publishers wanted to read. Not that it was snapped up straight away – it wasn’t, but lots of the people I submitted a sample to gave me some lovely feedback and asked to see the full manuscript.

Editing services don’t always come cheap, but some are more reasonably priced than others. I’m at a stage in my life where writing is what I do during the evenings rather than gadding about town. I resolved to look at writing as my hobby, and if I think back to what I used to spend on exercise classes and socialising then suddenly my new ‘hobby’ doesn’t seem so harsh on my wallet.

Since signing contracts, my manuscript has gone through another edit. I’ve been working into the night with a massive pot of coffee beside me. It seemed every time I read the novel, I saw something new which could be tweaked or improved slightly. I’m very glad the publication date is looming, otherwise I’d never be able to stop picking at it. That’s something I need to learn: when to stop. The two main lessons I learnt during the editing process though were that my English isn’t as good as I thought, and that a fresh pair of eyes can make a huge difference. My story now has a whole new ending thanks to the second editor who worked on it.

We all know of novels which seem not to have been edited but have gone on to be hugely successful anyway, but those are very few and far between. If you want a manuscript that you can be really proud of and which will show your writing to its best advantage, I would highly recommend finding yourself a good editor.

For Shame, Madam!



“It was a shame for the good lady that her manners were so very rude, that she had such a leaning towards insolence and that her mouth was nothing short of profane.  Often her behaviour would see her dispatched to the stocks or deprived of her meat ration; the latter of which being far worse a punishment for a woman whose appetite was so utterly insatiable.” Five Guns Blazing.

If you’re going to write a bawdy eighteenth century novel then it’s a shame not to celebrate some of the profanities of the time. Here are some of the  vulgar sayings and marvellous slang terms I discovered during my research. Most of them have disappeared from our language – I haven’t quite decided if that’s a good thing or not. These are some of my favourites:

APPLE DUMPLING SHOP – A woman’s breasts.

HE WOULD LEND HIS ARSE AND SHITE THROUGH HIS RIBS – Referring to a person who carelessly lends money.

BASTARDLY GULLION – A bastard born to a bastard.

BOX THE JESUIT AND GET COCKROACHES – A seafaring term for masturbation – a crime said to be widely practised by the reverend fathers of that society.

FLAYBOTTOMIST – A schoolmaster who uses corporal punishment too often

CATCH FART – A servant who is always behind his master to attend to his every need.


SHE SPORTED HER DAIRY – She showed her breasts.

TOM-TURD-MAN – A man who is responsible for emptying necessary pots.

HE MADE A NAPKIN OF HIS DISH CLOUT – A gentleman who married his maid.

HORSE BUSS – A kiss with a loud smack.

JERRYCUMMUMBLE – To tumble about.

JONNY BUM – Instead of jackass in polite society.


NIT SQUEEGER – Hairdresser.

SCANDAL BROTH – Tea. So called because women of society used to gossip over it.

BREAD AND BUTTER FASHION – One slice on top of the other, (John and his maid were caught lying bread and butter fashion).

CHEESER – Particularly strong smelling flatulence.

I shall definitely be trying to sneak the words ‘jerrycummumble’ and ‘Jonny bum’  into conversation this week. For more old fashioned sauciness I’d recommend Francis Grose 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

“That Man Really Smells,” And Other Awkward Moments in the World of an Autism Mum



So, we’re half way through the school holidays – just about managing but it’s been a bit fraught at times. Part of autism is lack of social awareness, which can be excruciatingly embarrassing at the times, but usually make me laugh at some point later. Here’s the top ten mortifying things my son has said in public.

  1. “5-4-3-2-1 – blast-off!” (While straining to do a poo in a public toilet).
  2. “Mum, you’re mostly pretty but a bit ugly. Your feet are ugly and your belly’s ugly and you’ve got yellow teeth.” Thanks.
  3. “Jesus really loves the poor people.” Er – we still were the poor people last time I looked!
  4. “Bishops can only move diagonally.” (During mass! I might take him to meet the Queen next and see what happens!)
  5. “That man’s got no clothes on.” Er… I think that’s actually a lady in a flesh coloured boob-tube.
  6. “Be careful not to breathe, Mum. It doesn’t smell very nice.” Thanks again.
  7. On the bus on the first day of school: “Mum, I learnt a whole new smell today, what is it?” Might be the two dozen teenagers on the bus – not sure.
  8. To the same teenagers: “Stop shouting and using those silly words. You’re making me really angry. Hulk – rahhhhh. I’m nearly in year one.”
  9. To a couple kissing on the bus: “Excuse me, can you stop doing that please. You’re making me feel sick.”
  10. And this one, on a packed bus is my all-time favourite: “My mum’s got a strap on.” Me – holding up my hand for all to see my surgical strap: “It’s on my wrist! I fell over at ice-skating, honestly!” # Resists the urge to cry!

There are loads more of these but some were just too cringe-worthy to put on my blog. I’m sure there will be many more before the holidays are finished. I’d love to hear your stories.

Dancing the Jig: The Last Waltz at Tyburn



Hanging was the main method of judicial execution in England and the colonies during the eighteenth century and was a punishment handed down for crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. Performed in public, the gruesome display was meant to be a deterrent for all those who were tempted into a life of crime. However, for many, executions became a spectacle and created carnival-like excitement. Even the route from Newgate was lined with girls blowing kisses, crowds cheering or jeering and some throwing food or excrement.  Stall-holders sold refreshments and people hung out of their windows in order to get a look at the condemned men and women who were on their way to their deaths.

The village of Tyburn, just outside London probably remains the place best known for the implementation of the death penalty in England. However, there were actually only eight hanging days every year. The time between executions allowed new stocks of condemned men and women to build up in gaol so that the events would become even more spectacular, involving a number criminals.

There could be a period of several weeks then between sentencing and execution, during which prisoners could ask for anything they required for mind or body. The chaplain stayed with them, offering them consolation and the sacrament, should they have wished it, provided he believed they were sufficiently repentant. Eye witness accounts though talk of some criminals going to their death full of liquor and mocking penitents. Indeed the last stop on the way to the scaffold was the Mason’s arms, where prisoners were manacled to the walls while they enjoyed their last drink. The marshals had to be especially careful there in case of rescue or escape attempts.

Once at Tyburn, the condemned criminals mounted another, wider cart and cords were passed around their necks, which were tied to the scaffold. The chaplain would pray with them and relatives were allowed to say farewell. Then the executioner would cover the prisoners’ faces and lash the horses so that the cart would be pulled away, leaving them to hang from the gallows. Often, friends and relatives would pull at their legs so that they would die quicker and not suffer.

The bodies and clothes of the dead belonged to the executioner. Relatives could buy them from him, but and unclaimed bodies were sold to surgeons to be dissected.

“You see most amusing scenes between the people who do not like the bodies to be cut and the messengers the surgeons have sent for bodies; blows are given and returned before they can be got away, and sometimes in the turmoil the bodies are quickly removed and buried.” ¹

After hanging, murderers’ bodies were sometimes covered with tallow and fatty substances, and dressed in a tarred shirt fastened down with iron bands. Their bodies were hung with chains to the gibbet, which was erected on, or as near as possible to the spot where the crime was committed. It was left there to rot, hence the expression to ‘hang in chains’.

Tyburn hangings continue to be portrayed in novels, films and television dramas, holding a macabre kind of draw for many. Tyburn’s more notable victims such as James MacClaine, the so-called gentleman highwayman have been romanticised in popular culture. Two hundred and thirty two years after they were last used, it seems our fascination with Tyburn’s gallows is not waning.

¹ This eyewitness account appears in: de Saussure, Cesar, A Foreign View of England in the Reigns of George I and George II (1902), reprinted in: Charles-Edwards, T. and B. Richardson, They Saw it Happen, An Anthology of Eyewitness’s Accounts of Events in British History 1689-1897 (1958); Gatrell, V.I.C., The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868 (1994).