I am so glad to welcome award-winning author Laurie R. King to Booking Mama! I recently reviewed her latest Mary Russell novel PIRATE KING, and I was absolutely delighted with my introduction to this series. I can't wait to go back and start from the beginning because I just love Ms. Russell's voice and her sharp insights!
As a first time reader of this series, I definitely appreciated Ms. King's guest post. She gives some wonderful background about the prior books in this series in addition to explaining how she comes up with the theme ideas for her books. I found this essay to be incredibly interesting, and, of course, it makes me even more excited to read these books.
Piracy, in many forms
One of the things I look for in a novel—when I’m the one writing it, anyway—is a unifying theme that can link the story’s various aspects together. For example, several of the Russell books have been about beekeeping, because when she meets Mr Sherlock Holmes in 1915, he has retired from London to the Sussex Downs where he keeps, and more importantly, observes, bees.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice was the first novel in the Russell and Holmes series, and its subtitle holds the theme: On the Segregation of the Queen. This is also the subtitle of Holmes’ book on beekeeping, referred to in Conan Doyle’s short story “His Last Bow”: A Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen. An essential part of the novel is that idea of segregating a queen, first in beekeeping, where the Queen is kept from parts of the hive in order to stop her from laying in comb that the beekeeper intends to harvest, and then in chess, where isolating the Queen and making her appear trapped and useless can be a deadly gambit.
After several books in the series that took place around the world, I returned my characters to England, and to the terminology of beekeeping—indeed, I brought them to The Language of Bees. Here, family ties are woven around the inexplicable (this being 1924) communication of apis mellifera, where a solitary honeybee is an impossibility. The novel was closely linked with the next one, a relationship that is reflected in the title as well: The God of the Hive. And finally, this past summer, I published an e-novella exploring those early days of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice called, Beekeeping for Beginners.
In the current book, however, there are no bees. There are pirates instead, but to keep with the kind of theme-running I like, they are pirates of various sorts. Not, may I make clear, the real-life kinds of pirates who are murdering real-life people off the coast of Somalia, or who throughout history have left behind them a lot of real-life agony. Nor even the kind of pirates responsible for torrents of freebie e-downloads that, if left unchecked, would turn my job into a hobby I couldn’t afford.
No, I mean dashing pirates with feathered hats and parrots on their shoulders. In our generation, it’s all about Johnny Depp, but before that came Errol Flynn and Captain Hook, Long John Silver and Pirates of Penzance—which is where Pirate King begins. Gilbert and Sullivan forms one layer, overlaid by a poet who takes the great Portuguese age of sail far too seriously, then a stratum of what appear to be actual pirates, unless they aren’t. But above all those comes the real pirate of the modern era: the Hollywood movie mogul.
Let the action begin!
Laurie R. King is the award-winning author of 21 novels, including the Russell & Holmes historical series and the contemporary Kate Martinelli series. Her new book, Pirate King, is out in September. For more information, and to see the various contests and fun stuff going on this month, check out her web site at www.LaurieRKing.com.