Lively Pirate Tale with a Deeper Message
Author Interview with Jeffery S. Williams, Anne Bonney: My Pirate Story
By Lisa M. Hendey
Pirates are more popular than ever these days, perhaps owing in part to a certain blockbuster summer film. However, most mothers of sons have known for years the male fascination with all things pirate. I’ve sewn at least two pirate costumes, refereed more than my fair share of sword fights and read numerous story books aloud in my best “matey” voice. So I was prepared to enjoy Anne Bonney: My Pirate Story (iUniverse, February 2006, paperback, 236 pages), the inaugural work of novelist Jeffery S. Williams, with his wife Katherine Williams.
What I wasn’t expecting was to be uplifted and inspired along the way – to emerge from the literary romp with the sense that somehow, amidst the pages of the really entertaining story I’d just read, I’d walk away edified. Jeffery Williams, supported effectively by his wife Katherine Williams, gives voice so convincingly to main character Anne Bonney that you’d swear he’s actually a lusty wench. When I met him in person and learned that he is in point of fact a high school English teacher, I was even more impressed by his writing prowess.
Anne Bonney: My Pirate Story is the tale of a one young Irish woman’s transition into the world of pirates during the 1700s. Inspired by historical accounts, Williams fleshes out Bonney’s tale with great gusto and flair. Readers with a certain sensibility may blush at some of the book’s more spicy scenes, but they seem essential to the book’s characters and their circumstances. You should be forewarned that the book does contain some language, adult themes and violence which may be offensive to some readers. However, Williams does not seem to write gratuitously or for mere “shock value”. I found myself falling hard for Anne Bonney and her comrades, and rooting solidly for her ultimate transformation from strong-willed girl to plundering pirate to graceful woman.
No doubt aided by his incredible font of knowledge of literature, Williams spreads layers of deeper themes and references between the fast paced pages of action and adventure. I recently caught up with Jeffery Williams and am pleased to share his comments on Anne Bonney, spirituality and his writing.
Q: Please briefly introduce yourself and your family.
A: My name is Jeffery S. Williams and Katherine is my bride of 21 years. We have a 17-year-old son named Calvin, who is now a senior at Clovis West High school, where I have also teach English the past 19 years. I am a former journalist and freelance writer, and have a master’s degree in creative writing from CSU Fresno. My wife also teaches language arts at Clovis Adult School.
Q: Please give a brief plot summary for readers who may not be familiar with your book.
A: Anne Bonney, a strong-willed and reflective young woman, is a historical figure of the early 1700s. The story dramatizes her often-troubled childhood in Ireland and the New World. Her mother dies when Anne is still young, and shortly after turning 15, she is nearly raped by a suitor. When she seeks her father’s support she discovers he is more concerned with social reputation than her health and welfare. In anger, she ventures into Charles Towne where she witnesses a pirate hanging and meets a man named James Bonney, who plans to turn pirate. After a few weeks of becoming acquainted she capriciously elopes with him and they sail for the pirate-infested waters of the Caribbean. What follows is an amazing adventure of the body and soul, which includes Anne disguising herself as a man and working alongside pirates for nearly two years aboard Calico Jack Rackham’s sloop as the crew pillages ships along the Spanish Main, but eventually experiences a transformation of the heart.
Q: Jeff, congratulations on the publication of your first novel! Please tell us what inspired Anne Bonney: My Pirate Story and if the book turned out as you first envisioned it might?
A: Thank you. Several years ago I was reading a bedtime story to Calvin. The book was about pirates and told a brief history of Anne Bonney. I am not sure why, but I was intrigued. After putting my son to bed, I got online and discovered a historical account rich in detail by Daniel Defoe. I started to envision an intricate plot with several twists. From there the themes I wished to explore began to emerge more clearly. I also thought that though the main character lived three hundred years ago, her story could be of interest to a mainstream audience, that today’s readers could identify with her dreams, her experiences, and her issues.
Q: I can see your English teacher background shining through in your writing, but what type of additional research did you have to undertake in the composition of this book? Did your interest in pirates and the sea predate your writing of Anne Bonney? How much of the book comes from historical reality?
A: My background in the literary classics seemed a natural to utilize in capturing the ethos of the era as well as for various symbolic purposes. In terms of research, I consumed everything I could find on pirate history. I wanted the reader not only to enjoy a great story, but also walk away with a greater knowledge of the Golden Age of Piracy.
My interest in pirates and the sea pretty much evolved with my study of Anne Bonney. Rather than viewing the novel as a work of historical fiction, I see it more as literary fiction set in the 1700s. My story is inspired by the recorded events in the lives of Anne Bonney, Mary Reade, James Bonney, Woodes Rodgers and Jack Rackham. The majority of the characters in the book were real people, and whenever possible I included their actual words. Obviously I had to conjure and create their thoughts, as well as fill in the gaps of their lives.
Q: Anne's character goes through such a spiritual evolution in the book. Without giving away the ending, did you intentionally address her spiritual development as a theme in the book or was that simply a byproduct of telling the story? How has your own faith journey impacted on your writing?
A: Yes, her spiritual catharsis was intentional. The prodigal story, though an ancient one, remains contemporary. The search for adventure and happiness, the subsequent disillusionment, the transformation of the heart and the redemption of the soul — it is still an intriguing archetype to plumb. So, yes, taking Anne (and James and Mary for that matter) through spiritual journeys was paramount to the story.
For myself, I experienced a spiritual discovery during my senior year in high school. I embraced faith in God and accepted Christ’s offer of salvation through His sacrifice and gift of grace. Since that time I have continued to seek a greater knowledge of and connection with God and His Scripture. Virtually everything I write flows out of my faith in some way.
Q: What are some of your favorite books and which authors have influenced you as an author?
A: I am a bibliophile and I love all kinds of books.
The classics? Les Miserables, A Tale of Two Cities, Treasure Island, Moll Flanders, The Canterbury Tales, The Divine Comedy, Candide and Shakespearean plays.
Modernist/Realist authors? Twain, Crane, London, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner, O’Neill, Huxley, Chopin, and Wharton. I have to include Lewis and Tolkien.
Contemporary? Among my favorites include Thom Jones, Tim O’Brien, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, Robertson Davies. Raymond Carver. Ethan Canin
Steinbeck and Hugo in terms of character and story. Steve Yarbrough and Liza Weiland were two of my creative writing professors. They had a significant impact on my writing. Being a journalist and editor for three years was also important in my maturation as a writer.
Q: I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about your collaboration with your wife Katherine on this project. How did Katherine's perspective help you in framing and giving voice to Anne's character?
A: In the “author’s note” of my novel, I “call it a genuinely absurd venture for a man to consider writing from a woman’s point of view.” Early on I enlisted my wife to assist me in editing scenes and providing her perspective. Several times she helped me understand the feminine mystique and the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. I also have to give her credit for helping me with the romantic scenes as well. She would frequently shake her head and say, “MEN, THEY JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND ROMANCE” and then proceed to help me rewrite those particular scenes. Our interactions about what was a female vs. male view of romance got pretty hilarious sometimes.
Katherine has a keen sense for the consistency of character. She has always enjoyed observing people and contributed a great deal of insight to me as I developed Anne’s character from child to teen to adult. She has also been a source of continuous encouragement and support, not to mention one who has worked behind the scenes as a publicist in getting the word out to friends, family and strangers. It has been an awesome experience working alongside of her.
Q: By the time the book came to its conclusion, I did not want to say goodbye to the characters. Would you ever consider writing a sequel to the book and if so, have you thought about how the story of Anne and James might continue? Do you have plans for future writing projects?
A: Presently I feel the Anne Bonney’s story is finished. There isn’t any other documentation about her life, so any sequel would be completely fictional.
So for now I will take inspiration from Steinbeck. His first novel was a pirate story. After he wrote Cup of Gold, he concentrated on other settings and subjects. The novel I am working on now is a mainstream psychological thriller set in Fresno/Clovis area — where I have lived since 1967.
Q: Jeffery Williams, author of Anne Bonney: My Pirate Story, thank you so much for your time and for an excellent read! Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
A: In Ecclesiastes, the writer says: “…be warned: the writing of many books is endless and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” There are literally millions of books one can choose to read. The competition for readers’ minds is stiff so I wish to sincerely thank those who have invested the time, energy and expense to read my book. It is flattering and humbling. I can only hope you enjoyed Anne Bonney’s story as much as I loved writing it.
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Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.