Saturday 18 May 2024

Lost Books, Forced Housekeeping, and Sunken Treasure: S. B. Watson

 Lost Books, Forced Housekeeping, and Sunken Treasure,
How I Wrote ‘The Ghost’
S. B. Watson

I’m often asked, ‘where did you get the idea for such-and-such story?’ The truth is, the birth of every story is different. Sometimes, I see the whole story, laid out in my headspace, and just write it out. More often, I have a basic concept, a little kernel, and draw it out and work it until there’s a tale to tell. ‘The Ghost,’ which appears in The Black Beacon Book of Pirate Tales this June, falls into the latter camp.
  My first idea was to do a modern piece on Somalian pirates in the Indian Ocean, telling the story from the viewpoint of a poor fisherman who turns to piracy. I still like the idea, however, there was a problem—it had a dingy tang of realism. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love gritty crime fiction. I’ve written a bunch of it. But in my mind, I wanted my story to have more in common with ‘Treasure Island’ or ‘The Gold Bug’ than Captain Phillips.
  So, I went back to the drawing board with nothing more than a theme. 
  And that’s when I remembered an old book, hiding somewhere in my personal library…
  Years ago, an old family friend downsized his private book collection. He had books on religion, history, science, the occult… Knowing that I collected books myself, he gave me around four crates of books. Among the volumes was a ragged little paperback of unusual size, entitled ‘The Burning of a Pirate Ship, La Trompeuse.’
  I remembered the book, from years ago… It was an unusual thing. It told the history of a treacherous Caribbean governor, and the pirate he sheltered, but did it entirely through official documents, court records, naval reports, and reproduced private letters between the different territorial governors.
  There was just one difficulty… I had no idea where the book was. It wasn’t on the shelf where it should have been, and I couldn’t find hide nor hair of it anywhere in my admittedly cluttered library. What resulted was two days of crawling all over my house, digging in boxes and uprooting piles of books and papers, looking for the darned thing. I even considered purchasing a new copy, out of desperation.
  Finally, after two days of forced house cleaning, I found it, not three feet from my bed, backwards, at the base of a pile of books, on a decorative bookshelf’s bottom shelf.
  Memory had served right. The tome was a goldmine of ideas. It told of the seedy Caribbean governor of St. Thomas, Adolph Esmit, and his politically devious wife, Charity. And it told of the rogue trader-turned-pirate, Jean Hamlin, and his voyages down the African Gold Coast and to Brazil.
  But the most impressive revelation came at the end. Adolph, his intrigue-laden wife, and Hamlin, all simply slipped away after their nefarious deeds. What became of them is a mystery. Some of Hamlin’s men can be traced through various pirates’ crews, but the man himself simply vanished.
  And the principal players weren’t the only things that vanished—To this day, Hamlin’s treasure is said to lie somewhere beneath the waters of St. Thomas. Some 24,000 pounds of silver, locked in a silty ship’s storeroom, at the bottom of the sea.
  All gone, lost, vanished, but not quite forgotten…
  And therein lies the tale I tell in ‘The Ghost.’ If you’d like to hear my version of what happened to the criminal kingpins of 1680s St. Thomas, and their treasures, be sure to pick up The Black Beacon Book of Pirate Tales this June!

Camille Pissarro, Creek in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, 1856

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