Lively Pirate Tale with a Deeper Message
Author Interview with Jeffery S. Williams, Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of Anne Bonney
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 Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of Anne Bonney (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.
Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of Anne Bonney 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 Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of 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 Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of Anne Bonney
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
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
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
Q: Jeffery Williams, author of Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of Anne Bonney, 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.
information on Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of Anne Bonney visit Amazon.
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster
of numerous web sites, including
an avid reader. Visit her at
http://www.lisahendey.com for more
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