The Fascinating Facts about Smugglers by @HelenHollick

!Helen BlueBorder Blogs (1)I’m delighted to welcome Helen Hollick to the blog today to tell us a little about her new book. Helen is a great champion of historical fiction, and now has turned her researcher’s eye to bring us two great non-fiction books – one on Pirates, and the  latest on Smugglers. Over to Helen!


What comes to mind when you think of an eighteenth or nineteenth century  smuggler? A Ross Poldark-type figure, dashing and handsome, carrying a keg of brandy on his muscled shoulder across a wide, secluded beach, or storing contraband in a secret cache beneath the floor of the parlour? Or do you think of gangs of rough, tough, men hauling barrels of contraband ashore, and eager for a fight with the Customs and Excise if they dared to intervene?

Depending on where the smugglers operated would depend on which one of the above is more accurate. The quiet coves of Cornwall and Devon did indeed have a more laid-back approach to smuggling: probably the most well-known smugglers’ inn, Jamaica Inn, is on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall –  made famous by Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name. But for Kent, Sussex and Dorset, smuggling was Big Business and gangs, sometimes of more than 100 men, were responsible for ensuring the illicit cargo was brought safely ashore – and woe betide anyone who stepped in their way!

Lyme Bay Dorset - familiar to many smugglers! © Tony SmithWe only know about the smugglers who got caught, the ones who were tried and sentenced to either hang or to transportation – to the American Colonies as indentured slaves until Australia was discovered. Except, prior to the early 1800s many a smuggler who was caught was released to smuggle again another day.  Several escaped prison, most were ‘let off’ … why? Because the constables and magistrates relied on the smuggled goods, the cheap brandy and tobacco!

Other commodities were also highly taxed so were enthusiastically smuggled (for a profit, of course). Lace, wool, tin, salt, leather, spices, tea… when the tax was eventually dropped on tea the smuggling of it ceased almost overnight.

There were several pre-arranged cunning ways to alert an incoming boat that the ‘coast was clear’. (Yes, the saying comes from smuggling!) A lamp glowing in a seaward-facing window, cows grazing in a certain field, laundry spread to dry on bushes, a small boat up-turned on a beach. And if the Excise men were spotted? Quick! Hide the goods – and the quickest, easiest way to do so was to drop the cargo overboard then come back to collect it later.  ‘Sowing the crop’ as it was called.

There was one gang who outsmarted the Revenue by sailing their boat through shallow water over some shoals, their boat being not as large as that of the King’s Men. As the smugglers sailed cheekily away one of the crew dropped his breeches and exposed his bare backside to the pursuers who were stuck fast.

Adds a whole new meaning to ‘moonlighting’ doesn’t it?

© Helen Hollick

feature_2019_02Read more about the fascinating exploits of smugglers in Helen’s new book:17394

Life Of A Smuggler: Fact and Fiction

Available from bookshops, online and Amazon

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Twitter: @HelenHollick
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Launch Day for Hostage to the Revolution by Diane Scott Lewis #18thC

I’m delighted to welcoDianeParkinson1_zpsdcc1a823me Diane Scott Lewis today as she launches her latest book. Diane and I met a few years ago at the Historical Novel Conference in St Petersburg, Florida.

Here’s Diane to talk about how she was inspired to write Hostage to the Revolution.

A few years back I visited Cornwall, England, and toured a Cornish history museum: the Wayside Folk Museum (now closed, unfortunately). The history fascinated me, the struggles of the people on this rugged coast; the tin mining and fishing that sustained them. The museum showcased a miller’s cottage, with cooking and farming implements used in the eighteenth century and earlier centuries. Displays explained farming, mining and fishing in Cornwall. The museum was located in the village of Zennor out on Cornwall’s peninsula that ends in the Atlantic Ocean at Lizard Point.

Megalithic burial chambers are nearby, and the writer D. H. Lawrence once lived in the area.1200px-Zennor_from_trewey_hill_cornwall

Zennor, a cluster of stone cottages, is situated on the rocky cliffs that form Cornwall’s windswept coast.

A story formed in my mind to capture this country, a part of England yet separate in culture. I pictured two sisters, one who ran a tavern, the other a wild girl who brings a penniless refugee to work at the tavern. The refugee would be French and a former Countess, to make her fall from grace that much sharper. The young Frenchwoman, Bettina, who fled from the French Revolution in 1790 under suspicious circumstances, took center stage. Through her I showed the history and culture of the Cornish. Their superstitions and pragmatic, Celtic character. I could demonstrate the lives of fisherman, miners, and the handling of shipwrecks. She confronted prejudice, fell in love with an enigmatic man who might have murdered his feckless wife, and faced brutal revolutionaries who tracked her down, demanding something stolen by her now dead father. Determined to survive and thrive, Bettina becomes one of the “ordinary” people; she learned to cook, sew, and sidestep drunken louts, while she feared more retribution and wondered what happened to her family. The two sisters, so different, Cornish born and bred, also add verve, humor and pathos to the novel.

HostagetotheRevolutionCoverI researched the eighteenth century thoroughly at the Library of Congress, library loans, plus read the Poldark series by Winston Graham, from which I gleaned the flavor of the times. Like Graham I’d set my story on Cornwall’s north coast, and wanted my tale to be realistic: rough and earthy. All this was covered in my first novel, Escape the Revolution.

That novel grew so long, I had to cut the last third, thus Hostage to the Revolution was born, to finish Bettina’s trials and triumphs. After tragic circumstances in the first book, Bettina travels to New Orleans to search for her mother. In sultry New Orleans she forms a new life until her past creeps back in an attempt to destroy it. She is thrown back into a France torn apart by war. Hostage to the Revolution releases today, July 19th.

Congratulations to Diane. To find out more about Diane and her books, please visit her website

Pictures from the author or wikipedia.

Buy the book US  UK