The Bermuda Privateer, the debut novel of William Westbrook, navigates the adventures of an 18th century privateer and his high seas battles with pirates and hurricanes. While its not my preferred genre, the book captured my interest with a fast-paced tale of intrigue and conspiracies that took few breathers.
Westbrook launches the novel Wednesday, September 20, with a cocktail reception at the Tides Inn in Irvington.
In a recent interview, he explained how he went from being an advertising guru writing 30-second commercials to authoring a 327-page historical novel.
It began with one word: Fallon.
Shortly after the death of his great friend Pat Fallon of the international advertising firm Fallon McElligott, Westbrook sat at his desk looking at a picture of the two of them on a beach in Mexico. “I couldn’t let go. His loss left a massive hole in my life,” he said.
Westbrook opened his laptop. And a tribute began.
“I typed the word Fallon on the page. Then I typed Nicholas. I had to disguise him a little,” Westbrook said. The idea of a novel began to take shape. “The more I wrote, the more the character took over.”
The former ad man proceeded to venture into his favorite genre, historical fiction with Fallon leading the way as captain of the schooner, Sea Dog, accompanied by a sharp tongued, crafty first lieutenant woman named Beauty McFarland, their employer Ezra Somers, and cut-throat pirate Jak Clayton. They become embroiled in the battle between France and England and are betrayed by a cowardly British commander.
“Privateers had to live by their wits,” Westbrook explained. While they originated during the Revolutionary War as an adjunct navy to sink and pillage America’s enemies at sea, privateers continued into the 1800s.
How close is the fictional Fallon to the real Fallon?
“He’s taller and better looking; very much his own character,” he said with a laugh.
Originally conceived as a naval officer, Westbrook reconsidered his lead character. “My friend Pat Fallen was a total rule breaker, so he couldn’t be a captain in the Royal Navy.”
Fallon became a former officer and now privateer sailing out of Bermuda for Somers Salt Company. “Trade was so important then, especially in salt.” Thus, it was an attractive prize for pirates.
As Westbrook wrote, the story took on a life of it’s own. “I know people say that, but it’s true.”
Yet, does the book really ever separate from the author?
“My wife kept telling me not to bring these characters to dinner,” he said.
If, like me, you know nothing about sailing or the details of how vessels are manned and operated, you’ll find the narrative does not bog down. I was able to visualize the dynamic ship-to-ship combat as well as their battle to survive the storm. The book should generate wide appeal.
But if you are a stickler for detail, you’ll appreciate the ad man’s thoroughness with facts. Also, he relied on his diaries of earlier times spent sailing between the islands of the Caribbean and Cuba (before it was legal to go there), for the picture he paints with his words. A 1790s map of the area was used for historical and name references. You’ll find a map included in the book to assist in following the action across islands.
Westbrook has several non-fiction books to his name, including a children’s book.
The Bermuda Privateer is published by McBooks Press. Westbrook’s second book in the Fallon adventure series will address the role of slavery in the Caribbean.