JENNY BARDEN: Author Interview: Mistress of the Sea

Jenny (Portrait 1) pix

Jenny Barden, fellow RNA member and Joan Hessayon Award contender, has dropped in today to answer the Novels Now author questions. We’re lucky to catch her as she’s very recently back from Florida.
Welcome, Jenny.
Qu) Like many other great inventions, the e-reader has taken off. Do you read in both electronic and paper mediums? Which do you prefer?

Ans)I have a Kindle but I still much prefer to read a traditional paper book. I find the whole experience of reading much more satisfying with ‘tree books’ – I like the smell of the paper, the feel of it under my fingers, and the ability to flip back and forth instantly to consult maps, glossaries or references to earlier chapters. I find reading from paper much easier on my eyes – I’m not struggling to adjust the light, get rid of shadow or reduce glare. It’s going to take a very special kind of ereader to wean me away from traditional books heart and soul – though my Kindle is very useful for travelling and keeping down weight in luggage! I see the future as being big enough for both, and I think that there’ll always be a place for paper books amongst book lovers and collectors, though I also think that the market for ebooks will continue to grow – they have provided an opportunity for reaching out to more people with more books and that’s got to be good.

Qu) Do you travel to find locations or do you use the ability to go anywhere in the imagination, to do just that?

Ans)I love to travel to the places where my fiction is set, and I will always try my best to get as close as possible on the ground to the locations that form the backdrops to my stories. Of course there are two obvious difficulties with this for me since my fiction is set over four hundred years ago and much of it involves voyages by sea. The identifiable places on land have often changed beyond all recognition from how they used to be in the Elizabethan era, and the precise routes of sea voyages cannot be pinpointed very accurately – indeed, from a storyteller’s perspective, there would be little to gain from doing so (the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Verde looks much the same as the Atlantic Ocean off the Azores!). But familiarity with the ‘location’ of being inside an Elizabethan ship is crucial to me, so I’ve been inside replicas such as the Golden Hinde reconstruction near London Bridge several times (in fact I’ve given talks and signings there) and I’ve had experience of sailing over the years. In researching Mistress of the Sea I travelled to Panama as well as to Plymouth, and I walked the routes that my characters would have taken insofar as I could find them. That meant travelling along stretches of the old Camino Real – the ‘Royal Road’ by which Spanish bullion from South America was transported overland by mule-train across the isthmus. (There’s a piece about that here for anyone interested: ) It also meant taking a boat around the San Blas archipelago: the white coral islands that formed a secret hideaway for Francis Drake and his men before their raid on the Spanish ‘silver train’, and it meant trying to find the site of the old town of Nombre de Dios now lost under sand or swallowed by the sea. I still went there.

Guns of San Lorenzo

Guns of San Lorenzo

<It was important to me to be where the city of my story once stood.

Qu) What is the most important physical sense of your current heroine? (Taste, touch, sight,hearing or smell)
Ans)Sight is of crucial importance to most description and I'd be disingenuous to suggest that it didn't underpin most of Ellyn Cooksley's impressions about her surroundings, but in terms of what really strikes straight at her emotions then I think smell is the sense that has the most profound and immediate impact. There's a scene in Mistress of the Sea in which Ellyn is imprisoned in the small dark attic room of a garrison behind a bolted door with shutters over the window. She can see little but her other senses are heightened. There is one man she fears above all others: Bastidas, the commander of the garrison, and she can smell him in the room because he wears perfume like a woman. The scent of ambergris is far more potent as a threat than the sight of him which comes later…

Qu) Who is your favourite fictional hero?
Ans That's really difficult to answer; if I could have the dependability of Mr Knightley together with the daring-do of Richard Sharpe then that would be my ideal – as long as he had the sensitivity and intelligence of Captain Corelli as well!

You've given us lots to think about there, Jenny. Now, will you share a short extract of your current book/story with Novels Now, please?

Short extract follows (from Chapter 19 of Mistress of the Sea):Mistress of the Sea pbk

Will clasped the little bells in his fist. He did not want them jingling as he brushed by to enter the hut. He could see Ellyn was asleep. So he edged inside; then he settled on a chest from where he could watch her quietly. She sat with her head down, neck arched and turned to one side, eyes closed, lips parted. He took off his cap. He would share a moment with her, and the Cimaroon outside would make sure they were not disturbed. The fort was noisy but, in the place that gave her some privacy, a sense of calm made the hubbub seem less. She had only been on Slaughter Island a few days, and in that time she had hardly relaxed. He was glad to see her resting. Whatever trauma she had been through, rest would help in healing. He was content just to be near her; he would never tire of that.
The pleasure he took in being with her was like waking up in summer time, in England, beneath a bright, cloudless sky. She was a landscape entire. Her body was curved like the coombes and there was promise in her folds. He thought of soft paths through meadow grass leading to field-strips of barley. He looked at her lips, red as poppy petals: lips he had kissed and would kiss again. Merely the imagining was enough to stir him. She was the heartache of home – yearning and joy all rolled into one.
He gazed at her face. No other woman could be as lovely. His blessing was to be with her as she was at that moment, in a time that was his, without sense of its passing. Asleep, her face moved. Her eyelids quivered and her lips curled slightly. She gave a little shudder and took a quick breath. He wondered where she was in her dreams; whatever the place, he would have liked to have joined her. She frowned, rolling her head, and he reached out to calm her. Suddenly she was awake, eyes open and fixed on him.
‘Will! What are you doing here?’
‘Considering you.’ He smiled. ‘Thinking how fair you are.’
‘Flattery will not excuse you. I prefer to invite people into my house.’ She frowned, plainly flustered, and brushed back her hair. ‘What did you see?’
‘You were asleep.’
‘I was pondering.’
‘You were pondering with your mouth open just so.’ He made a little ‘O’ with his lips as if he was blowing a bubble, but he had only mimicked her for an instant before she slapped her hand over his mouth.
‘Will Doonan, you are a heartless, mocking jackanapes. How could you think me fair if I was pouting like a fish?’
He pulled her hand away and kissed it.
‘As easily as I think you fair when in truth you are dark.’
‘So I am not fair?’
At that he reached for her and pulled her to him on his lap.
‘No, not fair at all; so unfair that I expect no justice. You wrong me, sweet maiden.’
‘I wrong you!’
‘Yes,’ he said, kissing her, ‘you do.’ He did not try to put his feelings into words; he doubted that he could, and he feared that if he did then she would only pick whatever he said to pieces. He simply kissed her again.
His reward was her laughter, and her arms around his.
Links are:

•Mistress of the Sea on Amazon:

•my website:

•Blogs are on other sites eg: and :