You might be surprised to know that Garret wasn’t even in my first draft of ‘Pyrate Rising’. Crazy, right? But why? How? Good questions.
I originally intended the book to follow the life of Sir Francis Drake. In fact, the original title was ‘Drake, Knight & Pirate’. But after a few edits, and my wife’s extensive input, it was clear the novel needed something more. So I took an incidental character, who first appeared midway through the book, and made it female rather than male. A literary agent (Heather Cashman at Storm Literary Agency) suggested I needed more of a character arc for Garret. Thanks to Heather, I did an epic rewrite. I found that Garret really didn’t detract from Drake. Rather, she added an interesting side of him that wasn’t even in the original manuscript. Their interplay became a fruitful base for exploring both characters. As that rewrite evolved, it became clear that Garret, not Sir Francis Drake, was the lead character. Several rewrites later, the novel proved it.
I should mention that I gave Garret two minor actions that were actually attributed to Drake himself—one during the attack by the Mapuche warriors, and another during the battles with the Spanish Armada. I deemed those actions to be inconsequential to the truth of Drake’s life but important to Garret’s integration into the novel.
You might ask whether I patterned Garret after someone I knew. Well, kind of. I’m a huge fan of Jessica Chastain. I love her intelligence, her strength of character and the leadership she exhibits in the roles she plays. So there’s that. But I’ve also been surrounded over the years by many women whom I’ve worked alongside—women who have also inspired me with their intelligence, leadership, mission-focus and empathy for others. I’m reluctant to list their names here, but…they know who they are. Same, too, with my paternal grandmother, Edith Gertrude Langton, an intelligent and strong leader, well ahead of her time. And finally—my wife, Wendy. Intelligent, accomplished, mission-oriented and nurturing. Those traits play out in Garret throughout the Pyrate Series.
Finally, about the name. My grandmother, Gertrude, was known to her friends as “Gertie”. In an earlier version of the novel, I gave Garret the name Gertrude/Gertie. Then I had her grandfather, Daniel, change it to Garret. In subsequent edits I gave up the Gertrude/Gertie piece. Why? Because I decided I didn’t want Garret to know she was actually a girl. I thought it would be more dramatic if she discovered her true gender at a later time. I also made the difficult decision to have the reader discover Garret’s true gender at the same time she does. I knew this was a risky strategy—it might alienate male readers who identified with Garret as a boy. I also worried that female readers would be less interested in a young male character than a young female. But, in the end, the deciding factor for me was that the world is changing. We’re now discovering the truth about many peoples’ gender and orientation later in their lives. So, what the heck, I went for it.
Oh. While we’re on the topic of names…“Connachan” is the surname of my paternal great grandmother. It turns out I leaned almost exclusively on my family tree for character names.