Sunday, May 7, 2023

Q&A with Brooks Almy



Brooks Almy is the author of the new young adult book An Accidental Pirate: The Possibly True Adventures of Fanny Campbell. Also an actor and a singer, she lives in Italy.


Q: What inspired you to write An Accidental Pirate, and how did you first learn about the character Fanny Campbell?


A: In 1971 I was in a museum bookstore in San Francisco. I casually picked up a picture book about women pirates. I had always loved pirates as a kid. I didn’t buy it, just browsed through it.


All of the famous women pirates were in it (Mary Reed, Anne Bonney, Grace O’Malley) but the one that stuck with me was a single paragraph about a girl named Fanny Campbell who disguised herself as a man and went to sea and became a pirate to rescue her husband in Cuba.


I didn’t think much more about it until 2001 when I started to take a writing workshop with a wonderful teacher named Claudette Sutherland. During this workshop over a period of maybe two years, the first chapters of Fanny were written. I had just started using the internet, and there was no info about her. I wasn’t sure if she were fictional or real, so I decided to write my take on Fanny’s story.


Then life intervened and I stopped working on Fanny until Covid. I then discovered that a book was written about her in 1844. But to this day, no one is sure if she was real or a fictional character. Side note: after I finished writing my book, I read the 1844 Fanny. Great fun, kind of romance novel-esque, very different from my Fanny, but also very similar.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I read piles of books on pirates and sea adventures. I probably know more about genuine pirate culture than most, because I did not want this crew to be cartoonish. Did you know that they were highly democratic and mostly voted on everything? I talked to friends with marine knowledge and I did many a deep dive into the internet for information.

For example, to make sure my Rhode Island village was historically accurate, I went on line to the Rhode Island Historical Society, which led me to many other sites, pictures and articles about Rhode Island. Fun fact, my father’s family came to Rhode Island in 1624. In Providence there is an Old Almy cabin and an Almy Street.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew the very end for Fanny and Will, but I had no idea how we were going to get there. This book took many unexpected turns.


One of my favorite turns was in researching Cuba, I discovered the Taino culture. They were a wonderful indigenous people that the Spanish invaders tried to wipe out. Their culture survives today and I loved doing the research into their customs, food and lifestyle. I had no idea they would become such an important part of this book and also the following books.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from Fanny Campbell's story?


A: Resilience, courage, perseverance, love, and joy.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am halfway finished with Fanny book 2 and book 3 and 4 are outlined. I am also finishing a children’s book series about a curious sea lion. The first book is called Wendall the Wandering Sea Lion.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: This new part of my life has been so unexpected and joyful. Covid sent me to a hilltop in Italy with my wonderful husband. Being in lockdown allowed Fanny to come roaring back to life and demand to be written.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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