The Seafaring Women of the Vera B. is a novel just released by my good writing pal and mentor Susan Page Davis, and her son, James S. Davis.
Susan is a multi-published author whose historical novels have won the Carol Award, the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and the Will Rogers Medallion for Western Fiction.
First, what’s this book all about?
Susan: It’s set in 1854. Here’s our back cover blurb:
With the captain dead in Melbourne, Australia, Alice Packard thinks the worst has happened, until she learns the crew has deserted her husband’s ship in favor of the goldfields. Only one old man, Gypsy Deak, sticks by her, but Gypsy alone can’t raise a crew from the depleted population. In desperation, Alice turns to the only source of plentiful workers: the women of Melbourne. In a bold move, she and Gypsy empty a brothel, promising the escaped women a new life. Her all-woman (save one) crew put their backs and hearts into the voyage, but Alice finds training her sailors much harder than she expected. Her faith is tested to the limit. With a cargo to sell, angry brothel and tavern owners in pursuit, pirates to evade, and a mysterious stowaway, will the seafaring women of the Vera B. survive to tell the tale of this daring adventure?
What inspired the idea for The Seafaring Women of the Vera B.?
Susan: I had read about Abby Pennell, whose husband was a ship captain and died in Rio de Janeiro. She took the ship home. Of course, she had the original crew to do most of the work, but I wondered, what if the crew had deserted her? I found the perfect situation: During the Australia gold rush, dozens of ships sat idle in their harbors while the crews flocked to the goldfields. What better place to strand a decent women with few resources? Since my son had spent time in Australia, he seemed like the ideal writing partner for this book.
Jim: One major crisis that our characters faced was the specter of teaching an entire crew of women how to sail the Vera B in just a few short days. Only four of the crew of twenty or so people really had any inkling what to do, and the others had to come up to speed very rapidly. Some may well question whether a crew of women would have the physical strength and agility to "man" a sailing vessel, but in modern times women do participate in sailing ship operation.
Susan: With enough women assigned to each task, they could do this work, especially if they knew their lives depended on it. The first obstacle was getting them away from their employers, who treated them more like slaves than free women. The first part of the story involves the decision to do this, and then the harrowing process of freeing the women who had been living in a bordello.
Jim: In 1854, there was a large stigma attached to women doing men's work. Once aboard the Vera B., our characters had to overcome not only their inexperience and physical weakness, but also their preconceived ideas of what was possible or acceptable for women to do.
They had a few days inside Port Phillip Bay to "learn the ropes" and gain the skills necessary to bear the toil of the ship. Some of the girls struggle with a fear of heights, some with weakness, and some with the concepts of authority, subordination, and tolerance for people they dislike or disagree with. Practically everyone on board struggles with internal wounds from their past, and uncertainty of their future. Can Captain Alice hold everything together?
Susan: Writing this book was a challenge. We decided that Alice needed one loyal man to help her train the women, since she had not actively taken part in operating the sails before. She does know how to navigate, however—something her husband had taught her on their voyages. With Gypsy’s help, along with that of a couple of women who have sailing skills, they are able to teach the new crew the rudiments of sailing before the man who owned the brothel discovers their plans.
Jim: An elderly sailor with a chronic limp, Gypsy is catapulted out of his comfort zone into what seems like a dangerous and humiliating circus act. Only his fierce devotion to Alice and her late husband keeps him from jumping ship himself.
Susan: Another problem the women encounter is wardrobe. Before they can practice sailing around the large harbor, Alice realizes they will have to dress like men to avoid being noticed by sailors on the many ships lying at anchor. Long hair must either be cut or hidden beneath caps. Some of her deserting male crew left clothing behind, and these are quickly altered for the women.
The rest must make over their skirts into loose trousers or stitch new clothes from the fabric in the cargo hold. Several of the women have sewing skills. This takes time that could have been spent in training, but when the moment comes when they must flee the harbor or be captured and forced to resume their old lives, the women are ready to risk everything.
Jim: This book is a story of people who learn that "you can do anything you must do." The incredible challenges they face will make them or break them. Humanly speaking, the odds are impossible. It's just a good thing Alice knows where to find the true source of strength.
How many novels are you planning for this series?
Susan: Right now we are working on Book 2 of the Hearts of Oak series. We plan to do at least three. We would like to do several more, and we’ll see how that goes.
Giveaway: We’re offering either an e-book or a paperback copy of The Seafaring Women of the Vera B!
Sign up for the blog or leave a comment and next week one fortunate reader will be receive a free copy of The Seafaring Women of the Vera. B!
|Susan Page Davis|
To find this book as a paperback: The Seafaring Women of the Vera B.
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