Alex Wheatle: Why I wrote a pirate book that actually tackles slavery

Published on: 15 February 2022 Author: Alex Wheatle

Alex Wheatle MBE's new book, Kemosha of the Caribbean, is the stirring tale of an escaped slave girl's adventures on the high seas. Here's why he wanted to move away from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and tell a different story...

Reuniting with my father in Jamaica 1987, he offered to take me on a day trip to Port Royal. ‘Once the wickedest place on earth,’ is how my father sold it to me.

Learning about pirates, cutthroats, privateers, Captain Morgan, Calico Jack, female pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny, treasure chests, pieces of eight, attacks on the Spanish Main, and the 1692 earthquake where Port Royal was destroyed and thousands perished, captured my imagination.

I enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies to a certain extent but was frustrated that for a story that’s essentially about the Caribbean, there wasn’t any substantial role for a black character.

Researching my novel Cane Warriors, I discovered that there were numerous slave revolts throughout the Caribbean islands, and attempted escapes from slave plantations on a daily basis.

With Kemosha, I wanted to create a compelling character to rival the literary heroes from my childhood that included Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island, Ivanhoe and Huckleberry Finn.

I hope to generate as much excitement and tension for readers as the above texts offered me.

'Thick with jeopardy'

I wanted to write a black female heroine and make Kemosha to be as brave and fearless as any other heroic character in children’s or Young Adult fiction. She is headstrong and not without flaw, but I believe she is one of my most compelling and driven characters. She fights for her life to escape slavery and embarks on an adventure to free her enslaved family and loved ones.

Ravenhide is the mysterious barrel-maker who teachers Kemosha the art of swordplay. He plays the role of the wise mentor, like a Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings or an Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.

Kemosha duels with men and fights for her very life. I’d like readers to perceive her as a Saturday afternoon matinee idol, a modern-day Sinbad if you like.

I take the reader on an exhilarating journey that is thick with jeopardy. I lead the reader through the heat, the bush and landscape of 17th century Jamaica. I place them in the bars and inns of Port Royal. I take them on a voyage to the Spanish Main, Panama.

My heroine gets to meet and work for Captain Henry Morgan, the world-renown buccaneer who captained his ship The Satisfaction.

All this, from my day trip back in 1987 to Port Royal.

Kemosha has been given life. I’m very proud of her, and I wonder what adventure lies before her next.


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