Monday Mysteries – Mermaids…? with Helen Hollick

Mysteries, thrillers, crime novels, who-dun-its,
cosy mysteries
 … real mysteries, historical mysteries…
it’s all a mystery to me!
When I decided to write a prequel short read story for my Sea Witch Voyages, I grabbed the opportunity to fill in a few gaps left (somewhat gaping) from my Jesamiah Acorn’s past. An opportunity to write the story of how he became a pirate, and how he originally ‘met’ the eventual love of his life, the white witch, Wise One of Craft, Tiola. (Say it Tee-o-la, not Tee-oh-la) – and to write a story about a mermaid.

The first edition was published as an e-book only by Silverwood Books, but this year (2021) I obtained the rights back and decided to re-issue it as e-book and paperback – with a brand new cover and a few additional scenes.

For that original edition I had been limited to forty thousand words, maximum, now, doing it myself I could expand a little, so I decided to add a few scenes of Tiola’s early life as well. (There have been hints about her background in the main Voyages – her Cornish home, her abusive father, her discontented – nay, unhappy – mother. Her ‘witch grandmother…)

That original, and the new edition, was a challenge because I had to ensure the continuity. What happens in When The Mermaid Sings had to tie in with everything from my characters’ lives in the other books.

In Sea Witch, Jesamiah is in his early twenties, in Mermaid he is not quite fifteen when the story opens.

Tiola is younger. She is a child still, although her ‘Craft’ is awakening and mentally she is older than her physical age.

My challenge was to bring in the mermaid, the character from the title, and to bring her in realistically. Mermaids do not exist, but that’s not going to stop authors writing about them is it? 

To the sailors of the past mermaids were very much real creatures, with the caveat that all sailors, like fishermen, were capable of exaggerating tall tales. (Or should that be fishy tails?)
Mermaid, On The Bow, Evening, Gloomy Sky
Mermaid figurehead

Mermaids are aquatic creature half-female or male (mermen) and half-fish. They have been characters of fictional tales since early times.  Assyria has the accolade of the first (as far as we know) stories, with the goddess Atargatis, who changed herself into a mermaid for accidentally killing her human shepherd lover. (Why the connection between shepherd and a mermaid I’ve no idea). Human-like creatures with the tails of fish are in Mesopotamian artwork from the Old Babylonian Periods. They seem to have been regarded as protective figures – as the figureheads on seventeenth and eighteenth-century sailing ships seem to have been.

Folklore associates them with floods, shipwrecks and storms, often enticing sailors to their doom, although other stories depict them as the opposite – of rescuing drowning sailors. Alexander the Great’s sister, Thessalonike, in Greek legend, became a mermaid of the Aegean sea after her death. She would appear to passing sailors and ask if King Alexander still lived. A positive answer of “He lives, reigns and conquers the world” would result in her disappearing into calm waters. Woe betide a negative response, for she would create a terrible storm and sailors would drown. Which is a very inventive way of explaining unexpected storms at sea!

Most tales have some element of romance between a human and a mermaid.

Greek myth depicts the mermaids as the Sirens, most notably they appear in Homer’s Odyssey, although Columbus, during his exploration of the Caribbean states an account of seeing mermaids. But then, he had been on a long journey and there’s no record of how much rum was aboard… 

Sailing off the coast of Hispaniola in 1493, he reported seeing three “female forms” which “rose high out of the sea, but were not as beautiful as they are represented”. The pirate, Blackbeard, apparently ordered his crew to steer away from certain enchanted waters for fear of mermaids, which he had seen for himself and believed wanted to steal his ill-gotten plunder. Mind you, as most pirates of the early 1700s were usually on the wrong side of sober, these were probably drunken sightings of various aquatic mammals, plus it’s quite likely that Blackbeard was madder than the Mad Hatter.

Little Mermaid, Ariel, Disney

Possibly the most well-known mermaid tale, alongside Disney’s animation,  is The Little Mermaid, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale (1836). 
A statue to her is in Copenhagen harbour.

Little Mermaid, Statue, Copenhagen

Durham Castle’s Norman Chapel, built by Anglo-Saxon stonemasons circa 1078, shows what is most likely the earliest English mermaid. Some folktales tell of mermaids in British lakes and rivers, while the tale of the Cornish village of Zennor tells of a mermaid listening to the singing of a chorister, Matthew Trewhella. They fell in love, and Matthew joined with her at her home at Pendour Cove, where, on summer nights, they can be heard singing together. The Zennor Church of Saint Senara has a six-hundred-year-old chair decorated with a mermaid carving. 

For When The Mermaid Sings, I loosely based my idea on The Lorelei Rock, a 132m (433ft) slate rock on the right bank of the River Rhine in the Rhine Gorge at Sankt Goarshausen in Germany. The name “Lorelei” translates as something akin to “murmuring rock”, although another theory is that it means “lurking rock” because it was the scene of many accidents – this is a particularly narrow (and busy) part of the river, and I have fond memories of a wonderful river cruise with dear friends that took us past the Lorelei Rock. 

The Lorelei Rock, Rhine Gorge

The story goes that the beautiful Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, was accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to die, the bishop sent her to a nunnery. On the way there, escorted by three knights, they passed the Lorelei rock. She pleaded permission to climb it and view the Rhine for one last time… but she fell to her death and the rock still retains an echo of her name and her tears for her lover.

Mermaid, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Sea

It was that last bit that inspired me. A mermaid figure, grieving for her lost lover haunts the young lad, Jesamiah…

But here’s the mystery: did he really see her, or was she nothing more than  his imagination?

Read the story and make up your own mind! 

A new edition with new additional scenes

When the only choice is to run, where do you run to?
When the only sound is the song of the sea, do you listen?
Or do you drown in the embrace of a mermaid?
Throughout childhood, Jesamiah Mereno has suffered the bullying of his elder half-brother. Then, not quite fifteen years old, and on the day they bury their father, Jesamiah hits back. In consequence, he flees his Virginia home, changes his name to Jesamiah Acorne, and joins the crew of his father’s seafaring friend, Captain Malachias Taylor, aboard the privateer, Mermaid.
He makes enemies, sees the ghost of his father, wonders who is the Cornish girl he hears in his mind – and tries to avoid the beguiling lure of a sensuous mermaid…
An early coming-of-age tale of the young Jesamiah Acorne, set in the years before he becomes a pirate and Captain of the Sea Witch.
“Ms Hollick has skilfully picked up the threads that she alludes to in the main books and knitted them together to create a Jesamiah that we really didn’t know.” Richard Tearle senior reviewer, Discovering Diamonds
“Captain Jesamiah Acorne is as charming a scoundrel as a fictional pirate should be. A resourceful competitor to Captain Jack Sparrow!” Antoine Vanner author
“Helen Hollick has given us the answer to that intriguing question that Jesamiah fans have been aching for – how did he start his sea-going career as a pirate?” Alison Morton, author
“I really enjoyed the insight offered into Jesamiah’s backstory, and found the depiction of our teenage hero very moving.” Anna Belfrage, author
“I loved this little addendum to the Jesamiah series. I always had a soft spot for the Lorelei stories and enjoyed that the author cleverly brought her over from the Rhine valley to fit into the story.” Amazon Reviewer

*** ***
Helen’s cosy mystery set in 1970s north London 

The first in a new series of quick-read,
cosy mysteries set in the 1970s.
A Mirror Murde

Eighteen-year-old library assistant Jan Christopher’s life is to change on a rainy Friday evening in July 1971, when her legal guardian and uncle, DCI Toby Christopher, gives her a lift home after work. Driving the car, is her uncle’s new Detective Constable, Laurie Walker – and it is love at first sight for the young couple.

But romance is soon to take a back seat when a baby boy is taken from his pram,  a naked man is scaring young ladies in nearby Epping Forest, and an elderly lady is found, brutally murdered…

Are the events related? How will they affect the staff and public of the local library where Jan works – and will a blossoming romance survive a police investigation into  murder?


“A delightful read about an unexpected murder in North East London.” Richard Ashen (South Chingford Community Library)

“Lots of nostalgic, well-researched, detail about life in the 1970s, which readers of a certain age will lap up; plus some wonderful, and occasionally hilarious, ‘behind the counter’ scenes of working in a public library, which any previous or present-day library assistant will recognise!” Reader Review

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