By Martin Roberts
Mark Keating could never find pirate novels he liked to read so he decided to write his own.
Most of the fiction he consumed had fantasy or supernatural elements, or was about people who became pirates out of need and then went straight as soon as they could.
"That's not what I felt about pirates. I thought, I'll write one about pirates who want to be pirates, who enjoy the freedom," Keating said on the sidelines of the Semana Negra book fair in northern Spain.
The British author does not write about romantic swashbucklers like those portrayed by Errol Flynn, but tough men living in tough times at the beginning of the 18th century.
"They're dirtier, grittier, harder, with quite easy morals. They're violent because they lived in violent times. There's also a lot drink involved, because there was a lot of drink around," Keating said.
Keating, who jokes that he took up writing to persuade his wife to buy a computer, also wanted to steer clear of the dancing skeletons and vampire goddesses which feature in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films.
"All kudos to the films for putting pirates centre-stage. They're very popular characters, but that filters it down too much," he said. "I always say, there's no romance, no monsters and no romantic monsters."
Agents agreed with Keating's approach and he soon had a deal to publish "The Pirate Devlin" in 2010. It is about an Irish boy sold into servitude who grows up to become a pirate and challenge his former master.
"We have less and less personal freedom, it gets eroded every year, so I wanted the pirates to be a metaphor for freedom and personal democracy," he said.
Keating recalls that 7,000 pirates once roamed the Caribbean. They handled one third of the trade between Britain and its American possessions by capturing cargoes and helping colonists avoid the stiff import duties levied on official commerce.
"The image of a pirate swinging across a ship and cannons broadsiding is a bit of myth. Often there wasn't a shot fired. The ships were insured," he said.
Keating is under contract to write five books about Devlin. The second, "White Gold," came out in January and takes its title from the name given to porcelain from China, which at the time was as valuable and sought-after as the precious metal.
The third Devlin book is due out in January 2012 and has the working title of "Blood Diamond." It is about the "Pitt Diamond" and is set at the time of the speculative South Sea Bubble which burst in 1720.
He notes that the most famous pirates of the era, like "Black Bart" Roberts, were hunted down and killed. He likens his characters to the outlaws in Sam Peckinpah's classic film "The Wild Bunch," who lived and died at the end of a golden age.
"They don't really belong in the world anymore. Over the five books they will get older and come down to the conclusion that that's the end of it." (Editing by Robert Woodward)