If you’ve been following my site for a little while, you probably remember a silly, naïve author named Bella announcing that she could publish her debut novel, Cabin Girl, back in spring of 2021. And then the summer…and then the fall…
Well here we are at the end of October, and that same, now slightly more seasoned author named Bella has realized that planning for that kind of productivity in the midst of a busy summer is a mistake she won’t be making again.
And all that to say, instead of tackling a new NaNo project as I’d originally hoped, I’ve decided to bend the rules just a bit and use November to make some solid progress on Cabin Girl rewrites and edits (and formatting, cover design, anything else, etc.). I’m beyond ready mentally to share this story, and now I just need time to make it ready too!
So as November approaches and I’m prepping to do some heavy work on Cabin Girl, I thought I’d hop in on this wonderful link-up (hosted by the sweet Christine Smith) and share a little more about the story that’s been such a big part of my writing journey.
So many of you have blessed me with your encouragement, enthusiasm, and support for this book, and I can’t even express just how grateful I am to you all. I’ve really appreciated all the sweet notes and offers of help, and I look forward to being able to share the finished product with you some time – hopefully soon!
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this glimpse into Cabin Girl just as much as I enjoy giving it! Now on to the questions…
What first sparked the idea for this novel?
The very first spark of an idea came from reading through a writing prompt about a teen that wanted to be a doctor, was abducted by pirates, and was then made cabin boy/girl. And while those elements still hold true, the current Cabin Girl is far different from where it started three years ago. To be completely honest, it’s a good thing too, haha!
After the initial idea, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from one of my favorite – and underrated! – movies Treasure Planet (especially in terms of the characters and their relationships), as well as themes and lessons learned from my own life, and misc. research gleaned from other ‘pirate’ movies, books, and web pages. Hard facts about what piracy was like back then, especially for Barbary pirates, is difficult to find, but I’ve done my best and tried to be reasonable in filling in the grey areas after that.
Share a blurb (or just an overall summary)!
I’ll just say it: I don’t like writing blurbs or synopses. At all. I’m trying to improve at it, but if I could choose one part of writing to give up, it would be this. If you can’t tell, I tend to be long-winded, and summing up an entire novel in a couple of paragraphs is just exhausting, haha. That said, this is the current, long-version summary:
Four years ago, Éirinn O’Connell’s papa disappeared at sea. Long after Éirinn has given up on his return, her mama continues to watch the horizon, her grasp of reality slipping and memories blurring. Young Éirinn learns all she can of medicine, desperate to provide for her mama and sister, and spends her days struggling to assist villagers who shun her for her crooked back.
One night, Barbary pirates raid her village, and Éirinn—mistaken for a boy—is torn from her home and family. The truth sparks upset—and a plan. Until reaching the slave markets in Morocco, Éirinn is forced to tend to the sick quartermaster. In addition, she must serve as cabin girl to the hard-hearted Captain Gills, a man bent on ensuring she never returns to Ireland.
But Éirinn soon finds that all is not what it seems aboard The Lonely Eye. Unrest brews and mutiny whispers. Allies appear in unexpected places. A cunning enemy plots. What if Éirinn never makes it home? Will the God she trusts carry her through the storms? And how can something so painful ever bring good? The answers are unlike anything she expects.
Where does the story take place? What are some of your favorite aspects about the setting?
Because Cabin Girl centers around Éirinn’s time as a – surprise, surprise – cabin girl, most of the book takes place on a pirate ship in the middle of the ocean. Otherwise, the rest of the story is pretty evenly distributed between southern Ireland, where Éirinn and her family are from, and Morocco, Africa, where the Barbary slave trade flourished.
I’ve really loved getting to write about such a variety of locations. Ireland is vastly different than Morocco, and both are obviously quite different than a pirate ship at sea. So the amount of research and immersing myself mentally in each place that I’ve done has been very enjoyable. It’s been neat to experience the world through Éirinn’s eyes.
Tell us about your protagonist(s).
The protagonist of Cabin Girl is Éirinn O’Connell, the cabin girl herself! Earlier this year, I introduced her here, but I will never tire of talking about her, haha. As I’ve already mentioned, she was born and raised in southern Ireland, along the shore, and her appearance reflects that. Red hair, freckles, green eyes, and even though you can’t hear it in the book, a lilting accent – especially when she’s upset, though her outbursts are rare.
Cabin Girl takes place in the 17th century (mid-1600’s). When the story begins, Éirinn is sixteen and caring for her ill mother and younger sister Ciara, struggling to provide for them as the nearby villagers shun her for her crooked back. This also doesn’t help her dreams of becoming a physician. Although she learns all she can, the mockery of others, her own ailments, and her failure at helping her mother are constant discouragements.
Éirinn was an interesting character to write. Most of the time, she thought and acted in ways similar to myself, and in other times, I’d find myself stunned by the things that felt natural for her to do. For all the personality-typers out there, she’d be considered an ISFJ, a Melancholic, and an Enneagram type 2w1. She grows a lot throughout the book, but overall, she’s timid, quiet, hard-working, and devoted to her family. She slowly learns to trust God and to be an example of Christ’s love even in the darkest situations.
Who (or what) is the antagonist?
Saying I have a favorite character feels like picking a favorite child, but I’ll be honest: Cabin Girl‘s antagonist is my favorite. Meet Captain Gideon Gills, the pirate captain of The Lonely Eye. A Moroccan native, he’s been a renowned part of the Barbary slave trade for quite some time, and there’s no doubt in his mind that he’s everything the stories make him out to be. The good things, anyway. And want a story? Just ask about his eye patch.
I’ve never had a character come to life as easily as Gills did – and never in such a blazing burst of wit, strength, and confidence. From day one, it felt like Gills strode straight from my imagination onto the page and I haven’t been able to reel him back since. His snarky and often alliteration-filled phrases are yet another character quirk that’s been fun. He technically serves as an antagonist and a mentor to Éirinn.
Again, for those who care about personality, he’d be considered an ENTJ, a Choleric, and an Enneagram type 8w7. And while I’m not going to spoil the story, I’ve been fascinated by his character arc as well. On a positive note, he’s bold, confident, determined, and a dynamic leader. On the not-so-positive side, he’s stubborn, harsh, controlling, and downright cruel whenever he feels like it, which is often. He will get what he wants, when he wants it, and nothing better stand in his way – or else.
What excites you the most about this novel?
Definitely the characters. The broad range of personalities, motivations, purposes, goals, and roles in Cabin Girl‘s characters has made the adventure of writing the book worth it all on its own. And along with that, I’m excited for others to experience the twisting and constantly changing relationships between those characters.
Really the entire book excites me – the plot, the pirates, the places, etc. – but as a character-driven author especially, it does all come down to the characters. They’re what really get me pumped up to finish the story and share it with others. Each of them feel very real to me; like they all have stories of their own to tell and we just get a glimpse.
Is this going to be a series? standalone? something else?
A year ago, I would have said a standalone – without a doubt. I never intended for there to be any other continuations of the story and yet…after finishing Cabin Girl, I loved the characters so much that I allowed myself to contemplate a prequel, this time centering around the Captain Gills I liked so much. Gills ended up being my NaNo project last year (70,000 words!), and though it needs much cleaning up, I’m excited to share it some day.
And I won’t promise anything because I’m still not sure, but I’ll just say that after lots of conversations and contemplation with people who’ve read Cabin Girl, an actual sequel might come along as well. But before I get too carried away, this story’s first priority.
Are you plotting? pantsing? plansting?
Since I’ve already written Cabin Girl, I’m not technically doing any this time around; just editing. But when I first wrote it, I definitely plotted everything. I had outlines of the entire book, as well as lists of points to hit in each chapter. The only thing I was missing was thorough research, which I thankfully fixed for the rewrite.
That said, the current Cabin Girl looks far different than my original outline. It was very helpful to have somewhere to start, but I wasn’t at all afraid of veering off-course when inspiration struck. In fact, those parts are still my favorite sections of the story. That’s when it felt like the characters really took over and the story just flowed naturally and compellingly. So I like to think I hit an okay balance in the process for this book.
Name a few unique elements about this story.
I’d say the first unique element would be the focus on Barbary pirates, as opposed to ones that hunt treasure (no treasure for this crew!). They’re not in the Caribbean either, but in the European and African waters. I wanted to do something not seen as often, and the Barbary slave trade opened many topics and themes to explore in Cabin Girl.
Another unique element could be the hunchback Éirinn has. There’s a whole backstory that I won’t spoil here, but I wanted her to have something to struggle with physically that’s not commonly used in novels and this came about naturally. It’s ended up having a bigger impact on the story events than I’d originally planned.
And lastly, just the fact that it’s a Christian pirate novel is probably unique. I know there are some, but they’re definitely not common. When I started, I didn’t think about how hard it’d be to find the right balance between honestly portraying the pirates’ cruelty and darkness, but not dwelling too much on them. There’s been lots of prayer involved!
Share some fun “extras” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!).
Well since you asked . . . I do have a some photo inspiration here and a small playlist here (it’s difficult to come up with a specific playlist, when any Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks are great, haha). The unofficial theme song for this story would have to be Jason Gray’s Glow in the Dark.
As far as a special theme, the main theme/s of Cabin Girl would be forgiveness, loyalty, and trusting God, even when His ways don’t make sense to us or end up leading us through pain and oppressive darkness. Again, I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer over this novel, and have ended up learning right along with Éirinn at many points. It’s my hope that the lessons Éirinn learns will minister to others as well.
Well, that’s all the questions for now! Thanks for joining me for this fun project, and I hope you enjoyed getting some rambling insights into Cabin Girl. Have any questions, or did anything stick out to you? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to know your thoughts!
And if you’re a writer attempting NaNoWriMo this year, I always enjoy hearing about other people’s projects, so feel free to gush about your special novel as much as you’d like in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you!