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Life of a Smuggler (Paperback)

Fact and Fiction

P&S History > True Crime

By Helen Hollick
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: Fact and Fiction
Pages: 170
Illustrations: 20
ISBN: 9781526727138
Published: 21st January 2019



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‘Brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk…’

We have an image, mostly from movies and novels, of a tall ship riding gently at anchor in a moonlit, secluded bay with the ‘Gentleman’ cheerfully hauling kegs of brandy and tobacco ashore, then disappearing silently into the night shadows to hide their contraband from the excise men in a dark cave or a secret cellar.

But how much of the popular idea is fact and how much is fiction? Smuggling was big business – it still is – but who were these derring-do rebels of the past? Were smugglers regarded as the heroes of a community, or were they resented and feared? How effective were the men who tried to uphold the laws against smuggling?

What an interesting read. I had an image in my mind of smugglers being rugged and romantic, but realise now that was just Hollywood at work.

So many foodstuffs were smuggled as well as fabric and tobacco, but reading that gin was so abundant that it was used to clean windows was an eye-opener.

I love books that are both entertaining and educate me. If you’re considering buying this book it’s absolutely worth your time.

For the Love of Books

This is a superb introduction to the topic whose structure answers many of the questions about smuggling and distinguishes between the facts and fiction that cloud the subject. Teachers will in particular find this a very accessible reference on the topic and will find lots of detail to add to their curriculum.

Ashley Holt, The Hoplite Association

The Life of a Smuggler is a comfortable and informative instrument for all readers. It entertains and educates through the lives of those who participated as smugglers. From an historical perspective, the book captures the essence of smuggling using vivid detail while expanding our geographical knowledge by tying this trade directly to life on the English coast and elsewhere. The author successfully illustrates how smuggling shaped the history of coastal life, first in England and then into Jamaica and the American colonies, celebrating history through the smuggling trade.

The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, Vol. XXIX, Summer 2019 – reviewed by Diana Ritzie Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

Quite frankly, I approached this book with reluctance and it found its way down the pile of books I had for review. But it turned out to be a really good and informative read. Lightweight and fun, it was among the more enjoyable books read this time round.

Ripperologist, October 2019 – reviewed by Paul Begg

Featured in 'Family Tree Subs Club'

Family Tree, August 2019

Those who desire just an enlightening and entertaining introduction to the world and history of the illegal importation of goods will enjoy Hollick’s Life of a Smuggler.

Read the full review here

Pirates and Privateers, Cindy Vallar

Since smuggling was a secret activity most of the records relate to the minority of smugglers who were caught. However this still gives Hollick plenty of stirring tales to tell, especially about the organised gangs who openly defied the excisemen. In her Where section she takes us on a tour of the British coast, gathering up smugglers’ tales. She ends with a section on the literary legacy of smuggling. An interesting and entertaining companion to the genre.

Historical Novels Review

This is an enlightening book, there is a lot in it that will capture the imagination of a bygone era, the stories of the old pirates it utterly fascinating and definitely my favourite parts of the whole book.

Read the full review here

Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

I found it really interesting and I liked the tone of the whole thing! There was a playfulness and laid-back tone that I thought fitted the book well – it was almost conversational, which made it feel less like a history lecture.

There was a fun element brought into this history, where scant facts were highlighted in contrast to the overarching fiction that has largely shaped (and is still influencing) common perceptions. Some of the ‘facts’ presented honestly sound like the basis of an epic series of tales! They were juicer than the fictitious tales!

Read the full review here

Reading with Alison

Helen Hollick has given us a brief, entertaining and light-hearted survey of smugglers and smuggling over the past few hundred years.

WDYTYA? Magazine, May 2019 – reader review, Paul Chennell, London

This is an easy to read, well laid out book that covers the basics of the history of smugglers in Britain, mostly focusing on the 17th and 18th centuries, although some mention is made of modern smuggling. Helen Hollick writes fiction about smugglers so she already has some background in the subject and her ability to write is clear. She’s funny and the narrative is broken up by short ‘Facts’ paragraphs. I read it fairly quickly because it was interesting and fun. Hollick charts the change in attitudes over the centuries from general acceptance of smuggling as a necessity because of government tariffs making goods more expensive than necessary. As time passed the gangs became more violent and less accepted.

Rosemarie Cawkwell, Blogger

'Pen & Sword Books have some great new releases for your book shelf. We have picked out the best'

Waterside, 10th April 2019 (pages 52 & 53)

The book is well laid out in a When, Why, Who, How, What, and Where fashion, yet with very little repeated. Punctuated with illustrations – line drawings, engravings and photographs – and some 'Fun Facts' I was impressed with the format. It bodes well for future volumes.

The research is wide ranging and meticulous, but so well presented that the reader does not get bogged down with any boring stuff. It is so easy to read, yet so packed full of information about the individuals, the gangs, the culture of smuggling that it is an ideal – no; the ideal – reference book for researchers and authors. There must be a dozen 'novel' ideas contained in the stories, some of which are almost unbelievable but all true! I loved the one about the constable who, enjoying a drink in the inn, saw a smuggler's cart stuck in the mud just outside, so he sent his men out to help free it and send it on its way! And yet not the only example of a Nelsonian Blind Eye!... Helen Hollick has delivered a book that grips the reader and covers every possible aspect of smuggling.

Read the full review here

Amazon Customer

A short but brilliant book, educational as well as entertaining, smugglers are the lesser known, less glamorous, cousins to pirates but their influence on real life was far, far greater.

Read the full review here

Amazon Customer

In this easy to read book; the author provides historical evidence of smugglers from around the coasts of the British Isles, with a smaller section set in the Americas. I particularly enjoyed the sprinkling of ‘little known facts’ throughout the book; they featured interesting snippets.

Read the full review here

Rosie Amber, Blogger

Click here to listen to author interview

NOTE: set cursor to 2:35:32

BBC Radio Devon with presenter David Fitzgerald, 13th February 2019

It is all told in Ms Hollick's wonderful conversational style, which makes the reading experience feel rather like being invited into her kitchen and told these wonderful tales over a cup of tea (legally imported, unlike in the smuggling days!)

This book is informative and fun. Who could ask for more?

Read the full review here

Annie Whitehead, Blogger

As interviewed by

Talk Radio Europe, 29th January 2019

About Helen Hollick

Helen Hollick is a bestselling historical fiction author, with her books A Hollow Crown and Harold the King being published in both the UK and the US. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely acclaimed as a different telling of the Arthurian myth. The Sea Witch Voyages, a series of pirate-based, part fantasy, nautical adventures are popular on both sides of the Atlantic. She has written two non-fiction books, Pirates; Truth and Tale and co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new and novice writers who are interested in self-publishing. Life of a Smuggler is her first book with Pen and Sword.

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