A storm. A plot. And a rivalry that spans generations.
Unfurling the Sails
A Grey Shima Adventure
by Sarah Branson
Genre: YA SciFi Adventure
These winds are picking up fast. We need to heave to, get a sea anchor out, and put the storm sails up. And we needed to do it an hour ago.
While I won’t say it to Darvin, I’m actually a bit surprised that the storm developed as quickly as it did. If I had known it would blow in with such intensity and speed, I would have stayed on deck. But I wanted to finish the chapter I had begun last night at bedtime, and I really had to pee. Another swell strikes the boat, and water rushes over the deck. I reposition the tiller, trying to keep the bow pointed toward the waves, but we are moving too fast with both sails up.
I mutter to myself, my words slipping into the wind, unheard, “I’d have been ready for this storm. The sky was red this morning, and the pressure’s been dropping.” It’s not the first squall I’ve managed on the Fascination in the past two weeks, and it won’t be the last before we make port back in Haida—that’s just part of sailing the ocean.
Lots of people like to take a boat out on a nice day when there’s just enough breeze for a pleasant sail. Those folk never lose sight of the shore. And that’s fine–for them. Me, I like the wildness of the open ocean, its unpredictable character, the way it spreads in every direction as if there is nothing else on the planet except for blue water and you on your little boat. To be sure, the sea is unforgiving, but it is fair. If you respect it and have the skills and understanding of how it functions in all its moods, you’ll do fine. But there are no guarantees and that’s the thrilling part. To sail the open ocean, you have to be prepared for storms, for rogue waves, even for sea life, like whales. All those things can upend your ship and drop you into the depths.
Of course, during the race there were always watchers sailing near–especially for the under-twenty crews. Now, the watchers are gone, and we are on our own. Adrenaline pulses through my body making me vigilant and somewhat anxious. I glance up. The mast stands firm. The storm will likely only last a couple of hours. Maybe Darvin will be proven right, and we can sail out of it sooner. Maybe.
Darvin reefs the sails, and I find the tiller a bit easier to handle as the boat slows a bit. He turns and points a See? I was right finger at me and grins. He starts to say something, then turns his head toward starboard, his face wrinkling and his mouth dropping open to yell, but I don’t hear whatever he is going to say. Instead, there is a groaning and crunching that fills my ears, and the huge hull of a yacht slides in front of my face. The smooth, white side looms at me like some behemoth of the deep, and I know for certain I am going to be crushed and killed until I feel my feet come up, and I am tossed backward off the stern into the churning, foaming waters of the Great Sea.
Sarah Branson, an award-winning author and experienced midwife, weaves thrilling tales of action and adventure with airborne pirates amidst a world transformed by fires, floods, and pandemics.
Sarah first started conjuring stories of pirates when her family hopped a freighter to Australia when she was seven. She has since grown up, traveling the globe, raising a family, and teaching science and history to middle school and high school students in the U.S., Brazil, and Japan. Her diverse life journey inspires her storytelling.
A Merry Life, her debut novel, received prestigious honors. It is the first book of her Pirates of New Earth series that has captivated readers. Unfurling the Sails is her first novel written for teen readers.
Sarah and her husband call Connecticut home. She firmly believes the strength and resiliency of the human spirit combined with the power of badass women will create a better world for all.
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I love change. Yes, it’s a bit scary and it’s disruptive, but it’s also exhilarating and transforming. Also, it’s inevitable.
I grew up in a household where until I was in junior high, we moved every year or two. Why? There are two possible reasons: 1- my dad was simply born under a wandering star and liked to keep looking for the elusive “right spot” or 2- he was a spy and on the run.
Either way, (parental veracity was always in flux–apparently the fiction author role was foretold) we bounced from Nebraska to Oregon to California to Alabama to New Mexico (or it may have been Arizona, I was in diapers, so the difference eluded me). My mother was a smart-as-a-whip, special education teacher and was delighted to go along for the ride even when that ride got a little rocky.
Long car trips across the country with my sister in the back seat and no seatbelts was a normal summer for us, but one year, my folks decided that Australia was going to be our Shangri-la. So, all the worldly goods were sold or packed, the cat was rehomed, and we headed to Long Beach, California to board a freighter, the Hong Kong Beauty, to take us to Australia.
The captain of the freighter, a native Aussie, who became known to me as Uncle Fred, decided I looked like his grown daughter as a child and this likeness meant I got to spend my days inspecting the ship with him and listening to him spin tales. That was when pirate stories first started to dance in my head.
As an adult, I still embrace change. My career as a midwife taught me to move with the flow of birth and that families, women and birthing people are amazingly strong and remarkably resilient. I have worked in hospital settings, a birth center, and run my own homebirth practice. I have practiced midwifery for close to thirty years with forays into teaching science, English and history in the US and in Brazil and Japan. And now I have reinvented myself again, with all these lifetime experiences to guide me, as a writer of stories of action, adventure, revenge, and romance. Oh, and pirates.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
My protagonist of my first series, Kat Wallace, had to learn to fight, so that meant I had to learn to fight. I purchased a Fight Camp bag and subscription three years ago and now absolutely love to box and kickbox. There is nothing like whaling on the heavy bag for six, eight or ten rounds. It’s like a workout and therapy rolled into one! Bonus: I feel so much less vulnerable walking through a parking garage now.
Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you!
In the early 2000’s my husband and I moved to southern Brazil to teach bringing our high school aged youngest with us. One day, early in our stay, my husband and I went out for a long run and slowly the city melted away and after a few kilometers, we realized that we didn’t know where we were. There were fields scattered with a few Parana pines and some simple homes, but no signs. We turned down a dirt road and to our surprise encountered several cowboys on horseback herding cattle. I’m not sure which of us were more surprised at the other. But they were very kind and pointed us back toward the city. I’m sure they were shaking their heads at the foolish Americans in shorts running in the heat. They weren’t wrong.
How to find time to write as a parent?
I simply wait until the children are over 30 and out of the house. Works like a dream. (Truly, I am in constant awe of parents who are able to write with children in the home. Those folks are amazing!)
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
What time is it now? Because I am so new to the craft, it really has just been in the last few months that I will answer, “I’m an author,” when I am asked what I do for work. Fortunately, no one has asked what I do for a living, as that part of being a writer is still in the future.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I’d love to see the Pirates series as a mini-series and Unfurling would make a wonderful adventure movie.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I was in fifth grade and my dad took my sister and me to Mansfield, Missouri to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Cook, had read the Little House books out loud after lunch to us and I was enthralled to see Pa’s fiddle and Mary’s organ and have access to photographs of the Ingalls and Wilder family. I suspect my sister was not nearly as thrilled as she was reading adult books by then, but she was a good sport and went along and we didn’t fight too much. I realize that some of Wilder’s writings have not aged well under the lens of diversity and inclusion, but I loved them as a child.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have loved the main character of Unfurling the Sails, Grey Shima, from the time she was born in the Pirates series, and I have delighted in watching her grow from a chubby infant to a mischievous toddler to a vivacious and clever kid. I suppose I should have realized she would be her mother’s daughter and she would insist on my spinning the stories of her own adventures. It didn’t hurt that adult readers of the Pirates of New Earth series asked over and over for a similar story that could be shared with their children.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have lots of ideas and almost all of them are set in in the same universe of Bosch and New Earth.
There will certainly be more Grey Shima adventures as she grows. I am also planning a middle grade adventure book featuring Grey’s little brothers, Kik and Mac (I’m pretty sure my grandsons would be all over this one!)
There are a couple novellas I have been considering as supplements to the Pirates series, including one that looks at the early years that Kat was in Bosch and a romance that goes back in time to see how Kat’s adoptive parents, Teddy and Miriam, met and fell in love. In addition, I’d like to see Kat go back to North Country to confront her past.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Unfurling the Sails?
The main character is Grey Shima. She is fourteen and a bit uncomfortable with the idea of growing up. She a child of two countries, Bosch, an island-nation of pirates off what is now the coast of northern Maine, and Edo, the name for old Japan. She is a member of two blended families. She is smart and savvy but is also a bit adrift as she attempts to both define herself and distance herself from her mother’s expectations. She is currently at odds with her school friends and likes to lose herself in sailing, whittling and reading fantasy novels.
The second main character is Ashton Abernathy. He is twenty-nine and comes from a very privileged background. His father, Rob Abernathy, is the villainous antagonist in the Pirates series. His mother is disapproving and distant. Ashton is plagued with anger issues and is adrift as well as he struggles to become more than the handsome, wealthy, ne’er-do-well he is at the beginning of the book.
These two adrift characters, enemies from years earlier, are thrown together in the middle of the ocean and must learn to how to navigate both their dislike for each other and the trials of being lost at sea.
Who designed your book covers?
The brilliant and talented folks at The Book Designers, Alan Hebel and Ian Koviak. They are simply amazing.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Because the relationship between the two main characters initiates before the start of Unfurling the Sails, I have included an author’s note in the book to introduce new readers to the world of New Earth and Bosch. So, readers, don’t worry too much about knowing exactly what happened in the Awful July before the events of the book. You will get enough information and it really is the action within this story that is essential for Grey and Ashton.
Now, of course, if you are an adult and intrigued, feel free to pick up and read the Pirates series. If you are not an adult, put the series on your list for when you and your family feel it is the right time for you to read it.
How did you come up with name of this book?
The title went through several iterations including Take My Hand, An Inconvenient Girl, and a few others until after polling several trusted readers, Unfurling the Sails was settled on because it symbolizes the start of an unlikely adventure as well as the willingness to be open and vulnerable as a friend.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
Unfurling the Sails is a must read for fans of the series because it continues the excitement and adventure they have come to expect with a character they have come to love.
For new readers, it is an exciting introduction to the world of New Earth and at its heart, it is a story about unlikely friendship. I wrote the story with an intentional large age gap between the main characters because I wanted there to be no hint of romance between them. Instead, it is an enemies-to-friends, coming of age, action-adventure story that demonstrates that when faced with extraordinary events, ordinary people can find the best in themselves and each other.
Additionally, though it is set three hundred years in the future, Grey is still a fourteen-year-old girl with the worries, insecurities, hopes and dreams that we can all relate to since we have either been through it, are going through it, or will go through it soon. Her work to understand herself, her friends, her family, and her world makes Unfurling the Sails a timeless must read.
What book do you think everyone should read?
Oooo. I have a controversial opinion. My answer is no one book should be read by everyone. There are (thanks Google) about 156 million books out there. Each one contains a story that speaks to someone; none are essential for each human on the planet to read. Read those books that you enjoy and that evoke emotion in you. Don’t be afraid to stop reading something that you aren’t enjoying. Reading should not be a task; it should be a delight.
How long have you been writing?
A long time and not very long.
I have always loved reading and writing. My first “published” work was a poem I wrote when I was eight about albatrosses that my mother drew a picture for and then mimeographed off to give to anyone who didn’t move fast enough. As a young adult, I dreamed of being an author, but just didn’t feel I had a story worth putting on paper, and I also figured that short stories would have to be my genre as I couldn’t imagine writing anything more than two or three pages.
But I have always had a rich inner life. From playing make-believe with plastic animals in the mud at our little rented farmhouse in Nebraska, to imagining living in an underground house in the woods during the cross-country drives that took place during our regular summer moves, I always had an array of locales, characters and scenarios keeping me company.
Flash forward to 2020, during my ninety-minute commutes from Mystic to the Danbury birth center during the pandemic, one character kept showing up in my passenger seat: a young woman who had a traumatic past and had a story to tell–Kat Wallace.
She was clear that I had to write her story and it came out in a 110,000-word stream of consciousness that lacked some essential things like a plot and a narrative arc, but it was a story to be sure.
That draft became the first three books of the series. However, as I wrote the fourth and final book in Pirates of New Earth series, Grey’s character kept growing stronger, nudging me to give her some more space. It was clear that she was her mother’s daughter as she insisted on her own story, leading me to write Unfurling the Sails.
The creation of all of the books makes me recall a forward I read in Richard Bach’s Illusions where he described a story coming at him, grabbing him by the throat and insisting it be told. To Richard Bach I now say, “Same.”
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I usually start the pre-writing process by spending time alone with my characters and getting to know them. This may be on long walks, on runs, on drives, or just puttering around the house. After I feel I have a nodding acquaintance with the characters, I will talk with my husband about what I envision happening and we will throw scenarios back and forth.
I then put marker to poster paper to outline the rising and falling action of the story. Then I start writing, usually on Google docs, with whatever scene in the story seems clearest to me. It may fall at the beginning, the middle, or the end. Just having that scene in place then removes the Big Blank Page issue and I will then create a rough outline for the book and start to write from the beginning.
Of course, there are many times I end up going down the various rabbit holes of research, which doesn’t get a whole lot of words down, but makes for an interesting browser history.
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