Talk like, and read about, a pirate

  • Author Norman Schell signs copies of his book “The Ballade Of Mary Reede” at the Sunderland Public Library. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Author Norman Schell speaks about his books "The Ballade Of Mary Reede" at the Sundarland Public Library. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • “The Ballade Of Mary Reede” by Greenfield Author Norman Schell. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

For the Gazette
Thursday, September 21, 2017

SUNDERLAND — Arggghhh! Tuesday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day matey! And the Public Library celebrated with a pirate-themed book reading by Greenfield author Norman C. Schell from his 2016 book “The Ballade Of Mary Reede.”

“Those who read the book will understand the significance of this,” Schell said to a group of about 40 onlookers, striking the floor three times with a faded oar (a customary action to gather pirates together for an announcement). “There’s a bloody fight, a bloody, brutal duel, and a couple of gunfights.”

Mary Reede was an 18th century pirate, and a member of captain John Rackham’s crew. Schell’s historical fiction book tells Reede’s story through first-hand accounts, mostly recounted “in the memoirs of her husband, ‘by common law and custom of the sea,’ John Tanner.”

“I was deeply impressed with this story of an English woman who had been forced by circumstances beyond her control to masquerade, successfully, as a man since childhood,” said Schell. Reede also served in the English cavalry until “barracks life was boring,” and took to the high seas. In 1720, she was sentenced to hang for piracy. But when it was discovered she was pregnant, Reede went free.

Schell, who himself has little seafaring experience, said the book took about 20 years to extensively research and write — in large part because it was put on hold when the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie came out.

“I threw my hands up,” Schell said.

After reading a few passages from the book, Schell discussed his research process, some of which was done at the Greenfield Public Library. The discourse also covered, more generally, piracy.

“We sail as a commonwealth of free men. We bear allegiance to no flag, or country, but to ourselves,” Schell read from a scene in which Rackham gives a charismatic, passionate speech persuading Reede to become a pirate.

“They’re not anarchist. On average, 30 percent of a (raided) crew went over to the pirates,” Schell said. “Most (seamen) were pressed into service, and when war ended, they had no skills.” Mary joins “to move herself and become independent.”

After, Schell answered questions, and sold signed book copies. Schell’s book can be found elsewhere at local and national book dealers. Local public libraries — which Schell, a retired working-class singer-songwriter, called “the primary source of my education” — have copies.

Talk Like a Pirate Day, which coincided with the library’s desire to have Schell read from his book, brought out more people than normally attend book readings, said Library Director Katherine Hand.

“It’s an exciting story,” she said. “It brings a lot of different interests into one story.”

Looking ahead, the library doesn’t have any more book readings scheduled, “but we’re always interested in having local authors come and speak,” Hand said.

Currently, Schell’s story is being converted to a television script by Laura Harrington, an actress and writer from California. More information can be found at www.maryreede.com.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Sept. 21 to correct spelling errors.