Warning: There are spoilers in this episode
(Skip to the interview at 22:22 to avoid them)
For our debut episode of AudioBook Club, we meet up to discuss the Audible Original Drama Hell Cats written by Carina Rodney and directed by Kate Saxon.
Hell Cats tells the story of two fearless female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Their adventures on the high seas quickly see them embroiled in a queer love affair while being hunted by their mounting list of enemies.
Our Audio-bookworms are audio professional Ellie and Amber who listened to the drama and couldn’t wait to share their thoughts on Hell Cats with you. The episode features listener questions and a special appearance from the show’s writer Carina Rodney.
Join us for our next live event and taping on Sunday, January 24th at 4:00 pm GMT where we’ll be getting stuck into Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams!
You can register to attend at contentisqueen.org/abc2/ the link is also in the show notes. If you can’t make it feel free to send your thoughts and questions about Queenie to us on Whatsapp on +447715 408831
Full transcript available (coming soon)
Imriel: Welcome to AudioBook Club. I’m your host Imriel Morgan, the founder of Content is Queen.
AudioBook Club is a monthly event and podcast where we celebrate and discuss Black, Asian, Queer and Female narratives in literature. Every month we meet with other audiobookworms to discuss an audiobook recommended by you. But, and it’s a big one! You can still attend the live event even if you’ve read and not listened to the book. We’ll share our live discussion in every episode, followed by an interview and Q&A with a featured guest. If we’re lucky, we’ll have the author but expect to hear from voice actors, directors, editors and even book critics.
Join us for our next live event and taping on Sunday, January 24th at 4pm GMT, where we’ll be getting stuck into Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, you can register to attend at contentisqueen.org/ABC2. The link is also in the show notes. If you can’t make it feel free to send your thoughts and even your questions to us on WhatsApp via +447715 408831 or 07715 408831 and apologies in advance but you’ll have to expect some spoilers. So if you haven’t listened to the book, but you plan to you might want to switch off now. (Music)
This week we’re discussing the Audible Original podcast and audio drama Hell Cats written by Carina Rodney. Hell Cats tells the story of two fearless female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Their adventures on the high seas quickly see them embroiled in a queer love affair all while being hunted by their mounting list of enemies.
Here’s what you can expect to hear in the show. (page turn sound FX)
Our love for the music:
Amber: I did like the whole running theme of a sea shanty going through and like the songs. (page turn sound FX)
Imriel: Our thoughts on the violence:
Imriel: I was bloodthirsty, and I was ready for him to die. I would love to see this on stage. (page turn sound FX)
Imriel: Revelations from our featured guests Carina Rodney:
Carina: They would spend a fortune when they came into port like the equivalent of thousands of pounds and a night out, and they would be completely pimped out with gold and jewels. (page turn sound FX)
Imriel All this and so much more. (Music)
First up, let’s meet this week’s audiobookworms, all aboard! (Music sting)
Imriel: With me, on today’s AudioBook Club who are keen to talk about everything Hell Cats it’s Ellie and Amber. Please introduce yourself.
Ellie: Hi, I’m Ellie, and I work in radio.
Amber: Hi, I’m Amber, and I edit podcasts.
Imriel: Brilliant. How appropriate that you’re both here. (Music)
Imriel: Can you describe the experience of listening to Hell Cats?
Ellie: Yeah, so, I just really enjoyed it. I knew within the first few minutes of listening to it that actually, it was something that was very different to the other sort of audiobooks that I had listened to you recently. And very quickly, I realised it was something that I wanted to give more concentration to. So it wasn’t just going to be a background lesson, it was going to be something that I really concentrated on. And I think that’s down to the way that it really throws you into it. And the really great scripting, and performances that really draw you in.
Imriel: I agree, I definitely felt that way it is definitely one that you have to concentrate on. Throughout. There’s just no way you could just be doing something else because you feel like you’re missing crucial plot points. And the first episode because it drops you right in the centre of everything. From the sound design to the background story of the two women. You’re just like, What is going on? Sorry, what did I just miss? And then I found myself having to skip back. So I think I listened to episode one or started episode one at least three times. Because I was just like, wait a second, I was too distracted. And so in the end, I gave up on multitasking and just engaged with it as a drama that I had to kind of sit and watch without actually watching anything.
Ellie: Yeah, I think also, there’s so many characters. It’s a really full world. So it’s like you said, the thing is if you’re not concentrating and then they introduce a new character, then you find yourself being like, Oh my God, Who is this? (-Imriel: Exactly) And then actually it turns out they’re really important, and you’re having to go back.
Imriel: Yeah. What about you, Amber?
Amber: Yeah, I think it lived up to all my expectations. I liked how you were saying it’s very immersive and it’s very cinematic. I really like audio dramas. And I see this as more of an audio drama than it is an audiobook because there’s so much going on. You’ve got so much soundscape and everything like that, and you’re already thrown into it.
Hell Cats Clip: On this day of October 20 1720. By Command of Governor Woodes Rogers of New Providence, a reward is offered for the capture of Captain Jack Rackham. And his grace of Hell Cats Anne Bonny and Mary Read for piracy and looting. His Hell Cats we don’t belong to Jack or any man bloody cheek. I thought Hell Cats had quite the ring to it, perhaps and how much is the good governor offering for our capture 500 guineas for both of us and Jack the governor has dragged him into he cannot be seen to be chasing after only women. It will take more than posters and reward chasing cowards to bring Anne Bonny and Mary Read to hell. I will face down the bastard to drag us back. I will not play their part again. Never. Those petticoats are long since burnt!
Come Anne, my best girl drink and sing with me for soon we sail. To us, Mary. To us! Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The Hell Cats! (Singing sea shanty)
Amber: I also like how even though there’s like 50 -Is it 52 characters? Or something like that. (-Imriel: I think it’s 56) But you are able to distinguish every character it’s easy to follow in that sense. Like I wasn’t lost by everyone entering.
Imriel: Yeah, I thought that was a good point, actually, because the accents are varied. So you’ve got like Jamaican, American, British, Irish, and different regions of the UK thrown together into this. So it does feel quite distinct so you can follow along. I think I’d probably struggled with the lesser characters voices. So like, yeah, the French actors I was like, I’m a French? Are they? (laughter) I’m not sure that sounds a bit hammy. But the French actors that came about when and pretends to be a ghost, who’s killed a man in a boat, but it’s really a mannequin. And the French (-Amber: the pig’s heart?) Yeah. And the French sailors are just like, no, we’re not going to this haunted boat. We don’t want to die. But those are probably the only like dodgy accents, but they were still distinct enough for me to know that these are different people.
Ellie: I thought the main cast was amazing, though.
Amber: Oh, yeah, (-Imriel: Oh God)
Ellie: Although we kind of -did we disagree, and well, I think I really like Jack Rackham. But you didn’t like him as much as I did?
Imriel: No, well, you told me you fancied him a bit?
Ellie: Did I say that? I did -I just really thought the voice actor really embodied how I pictured Jack Rackham being.
Hell Cats Clip: Will you be needing this? Or do you intend to throw both your shoes at the richest man in New Providence? And who are you? Captain Jack Rackham At your service, Anne Bonny. Bloody things have been killing me all night. He can keep ’em he paid for them. Chidley Bayard is a man who will have his pound of flesh. He bought my clothes; only my body is my own to give. I pity the man who sees both spirit and beauty and a woman and only values the quality that fades with time. Well, you are a rare breed, Jack. Allow me to escort you home before Governor Woodes Rodgers changes his mind about punishing you. You cannot walk back in bare feet. Fine. But I’m warning you. You keep your hands to yourself. As you wish, on the promise that you will meet me tomorrow. And will you be amusing company, Jack? Oh yeah, always, it’s why I get invited to such fine parties.
Ellie: And one of my favourite clips in the whole book basically is because of his character.
Amber: I think Jonathan Bailey, who plays Jack Rackham, is a great actor in general. I don’t know if you’ve seen Crashing?
Imriel: I have not
Ellie: no I haven’t
Amber: he’s been in a couple Channel 4 sitcoms. Crashing was with Phoebe Waller-Bridge and his whole persona in that show too. was very Jack Rackham
Imriel: Oh, wow.
Ellie: I mean if Jack Rackham was like do you want to sail away with me? I don’t know that I would say no?
Imriel: Oh, now see! How was I incorrect in this assumption?
Imriel: I was not taken in by Jack at all. I don’t think I had like (-Ellie: you didn’t want to do an Anne Bonny). No, I just (-Ellie: runaway). Honestly, I don’t know that I even had erm… I guess this kind of moves us quite nicely into characters anyway, because I’m not sure I actually liked any of the characters that much. I kind of really liked the story as a whole. I’d say if I had to pick a favourite pick, Pierre.
Ellie: Yeah, it’s like a secondary character.
Imriel: Yeah, don’t be rude. Pierre was moving that plotline along thank you very much. He kept that thing pacey.
Ellie: That story would have ended quite quickly.
Imriel: Plus, I think the actor that plays him Fisayo, he’s bloody brilliant. I was just like, you know what? There’s a gay black man in the middle of this white as hell Providence town. The only other black characters that feature are Jamaican, who I also loved by the way. I was like this is hilarious.
Hell Cat Clip: Can I help you, my dear? I was just looking. Pierre Bouspeut designer and seller of the fine and feminine at your service. I’m Anne Bonny newly arrived in New Providence. Oh, a newlywed, a runaway. Both. Exciting! And has your new husband giving you gold to spend—a little. Ohh a little can go a long way with such good raw materials. I want a bold look. I feel that is fitting in a town like this. And for the wife of a pirate. You are right, my dear. New Providence is a place for boldness and for pirates and those who love them. What do you think of our wild town? I think is wonderfully alive. I see we are going to get on well. Let me show you what we have that will set off that rich red hair of yours.
Imriel: I just thought he just moved it along and kept it funny and light. So when it got really heavy and when Anne got, just a bit too bratty. And I really disliked her.
Ellie: She is deeply unlikable.
Imriel: Yeah, very much so.
Amber: Oh, I really, I really hated her.
Imriel: It would be nice if someone liked her.
Amber: I hated that everyone died and she stayed alive.
Imriel: Yeah, I was really bitter about it. I wanted Mary to stay.
Ellie: I know. I know. Although I sort of had the ending ruined for me. So I listened to this on Audible, and I went into the Audible page, and I saw a clue. Like they had the characters and then the dates they were alive so that I obviously was like, well, all of these people have died at the same time, and Anne hasn’t. But I got a pretty good idea of I didn’t know how it was gonna happen. But I’ve got a pretty good idea about what’s about to happen here.
Imriel: It’s such a bittersweet ending because I’m glad someone made it to tell the tale, obviously, because surely she is the reason why we might know about this today.
It did sound like she disappeared. I love the idea of her just going off to like a little hut in Ireland or something and just living out her days.
Amber: I hope she did. Because why would she put herself in all that danger again with two kids?
Because she can’t be tamed?
Hell Cat Clip: Who are you? A friend of this child’s mother?
She is a foundling with no kin. That is not true.
This child is the daughter of a great pirate queen. Mary Read Captain of the Vanity. What is your name? Molly.
Well, Molly, I am taking this child. As I promised Mary, her daughter would be raised with love. And Mary and I always kept our promises to each other.
Imriel: But do you think she should have taken Mary’s child?
Ellie: Yeah, but I don’t know if that’s real.
Imriel: Or do you know, we should ask,
Ellie: I have to ask,
Imriel: Does she really take the child? I don’t know. I really had a moment when she encountered the kid. And I mean, on the one hand, I got it in that the child’s father doesn’t love her or he does love her. But his wife doesn’t so she’s probably going to suffer.
Amber: I thought it was very mirroring of Anne’s upbringing. Yeah,
Imriel: Unnecessarily so right. But I still don’t feel that child would have been in better care with and I’m just saying, I’m putting that out there.
Amber: Do you know how old and was at the pinnacle of this all happening?
Imriel: No, we don’t. But I can’t imagine that any of them would have been that old. I imagine them all being late teens early 20s because people died really young back then. And they lived on the high seas. Maybe that’s just me making bad assumptions about pirates (laughter)
Ellie: What about Mary/Mark.
Imriel: See, I liked Mary/Mark. I feel like out of respect to their identity. We should probably default to calling him Mark because they are transgender. Oh, he is transgender.
Amber: Would they be non-binary in the fact that they’re just happy in themselves?
Imriel: That’s true.
Hell Cat Clips: No need to lie to me. It does not feel like a lie. You’re a woman. I have never truly thought of myself as female or male just myself in a place in between. (Page turn FX)
Feel my heartbeat in inside my shirt. You are Yes. Me too? How can you feel that way? For me? If you are a woman, it is not right. It is not natural and what is true is not inside these clothes is in my heart and my head that is where my truth lives.
Ellie: hmm. I mostly really liked it. I mean, the whole point is that they’re super loyal. Right? And then sometimes that was frustrating when they were being loyal to who was very clearly the wrong person to be loyal to
Imriel: Oliver Marlow could die.
Ellie: Yeah, and from the beginning, I was like this guy is not it. (Imriel- Not it at all) Then he betrayed her and all this shocking surprise, and I was like he
Imriel: was a coward.
Ellie: This guy’s a snake. (-Imriel: Yeah)
Amber: I think it’s just it was just one thing after another for them though. (-Ellie: Yeah). Early life was horrendous, becomes a powder monkey, that’s horrendous army’s horrendous. meet someone lovely. They die horrendous. And it’s just continuing. Don’t get a break.
Imriel: Yeah, I really liked them as a character there. I thought overall; they were just fair; you could just tell they have a good moral compass. They know what they want.
They were always the one who was so in control and always even-tempered. And is it audio drama progresses, you start to see that slip. So things like whipping the old naval captain,
Imriel: hmm yes, goodness me the violence in this…
Ellie: And then them getting absolutely plastered, and being found to the most dodgy pub. And yeah, I think it’s a really interesting thing that you see at the beginning, they seem so put together, and you know, Anne’s the one who’s out of control and then actually, you see what happens towards the end, you know, they’re the one who’s really lost in comparison.
Imriel: That’s a really good point because I never really thought about that at all. It’s this kind of slow demise, and the interception of that was becoming a pirate falling in love with Anne. And then I never quite got whether there was like a hole Anne, Jack, Mary situation I always got the sense it was Anne and Mary and Anne and Jack, and that was always kept separate. And then Oliver Marlow comes along what does make sense for their character was protection, seeing someone vulnerable and possibly connecting with that vulnerability, and not wanting to see someone who doesn’t deserve to be harmed. And I guess that’s what connected her to Oliver Marlowe, but he was just not the one. Leave him alone. Why are you marrying him? Stop, stop this.
Ellie: And the fact like they got into like a duel for Oliver. This guy’s not worth losing your life over.
Imriel: Do you know what I mean. Let him fight his own battles.
Amber: The pinnacle of their downfall was all because of a man, really.
Imriel: Yeah, I guess. Yeah, I guess that really speaks to the common story of women, because they end up pregnant. Well, the hormones of pregnancy make you more; generally, women tend to become more protective or instinctive around their newborn or their future unborn child. So that kind of slipping element could also be down to the fact that actually, their life has changed in a way that was completely out of their control. Do you know I mean? I don’t want it to sound like women lose their mind when they get pregnant. Cuz I don’t think that’s the case. I just think that there is a distinct change that comes about and for someone like Mark who has control who is always even-tempered, as you said Ellie, that change in their body is just going to be now everyone will know I’m a woman. What does this mean for me? And in the time like that, where it just wasn’t even safe. I really felt I really felt for them. There was just no letting up in this story. Like no one got away except for freaking Anne, what the hell!
Ellie: I just was like well yead well she’s got a rich dad so…
Amber: How money controls everything. Literally, money saved your life.
Imriel: Yeah, I did want to ask because we all listen to this on Audible. How thrown were you by the photographic portrayals, Audible uses versus the voice actors?
Ellie: Yeah, it’s completely different.
Imriel: They’re like different humans, are they composites?
Ellie: Why would you not just use the voice actors?
Imriel I was really confused by that
Ellie: Do you want to know something really embarrassing. I remember thinking, looking at the photo and being like, wow, it’s amazing that they got voice actors that actually look like how the characters are described. Like, oh these are just essentially models to go with the piece.
Imriel: Which is such a strange thing to do. Or is that? I don’t know.
Ellie: I don’t know if it’s common practice or not, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t just use them, I guess. I don’t know if you’re a voice actor. Maybe you’re like me, I’m a producer, and I hate being on mic, maybe it’s like if you’re a voice actor. You’re like, No, I didn’t want to the whole point is… Although you said, that guy was on TV.
Amber: Yeah, all of them were.
Imriel: All of them are actors
Amber: Mark/Mary is (-Imriel: Erin Doherty), Princess Anne in The Crown.
Ellie: Yeah. So yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know why you wouldn’t just use them.
Imriel: Yeah. And they’re in all the promo. It was a very odd choice. And it really threw me off because I kept picturing the characters but then I heard Erin Doherty as Mark/Mary, and then I was like, wait, but that’s Princess Anne from The Crown. Wait, but princess Anne is really posh, and they’re really common. I don’t understand. My mind was literally just blown all over the place. Could you guys see this being a film or play?
Imriel: Like a really visual piece
Ellie: God, it’d be so fun as a play.
Imriel: I would love to see how they would create that
Ellie: You could do loads of staging
Imriel: Oh, it would make such a good panto. But you know, an adult one.
Ellie: It really would be great in the theatre. I would happily go and see that.
Amber: I also love to talking about it being as a play. I did like the whole running theme of the sea shanty going through and the songs which would be good.
Imriel: Yeah. Yeah, that is a good point. Actually, because Carina is a stage writer, she definitely would have had that in mind as she’s pulling this together. Like, it does feel very theatrical. (Page turn FX)
Imriel: The moments that really stood out For me the most was when Anne is trying to look for Mary, and she’s with that captain, I think it’s Bayard. And then he tries. And she’s stealing from him. And then he basically captures her and pins her down. And then it gets really violent very, very quickly. And then the moment when Mark starts killing that guy, and he clearly kicks him in the head. (-Amber: Yeah it’s really brutal) It sounded so graphic. (Hell Cat Clip)
And I was just like the violence. I would love to see this on stage. Like, those are the moments I was just like, I want to see it. I want to see the blood spray.
Ellie: Amber’s like I like the sea shanties and Imriel’s, like, Murder!
Amber: There’s me being all romantic and poetic.
Imriel: Every time I think of Hell Cats, that’s the moment that I come back to how graphic the sound design was, with some of those violent moments. The sound design was phenomenal throughout. But there was just something very like visceral. Maybe it’s because it’s violence against women. We had just listened to ‘Men Who Hate Women’ by Laura Bates. And here are these guys who are being predators and taking ownership of women’s bodies. And then the women exact their revenge, and I was just bloodthirsty, and I was ready for him to die. (Laughter)
Amber: How would you? How would you shorten it down then to play? Because I think that’s what’s so great about having it is a series like this, it can go into depth, like it can carry on and be as long as it wants. And I don’t think there were any bits where it was -it wasn’t needed. I enjoyed everything.
Imriel: Yeah, that’s a good question. Really, good question.
Ellie: You could cut out one of the attempts of Anne’s husband.
Imriel: Yeah, James Bonny
Ellie: He was relentless, which I think is obviously it’s hard because you want to get that across. But also, I did find myself on the final attempt being like, again! (laugher)
Imriel: He’s like Robocop or The Terminator.
Ellie: Yeah, exactly.
Amber: With that character, he was so… it was like his masculinity was being threatened or something like that. And his only way of being a man was having his wife, and this is my possession. Because I think every time that someone else speaks to them, no one likes him because he’s (-Imriel: a coward) He’s not a pirate. But he doesn’t do good at the same time. He’s just a right, wuss really, and so Anne was his only way of really being the man that he is
Hell Cat Clip: Under the law of the land. She is my property and belongs to me.
Imriel: Yeah, that thing that gave him his confidence
Ellie: I loved the drama of him not being a pirate. (Music)
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Imriel: Now it’s time to introduce someone that can probably answer all of our unanswered questions. We have Hell Cats writer Carina Rodney joining us. Welcome to AudioBook Club Carina.
Carina: Nice to meet you. It’s good to be here.
Imriel: It’s such an honour to have you here. We’ve been gushing over the drama and have so many questions for you. Could you start off by introducing yourself to us?
Carina: Hi, I’m Carina Rodney, and I’m a writer.
Imriel: We’re really excited. We’ve just been having a very voracious chat about all the things we loved about it. I don’t think any of us had anything we didn’t love. Really. We’re just like, how the hell did you pull this off? We’re quite keen to get our questions in. And I have a couple of questions from people that couldn’t make it. With us today. We have Amber and Ellie, both who work in audio. I am Imriel. And I also work in audio. So naturally, we have formed the AudioBook Club. Because we are audiobookworms, I guess like to just kick things off; it’d be good to know how you came across the story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read or Mark Read in the first place? And then what inspired you to create an audio drama and podcast from it instead of your natural habitat, which is on the stage and in visuals?
Carina: Well, I came across some years ago. I can’t remember how I think I just read a story about them. And I was so fascinated by them. And then I was part of a writing group that was about northern voices and northern stories. And I thought I’m gonna write this as my you know, pitch episode. So I wrote a pilot -a TV pilot for Anne and Mary which was very different from the opening episode for audio. And we all got a chance to pitch to the Head of Drama at the BBC. Yeah, before we went in, he sort of announced that he didn’t want anything on water. She was really expensive. And then I had to go and pitch to him when everyone else has kitchen sink dramas. Yeah, my opening scene was three ships in the Caribbean. (Laughter) It was the most excruciating, like 15 minutes. Yeah, it was awful. As I just kept them, and I kept adding to my file of them and thinking, I’ll never be able to do this.
Imriel: You are a writer. And you also do stuff for stage as well. So would there have been a difference in the way that you had put this together, knowing that it’s now going for audio as opposed to a visual medium?
Carina: Oh, completely. I revisited it from the start. It was the page one rewrite on the episode I had done. And Audible allows you to move very swiftly without worrying about locations and settings having to physically change. So it gives you a much broader scope to tell a story. And you don’t have to be doing that budget in the back of your head about how often you’re moving things or physically moving your characters. You can be there in like the click of a finger just take them somewhere completely different.
Imriel: Yeah, that’s kind of the joy of audio, isn’t it? Yeah, no one can see what you’re doing. So you can basically fake it a bit. Guys, did you have any questions for Carina that you wanted to throw out into the mix?
Ellie: Yeah, I’ve got one. So I think one of the things that we’ve spoken about that we really loved about this is how rich it is with all the characters. And it really creates a world that really immerses you. And I was saying just before you joined that; it’s been a long time since I’ve listened to an audiobook that captivated me as much as that. And I’m wondering when it comes to taking this idea that you have how do you build a world that is so full of detail with different characters and different voices? How do you achieve that?
Carina: I think Audible were brilliant with me because they never put any limitations on. And I never asked how many actors I was allowed. So I actually wrote more, they sort of doubled or tripled upon parts. And I was so lucky; I kind of got to do that. So I always had my main characters. All the main characters are historical characters that were connected to the Anna and Mary story. So James, and the governor, and Jack and Pierre, and then had to have enough of a pirate ship that when they split their teams, Anne and Mary went off on their own, they had enough pirates to work that, and Jack did. So I sort of built from the top down, but also thinking about what these additional characters represented are reflected about a very diverse community that would have existed at that time in those places. And I was lucky that Audible didn’t just say, you’re only allowed, 10 people.
Imriel: What has been the reaction like for you to the book? -What do you call it? Do you call it a podcast?
Carina: An audio drama
Imriel: Yeah, we’ve been calling it (laughs)
Carina: You know, you’re not supposed to look at your reviews, but I have obsessively, of course, every morning. (laughter) And it’s been so lovely to see people really engaging with the story and feeling sort of immersed in it. I, of course, completely resent the four people who gave it one star because they couldn’t download it.
Imriel: That is so classic Audible reviewer.
Ellie: Isn’t it classic.
Carina: ‘I couldn’t get it to work on my phone’ one star for everything (laughter). I really shouldn’t fixate on that, but I am fixated on the unfairness of it. So it’s been wonderful. There’s been a lot of responses to people with those amazing statues from Amanda Cotton, which are just so beautiful. I can’t wait to see them. Yeah, I have been really enjoying the reviews in a sort of shameless, like obsessive way.
Imriel: That’s brilliant. (Laughter)
Carina: I can’t say otherwise
Ellie: I mean, it’s a story you’ve held on to for ages, and it’s finally out in the world. So I guess, do you feel you’ve released it? And you can move on to other things now? Or do you? Is there more of that story that you want to tell? Are you able to let it go basically?
Carina: I don’t know if I can let it go? I would love to see it. I would love to see it on the screen as well. I know audio gave me absolute freedom in how I could imagine it I was never reined in once, and they just let me do it exactly how I wanted which I can’t imagine any other medium giving me that freedom by what quite like to see it. And I feel happy thinking about what would happen to their daughters? You know what, what would Anne be up to in London, but what about their daughters and then I was thinking highway women would their daughters be that. Maybe I could just do it by generations, so I never have to let them go.
Ellie: What’s a modern-day? (Laughter)
Carina: Anne, would it go quietly off I don’t think. So her famous line about you know, ‘if you fought like a man, you wouldn’t have to hang like a dog’ was recorded in the details about the court case. And it was actually Captain Barnet who did capture them. And it was absolutely true that they fought for an hour while the men were drunk in the holes.
Imriel: Wow, we were just talking about that scene. The violence was just so yummy and gross at the same time, but mostly yummy. (Laughter) I love that. We have a question from a lady who wanted to attend but couldn’t her name’s Abigail. She said when you heard your script performed? How did it compare to the way it sounded in your head during the writing process?
Carina: Well, first of all, I had such a brilliant director in Kate Saxon and such an amazing cast. I thought they’d been given an impossible task because they had to record it in 10 working days.
Imriel: Oh, my God.
Carina: Because -and 56 actors because of lockdown. The Audible studios weren’t open. So they had to, they had a two-week gap in the only lockdown studios in London. And they could only have I think it was five or six at a time in individual booths. So they could only see each other on the screen. So they weren’t- I thought how are they going to buzz off each other and play off each other. And so when I heard it, I just couldn’t believe what a brilliant job they’ve done. I mean 10 days, I was just like this 10 hours. There was 10 hours originally a script. And they were recording like an hour a day.
Imriel: Oh, my God. I’m actually like, dumbfounded.
Ellie: That’s amazing.
Imriel: That is insane.
Carina: So what that’s you know, all kudos to Kate and the cast because they were fantastic. And the production team, but I just was how are they gonna do this?
Imriel: That is wild. I had no idea it was produced in such a short period of time. Oh, that’s awesome. (Page turn FX) I love Pierre Pierre was my favourite character. I live for him and the Caribbean lady who testifies at the end against them.
I found a newspaper article. Yeah. testimony in a court transcript. I mean, they did rob her canoe. (-All together: Wow/ now way). Yeah, she was one of the few actually completely verified sources and witness statements. And she was so annoyed and feisty. I thought, Oh, my goodness, she’s gonna be brilliant. She’s actually caught recorded, saying, ‘Well, how did you know there were women if there were dresses, man’, and she was just like ‘by the largeness of their breasts, of course’. (Laughter)
Imriel: I think this leads nicely onto one of the questions a listener submitted.
Listener question: Hey, I’m Quan, thanks so much for taking the time to do this. It’s such a cool concept. So thank you for creating this space. I did have a question because I loved that you included the black characters, Pierre and I think her name is Dorothy, are they real? And if they are real, are based on real people. How did you come up with this? How did you find them? I want to know more. Thanks again.
Carina: Pierre was only briefly referenced as a character in the historical records I could find as probably Jack’s lover, who was a part-time pimp but also a tailor and had this amazing dress shop. And, and I thought well, he sounds fantastic. So I just built him from the ground up. But Governor Woodes Rogers is really well referenced. There’s different accounts of Jame’s but the fact that he was a pirate who really wasn’t or had taken the pardon, or had squealed and other pirates. So there’s quite a lot out there some of the stories that are their conflict, but even some of the minor characters like Dorothy Thomas in the court trial, I mean, her testimony’s recorded. So there are actually direct quotes some of them have that were attributed to the people. So I was just about reading really everything I could find and then thinking about what serves the story that I wanted to tell what I could build on what I could imagine and develop. So it became mine. It’s not a documentary. I always start with characters that I find interesting. And then thinking about how they react when you put them in certain situations. If your characters are interesting enough, you can put them anywhere, and they’ll give you a story.
Amber: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to ask is how much of it is fact and how much of it is fiction? Because you’re saying that they’ve gone through all these wild stories? Are the majority of them true?
Carina: When you start buying things online and buying books about the reading accounts, you realise everything’s come from the general history of pirates, which was an account of famous pirates that was written published two years after Anne and Mary’s trial. And variations of that story has just been retold, but the problem is beyond a few facts is we don’t know how much of that account is absolutely historically accurate. So we know they existed. We know about the trial, we know they dressed as men, we know they fought always to the death together to protect each other. And then there’s variations of that. So I found the historical records, I could access some things through the Kew archives, read everything I could and then thought, well, no one’s got a definitive account. So what’s the story I want to tell? It says I suppose, in the same way, stories told of the Peaky Blinders or Robin Hood, that we know that things are grounded in fact, but even what’s considered fact, and truth is, often can be hearsay. So there’s no, for instance, records of Mary’s army time that I could find is only referenced that she served in the army, and has been told and passed down that she did. And of course, with them being women, perhaps their stories weren’t recorded and told or written in the same detail, but quite a lot is known about them. And specifically, the trial,
Imriel: Your retelling will also be part of the archive or the capsule, that is their story as well.
Carina: I think I could imagine I mean, they would spend a fortune when they came into a part like the equivalent of thousands of pounds on a night out, and there would be completely pimped out with gold and jewels, and their own image was everything. And I just think it must be wild New Providence said there were more pirates and non-pirates. and a at one point Blackbeard before Governor Woodes Rogers appears, Blackbeard ruled that he was a sort of unofficial ruler. And they could spend the equivalent of 20 years wages for a normal person in a night in port. And I just think I could just imagine them strutting about. And image was everything, and status was everything and respect was everything. And the thought of these two working-class women. Well, I know Anne ended up with the money, but she’s from a poor background, originally -inhabiting that world and ruling it and ruling their own ship is very appealing.
Imriel: Oh, that’s so cool. I didn’t realise it was that well detailed. I thought it was bits of missing history and newspaper excerpts here and hearsay there. But it’s quite cool that there was actually like some solid material to build off of as the foundation. (Page turn FX)
Imriel: I do want to talk about Kate Saxon, the director. What was it like working with audio producers, audio directors, and did you find that was quite a collaborative production were you quite hands-on and involved throughout the whole production process?
Carina: It was, I did some writing sort of on my own. The support was there when I needed it. And for the notes at the end. And then Kate came in after the show had been written. And she’s very dynamic, a very creative director. And she did an incredible job. And she worked very closely with casting and with the producer, and with me on tweaks and the rewrites that needed to be done quite close to the bone. And I really felt she brought her own energy to it. And she suited the show because it is very plot-driven. It is fast-moving, there’s no narrator it just moves with the characters. And it was great having a female director as well on board, and we’ve carried on discussions afterwards, Kate and I and I’d love to work with her again. We’re hoping to work together again on something.
Imriel: what scoop I’m so excited to see what that is. (Music Sting)
Imriel: The sound design is something we’ve been commenting on Amber, you mentioned the shanties and the songs. I mean, I think it was right up there and went beyond the plot being fantastic. And the writing and the directing me and fantastic. The sound design also just was the icing on this very epic tiered cake. And it really dropped you in it was super immersive. And what also was just the cherry on top of these shanties and the songs that appear throughout the series. And I want to note, how did you go about writing and selecting the music? Was that always at the forefront of your mind that there has to be this musical element in the story?
Carina: I was lucky that the cast was such brilliant singers. I mean, Michelle and Erin have beautiful voices. But I saw sort of sea shanties that I hoped reflected the tone of particular scenes and then Matthew (Slater) kind of reset them because they didn’t match the music exactly. And he is so talented, and they wrote an original score to weave through the story. But the shanties are sort of their time as well. Hmm.
Imriel: Did you have to research pirate shanties?
Carina: I did. I research all sorts of strange things. So yeah, I did a lot of listening to shanties as well. And Matthew just built on what I put into the script and improved it and told his own story through music, which is so beautiful. It’s such a blessing. I feel so privileged to have that as an element of the story.
Imriel: Yeah, it’s really nice. It was a really small but touching feature that put you right, right on the ship decks and made you feel like you’re part of this world. Do you have a favourite scene or a moment in the story now that it’s come to life?
Carina: I’ve never really thought about a favourite scene. I do like the scenes when it’s Anne and Mary together. And there’s a scene where they go to a ball. And they’re both dressed up Mary is very reluctantly dressed as a woman. And seeing them in these different environments. And then instead of blending in the environment is just kind of crushed by them. They’re unable to behave sensibly, though, logically, in some ways, they just set off with the best intentions, and their wild temperaments just run away with them. So many scenes, when I see them respond into any environment that’s trying to crush them. They just fight back. They’re impossible to restrain. And I love that about them.
Imriel: Yeah, they’re so naughty, the two of them especially that Anne. Oh, my God.
Carina: I know she’s really infuriating, but I love her.
Imriel: Speaking of Anne, when we were discussing the podcast, you know, I think collectively none of us were particularly fans of Anne Bonny. We’ve got a really great question here from a listener called Micha. So let’s hear what she had to say.
Listener Question: Hello, my name is Micha. I really loved the story, especially the feisty representation of Anne. But I still feel there’s not enough of those types of character in literature. Although I have seen some change with characters like Villanelle in Killing Eve and Aunt Lydia in Handmaid’s Tale, I’d love to know how you feel about as a character and her role as an antihero?
Carina: Well, strangely, Anne’s the one that everyone kind of knows about, if you know about these two women, and Mary gets sidelined has not been as glamorous or as exciting, but Mary is the one you want in your corner. She’s a good person stubborn, pigheaded sometimes, but good. But Anne, I love writing with her and being with her as a character because she was endlessly creating drama and more problems. But as a person, she would, she would drive you mad. And I think as a friend, he would have to love her to have her as a friend. And I think Mary does deeply love her.
Ellie:She kind of strikes me as the kind of person where if you did go out with her, you’d take her eyes off of 30 seconds, and you turn around she’d be fighting with the bouncer.
Carina: Yeah, because she’s impossibly selfish, and she’s impulsive. And she’s spoiled, and none of which are nice traits. But I find her really compelling but not a particularly rounded person. You know, she’s not a nice woman. But that’s a good thing, I think as well.
Imriel: I really like Mary/Marks character and, and their development throughout the story is just so remarkable and so fascinating, even down to the kind of marrying Oliver
Carina: The unworthy Oliver.
Imriel: Yeah, it was really wonderful to see the character development there, because there was something clearly they both had these really conflicting things inside themselves, or at least society was forcing them to be conflicted around their identity, and how they portrayed themselves. And yet, I think Mary’s choice to marry Oliver through this almost protective paternal instinct towards him, which just really solidified her character in that way and her confidence in her character to be like; I am your protector, you are giving off like these more, quote-unquote, feminine traits of needing to be protected. And I thought that was just like a really interesting dynamic. I don’t know if that was the intention. But that’s how I, I saw and heard and looked at their relationship and their dynamic even though he ended up being a massive tool.
Carina: Ah, he did end up being a massive tool, and it is in the record that’s told of them from the time that she did fall in love with him. Some people say he’s a doctor there was one record as an artist, which I went with. And that she did fight that duel that she won by shocking that man by revealing her breasts at the last minute. And then he kind of just disappeared from the story, and I was interested in what happened and what that represented. And it’s for Mary. I think that rejection is not to do with particularly him being a man, but she did protect him. She did the right thing. She risked her life for him, and the fact of being overlooked or rejected. I think she struggles with rejection Mary, but it is a protective thing. She knows she’s stronger than him. She knows she’s the better fighter she knows he’s only safe connected to her. And then the fact that he hasn’t been honest with her. Honesty is such the line in the sand for Mary you know she demands honesty. She can’t bear to be lied to or liars. Yeah, but he is an unworthy man for her, I think.
Imriel: That is exactly what the word is. He is truly unworthy. I was so annoyed with him throughout. I was like, Oh my god, Mary, what are you doing? Stop! (Music sting)
Imriel: Let’s go to Khalid for his question. (Music sting)
Listener Question: Hi, Carina, my name is Khalid. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I just wanted to talk a bit about James Bonny, who I guess quite frankly, becomes the ultimate villain in Hell Cats, but he’s, like a secondary character. So was that always your intention with him?
Carina: I quite liked James. I think he’s a fraud. And I think he’s weak in some ways, but he has some measure of Anne as well. And he can be very charming, and he can be very manipulative. And I like staying with him so much that in the end, my producer was saying ‘why have you brought him back again, he’s in another scene. He needs to die soon. You keep bringing him back.’ But I enjoyed him. I enjoyed how he played off with Anne; he’s a match for her. They’re both selfish. They’re both people who care about fulfilling their own needs. And he has the better of her sometimes. So I like James, I never wanted to get rid of him. I’ve hope I’ve left it slightly open. I think he might even come back. I’d like him to come back.
Imriel: Is that a hint at another potential series in the future?
Carina: I would love to I have written in a way that I’ve left that room for me to come back. And I’d love to I’d like to stay with them and stay with some of these characters.
Imriel: Brilliant. We’ve got a question here from Joseph. Let’s see what he wants to know.
Listener Question: Hi, Carina, I’m Joseph. Now that it’s all finished, and you’ve listened to the final product? Has your relationship changed with any of the characters?
Carina: No, I do feel more frustrated with Anne. I’m a bit like a protective mother with Anne. I’m always like making excuses for her. But I could hear myself thinking, ‘what are you doing? Shut up, stop it.’ And I made her to do all those things. So I don’t know what I was playing at. But I think I found the scenes from the movie with Anne and Mary, where there was tenderness between them and those private moments. And I actually found it very moving when they were in prison as well.
Imriel: Yeah, that’s when I probably came to like on them (-Carina: Yes), is that there’s a tenderness and a vulnerability that I think really shone through when they were both in prison, knowing that she really couldn’t get them out of that situation in the way that she wanted to. I think that’s when she really came into her own. And you could see some of that humanity that may have been lacking before.
Carina: And she didn’t admit it. I mean, Mary admitted it when she said I’m poor, and I’m going to die here. And I thought she knows and dressing up in a stupid dress isn’t going to change it and isn’t going to be true to who they are. And I think Anne is in so much denial that when you see that denial crack a little and you think she’s gonna be lost without Mary.
Imriel: I feel like it’d be remiss not to touch on the kind of queer narrative that runs throughout this story. It would have been a surprise for many people listening who wouldn’t have expected that at all? And was the inclusion of that that queer narrative that maybe possibly transgender, non-binary, these identities coming through? Was that a deliberate choice to include and to include it so prominently in their story?
Carina: Well, it was a has always been a part of their narrative, it was even referenced at the time their sort of unnatural relationship, and the fact that they also had male lovers and the fact that Jack had male lovers. And I found that interesting now in terms of the ongoing discussions about gender representation, and how inspiring I suppose to have two people whose message which is not a message I’m trying to ram home here. – But to be free to represent your sexuality, your gender, your preferences in a way that feels true to you, regardless of society, and to live your true life, and whether you have to create a separate world or you did this like they did on the sea, as well, where they could set their own rules, and live their life truly how they wanted to do I find quite inspirational. I mean, as I was doing the research, I discovered things like there was a contract that existed called a [Matelotage]. And it was a marriage contract between pirates. dominantly male pirates, like a marriage ceremony, and it meant that if you died in action, or as part of the ship, your rewards are your treasure. So whatever you own could be transferred to your partner, your male partner and I just think, you know, we’re having these discussions now about people and how they live in a way that’s authentic and true to them. And that is seen as sometimes as problematic. And this was going on hundreds of years ago. You know, and I think the message Anne and Mary, Jack and Pierre have is to be unapologetically yourself fiercely yourself to own that. And to hell with everyone else.
Ellie: We were saying actually when we’d love to sit on the stage.
Amber: If you did see it on the big screen. Do you have any dream actors that you can see playing Anne and Mary?
Carina: You know,I’m so fixated on the audio cast? I haven’t really considered it Do you?
Imriel: I do. I think Elliott page formerly known as Ellen Page would be a great Mark and Mary. And I also think Rose Leslie, who was in Game of Thrones would be a really good Anne. I think she’s just got the face and the features for it.
Carina: Perfect. There was a perfect choices.
Imriel: I found myself constantly just looking up from listening, and being like, Where’s the screen because drama is unfolding, and I want to see what it is. But it’s obviously playing in my head, and it was just completely trippy, but it’s also such a testament to the sound design and how it was directed and put together. Do we need the visuals to take away from our imagination? (Page turn FX) There was a question that did come up in our discussion was, you know, did Anne take off with Mary’s child into the sunset? And what happened to the children?
Carina: Well, nobody knows. So there’s a grave for Mary, but no one knows if it’s actually her grave in Jamaica. And the rumours were always that Anna got away because of her father probably turned up and rescued her. They just disappeared from the record so even though they were both meant to stay until they had their babies and then behind there’s no record of that happening this record sort of been sentenced and records of them being pregnant, and then they both just disappear. (-Imriel: so crazy) Well, the rumour is that well people presume that Mary died in prison because of the grave marker which is quite nearby and Anne there’s no record at all. (Imriel: It’s just insane). And I just thought you know; she’s got to get out she’s got to take a least Mary’s girl.
Yeah, she probably is on the high seas again.
It looks like we’ve come to the end of the show! How do you feel? Have we made you want to go back to the beginning of Hell Cats and start the adventure all over again?! I know I’ve gone back to listen to Dorothy Thomas’ testimony a few times! Don’t forget that you can become an Audiobook worm (-and yes! That does include if you’ve read and NOT listened to the book). Our next event is on Sunday 24th January at 4.00 pm, where we will be discussing Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams.
You can register at contentisqueen.org/abc2 or find everything you need in the show notes. If you can’t bear to wait a month for your next audiobook fix, check out You Heard it Here First the podcast that helps you find your next listen on Audible. You can subscribe and listen to it on your favourite podcast player.
Thank you to our Audiobook worms Ellie and Amber and our special guest Carina Rodney.
This was a Content is Queen Production.
Hosted by Imriel Morgan.
Produced by Amber Miller and Imriel Morgan.
The Featured guest was Carina Rodney.
The clips used are from the Audible Original Podcast Hell Cats.
The music and sound effects are sourced from Epidemic Sound.
See you next month.