New Orleans, 1783. Anne Bonny, 80, runs the best brothel in town. She sees Death waving at her in the street and knows she’ll be dead at dawn. She calls in her protegee Apolline to leave her the business and dictate her memoirs.
She was born in Ireland, the bastard girl of a servant and a lawyer. Rejected by all, she’s fierce and violent, but very much loved by her father, who dresses her as a boy to pass her off as his clerk. When his wife finds out, he takes Anne and his mother to America to start a new life. After a harrowing sea journey, they arrive in Charleston, South Carolina. In this new world, her father thrives as a planter, but her mother dies. Anne is now expected to run the house and find a respectable husband. She couldn’t care less. At 17, she meets sailor John Bonny. He’s handsome, talks about adventure and being a pirate : she marries him and follows him to the island of Providence, the Republic of the Pirates. But he proves himself to be all talk and no action, and Anne is bored. In a tavern, she meets older Jack Rackham : a famous pirate, and a charming one. She falls madly for him, and him for her. She leaves her husband and, dressed as a man, embarks with Rackham. She learns how to be a pirate, discovers freedom and true love, and her first deep friendship. One crewmember is actually a woman : Mary Read, with a crazy story of her own. But one night, the ship is attacked by the English. After a dramatic chase and battle, Rackham surrenders to save Anne. The crew is taken to Port-Royal, Jamaïca. Jack is hung. Mary and Anne are sentenced to death but halt the execution by announcing they’re pregnant. Anne is taken back to her cell and loses the baby. She’s delirious with fever when her father irrupts in her cell to get her home. After a visit to Mary’s tomb, she sails back to Carolina. As Anne ends her story, Apolline opens a drawer and takes a gun. Anne may have been be a pirate, she was also an abusive and cruel mistress. So Apolline shoots.
Anne Bonny is a legend of the pirate lore : there have been books and movies made about her. So why bother with a tv show ?
When I started researching Anne Bonny, I too was immediately fascinated with the adventure, the romance and the pirates. But the fictions centered on the Golden Age of Piracy did not answer a central question : how did a little girl born poor in Ireland ended up on a pirate ship in the Caribbean ? Today we have books, movies, social media to dream up our lives, but in the 18th century, how did a girl invent a life for herself ? With how much desire, luck, fear or violence ? I set out to write a fuller picture of the life of Anne, including youth and old age. As I researched historical sources, I realized her story, told over and over, is basically repeating a handful of facts from a single source : the General History of the Pirates, an 18th century best-seller written by a mysterious Captain Johnson — today widely described as a blend of facts and fiction. When I read the chapter on Anne Bonny, some parts struck me as obviously made-up and fairly misogynistic. On the other hand, I read contemporary versions of her story that made her into an anachronistic Badass Woman. I decided to have fun with these reinventions and conflicting interpretations of Anne’s life. The old Anne is mad at Johnson for misrepresenting her and the pirates : she quotes his text and explicitly aims at setting the record straight. But she too makes up thing (or I do), so contemporary historians intervene in the story to comment or contradict it, and debate the role of feminist reinterpretations of the past. This meta dimension does not mean to destroy the fictional illusion (I hate when meta does that), but to have fun with it. I have strived to create a story that makes your heart swell and race, while playfully reflecting on the role of history and imagination. The form would of course need to be adapted for TV, maybe with new characters or timelines.
Claire Richard is an author and journalist. She is interested in the intersection between the intimate and the political, the effects of digital technology on our lives and feminism of all kinds. She recently published Young Lords, an oral history of the Latino Black Panthers, published by L’Echappée.
On the radio, she has won several prestigious awards. In 2017, the Prix Nouveau Talent Radio SACD 2017 for her fiction series Cent façons de disparaître. In 2019, her second audio fiction Les Chemins de désir won the SACD fiction podcast prize, the SACEM prize for original music, the Italia prize, the Europa prize and the Nova silver prize for best radio fiction. The text of the podcast was published by Editions du Seuil.
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