What would you do if you randomly saw a woman dressed like a pirate, walking around a tourist town, seeing no explanation as to why?
In case you’re someone who isn’t a regular follower of mine, Jaclyn Rousseau is a character I’ve been developing roughly over the last two years. As she was first introduced through a short film screenplay I intended to film, with me playing her, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what she might wear. This led to me buying such items when I happened to come across them. I never really expected to do anything with the costume beyond some photo shoots at home. After all, by the time I had the completed outfit, Jaclyn was a character in a novel I was developing, not a film. The bright purple corset, the long brown-haired wig, dark purple stockings, black pants that came down to just over my knees and did their best to pretend they were breeches, black pirate style boots, gold hoop earrings, and the black scarfs I wore around my waist and head (I still don’t know how I was so lucky to find the one for my waist decorated with gold and black balls) — all of that was expected to spend most of its time in my wardrobe.
Of course, I might not be your typical writer. I know a lot of other writers might have characters in their head whom they talk to, but for some reason when I was developing the novel idea, I decided it would be great to really get inside Jaclyn’s head. To do that, I took my entire costume to Washington, D.C. and wore it in public for almost the entirety of International Talk Like a Pirate Day in 2011. It was perhaps both one of the craziest and most amazing things I have ever done. Exploring the National Air and Space Museum was particularly good for getting inside her head, because what better way to discover air and space travel than through the eyes of a 17th century woman? Did I mention Jaclyn’s sort of a time-traveller?
This entry isn’t about that experience, but what grew from it. See, whilst walking around Washington dressed as Jaclyn, that inspired a chapter of my novel, Adrift. That part was relatively easy. What I didn’t expect was for it to also inspire me going out into more places in public, dressed as Jaclyn, just for the sake of publicity. One of those publicity stunts was Halloween at TGI Friday’s last year, though usually it’s just so I have new photos I can share on the Facebook page.
Honestly, with the amount of people who notice me out in public when I’m dressed like that, I should probably be doing proper publicity and having business cards to hand out. It seems a little pointless when I still have to release the novel though.
But I digress. This past weekend, my parents-in-law were visiting for maybe the fourth time. They’ve seen plenty of Kuala Lumpur and nearby interesting sights, so I suggested we venture a little further to take in another interesting town. Earlier in the week I had taken them to the National Museum, which talks a lot about Melaka as the part of Malaysia that really started the history of the Malay Kingdoms. In the 14th and 15th centuries, it was a major trading port, situated perfectly between the Middle East and China. That is, until the Portuguese took control in 1511. They were followed by the Dutch in 1641. I won’t go into when the British took control after that, as it is less important to my story.
I usually refer to Melaka with that spelling, as that is the local way to do so, but it is also spelled as Malacca, which I tend to use when I want the European context. Melaka is about a two hour drive from KL, so it’s excellently situated for a weekend away, and with that kind of rich history, a great place to take my in-laws. I hadn’t been to Melaka since just after we moved to Malaysia in 2008, and I had been secretly wanting to go back since working Malacca references into my novel. This seemed to be the perfect opportunity.
So I packed my costume, and made sure my husband was happy to take some photos.
Our first stop on the Sunday (which is the day I went in costume), was the Portuguese settlement. This area seemed to be mostly deserted, which made it easy for me to wander up to a cannon that overlooked the sea from the hotel there.
My husband then decided a great place for more photos would be the Portuguese ruins of A’Famosa, but I programmed the wrong place into the GPS and then we ended up finding the place we’d parked the previous day, which meant we could stop at the Dutch built riverfront buildings on the way. Personally I was more attracted to the Dutch parts of the town due to the fact that Jaclyn only entered piracy when the Dutch already had control of Malacca.
It was with the Dutch context that I first mentioned Malacca in my novel (though it may be in the novel earlier than that, as I wrote out of order). I wanted a way to introduce Jaclyn to a Chinese man, and given the lack of British/Chinese interactions in the mid-1600s, having a Dutchman pick one up from a Dutch colony where a lot of Chinese lived at the time seemed to be a reasonable solution.
Of course, I didn’t stop there. I have another couple of Chinese characters from Malacca in our century. As I consider the sequel to my novel, I wonder about the possibility of giving one of them a larger role, and bringing Jaclyn to Malaysia. Will this recent trip to Malacca inspire another chapter? Only time will tell.
But, let’s get back to the photo shoot. There are a lot of cannons in Melaka, and since pirates are kind of known for cannons, I couldn’t resist posing with more of them.
Whether it be in ruins that were built by the Portuguese, and added to by the Dutch:
Or at the ruins of A’Famosa:
However, probably my favourite experience whilst in costume was while taking a photo with a grave stone that featured a skull and crossbones. It being at my husband’s suggestion for a trademark pirate icon, I posed in front. Then some Malaysians walked past, and commented on exactly what we were doing with me dressed as I was. “Pirate,” they acknowledged. I smiled.
For more photos from the Jaclyn in Malacca shoot, click here. The links included in this entry also go to Jaclyn’s Facebook page, and the associated photo albums mentioned, in case you wish to see more.