Calico Jack resurfaces in ‘lost’ Fraser novel

Scottish author George MacDonald Fraser’s famous Flashman Papers, which transformed Tom Brown’s best-known bully, Harry Flashman, into an unlikely Victorian hero, have won legions of fans and accolades.

But the novelist’s first attempt at fiction would prove less of a literary success, failing to find a publisher – until now.

Seven years after his death, a forgotten novel, written 60 years ago and found locked away in a fireproof safe in his old study, is finally to make it into print. Vintage Fraser it is not, the author’s family candidly admit, though Captain in Calico, about real-life pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackham, is still a “cracking little story”.

Captain in Calico would probably be even less likely to find a publisher today than 60 years ago and we do not want readers to be deceived into thinking it is vintage George MacDonald Fraser and of the standard of the Flashman novels, or the McAuslan short stories,” said the author’s daughter, Caro Fraser.

“As an early work, ­Captain in Calico is a delightful curiosity, one which we hope will ­provide fans of GMF with a fascinating insight into the inspirations and creative impulses that turned him into such a fine novelist.”

The manuscript was found by Fraser’s three children when they cleared out their parents’ home following the death of their mother. They were eventually persuaded to publish by HarperCollins, their father’s publisher.

The book is based on the life of Rackham, captain of the pirate sloop Revenge, who, with his flame-haired Irish-born lover, Anne Bonny, operated in the Bahamas and in Cuba.
He was hanged after being captured by a pirate hunter.

Nicknamed after his trademark colourful calico clothing, Rackham is chiefly remembered for the design of his Jolly Roger flag and for having two female crew, Bonny and Mary Read. He features in Fraser’s 1983 novel, The Pyrates.

Captain in Calico features the unscrupulous Rackham when he returns from the high seas to ask the governor of the Bahamas, Woodes Rogers, for a royal pardon and the governor sees his chance to put his own devious plans into action. “Their agreement sets off an adventure of betrayals, counter-betrayals, plots and escapes that see Rackham join forces with the scheming but seductively beautiful pirate Anne Bonny,” said the publisher.

The book will be published on September 10, but throughout the whole of August will be available exclusively through Fraser’s favourite London bookshop, Heywood Hill, in Mayfair, which was responsible for the sale of his library in 2014. – © Guardian News & Media Ltd 2015

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