As readers of romantic fiction, we’ve come to expect our stories to end happily, and often with a wedding. But at least one novel I know of started with a wedding, though not the heroine’s. It was the author’s wedding ceremony—mine—that inspired the story.
Let me explain. My husband-to-be and I had discussed just about every possible location for exchanging our vows. His priorities included "doing something creative, fun, different" and not spending a lot of money. My priorities included "a super-romantic setting" and not spending a lot of money. Neither of us, you see, had living parents or many close relatives, so whatever we planned the total cost would come out of our pockets, which weren’t exactly cash-plump. And although church weddings are an absolute for some couples, being married in a traditional venue wasn’t high on our wish list. We also wanted to keep the wedding ceremony intimate and guest list short.
My DH is a sailing fanatic, and he laughingly suggested we get married at sea. Never one to pass up a challenge I said, "Great idea! I’ll look into it."
What I discovered was that couples could be married on cruise ships, but the ceremony had to take place in port. I found a cruise line that came highly recommended, Celebrity, and was told that they indeed booked a limited number of weddings aboard each sailing. We found a ship departing New York Harbor for Bermuda—perfect for our fall wedding plans! Bermuda waters would still be warm enough for swimming in October, and the heat would have eased up enough to make for pleasant touring of the island.
We had a cozy wedding party of six including my sister and a few very close friends. They dined with us the night before at the beautiful Four Seasons restaurant in New York City, then the next morning we all made our way to the ship. The cruise line’s wedding planner had arranged for everything from a minister to a beautiful cake, champagne, flowers, and the perfect setting for a writer’s wedding—the ship’s gorgeous mahogany-shelf lined library. After the ceremony, our guests bid us adieu and we remained on board as our ship glided out of New York Harbor and past the Statue of Liberty.
Cruising out into the Atlantic Ocean, we danced to a steel drum band, luxuriated in the sun on deck, ate more than was good for us of the fantastic gourmet buffets and formal dinners—and both ceremony and honeymoon were already paid for at a fraction of the cost of most weddings today. At least we wouldn’t begin our marriage in debt!
When we reached our destination we strolled the famous pink-sand beaches and fell in love with its turquoise-blue waters and heavenly sea breezes. We also did what all honeymooners do—spend a lot of quality time in our cabin! But the storyteller in me remained alert to my surroundings, and when we docked in historic Hamilton I couldn’t help being drawn to the legends of the island.
There were, of course, the eerie myths concerning the Bermuda Triangle—mysteriously disappearing airplanes and ships, all traces of their passengers lost. But surrounding the cluster of islands, later connected by bridges and causeways, are very real and treacherous coral reefs that have claimed hundreds of ships over the centuries. Pirates learned to negotiate these tricky shoals and used Bermuda as their safe port and hideout. Ghosts are still rumored to haunt several 300-year-old houses, supposedly built by wealthy English privateers, and now available to tourists as guest houses. But one legend fascinated me more than all of the others combined.
While visiting the Navy Dockyards and Maritime Museum there, (DH’s choice over souvenir shopping in Hamilton), we learned that one particular shipwreck made history in more ways than one. It was 1609 when a flotilla of 9 ships left England with settlers and supplies, bound for Jamestown, Virginia. Unfortunately, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the fleet ran into a hurricane. The ships were blown asunder, and the flag ship, bearing the new governor and a total of 150 crew and passengers, started taking on water and would have sunk had it not wrecked on a coral reef less than a mile off the coast of the Devil’s Isles, what is now known as...you guessed it, Bermuda.
The passengers and crew somehow struggled ashore and set up camp. They lived on the previously uninhabited island for 9 months while building a new ship, then sailed it the rest of the way to Jamestown in the spring of 1610. A 17th century version of Survivor!
"Amazing!" My husband said, as we looked at artifacts brought up by divers from the wreck.
"What a great plot," I mumbled, my mind already deviously inventing details.
But the best was yet to come. The next day, I learned the part of the legend that made this particular wreck famous. It seems that a gentleman named William Strachey was aboard this ship, the Sea Venture, and he kept a journal of the trip, including detailed descriptions of the storm, the miraculous rescue of all souls aboard, the nine-month adventure while on the island, and their arrival in the New World. And historians believe that this very same account made its way back to London on a returning ship...and eventually into the hands of one William Shakespeare, who within a year penned one of his most famous plays—The Tempest, about travelers shipwrecked on an island.
"I’ve got to get my hands on that account," I told my new husband.
He just smiled. "Somehow I knew you’d say that."
Before we left Bermuda I’d written notes outlining a possible plot. But it took several years of research, planning, and further writing before I had a draft for the novel that I was happy with.
So, those wedding bells generated more than a very happy marriage. They provided the inspiration for an adventure, a love story, and a very personal and entertaining visit with a famous playwright —The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare’s "The Tempest".
And, by the way, we still hold a fond place in our hearts for Will. We visit his plays at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. as often as we can. I hope you will someday drop in on him at a local playhouse wherever you live to see one of his amazing dramas. If you enjoy love stories, and as a reader of RT BOOK REVIEWS I somehow know you do, you’ll find he has written some of the most moving and lasting romantic tales our world will ever see.
Happy reading and writing!
- Kathryn Johnson
You can pick up your own copy of Johnson's The Gentleman Poet on shelves now!