I once sang in a traditional Irish band, and part of my work in keeping our material fresh was to find new and interesting songs to perform. While most of us are familiar with the usual suspects like “Danny Boy” and “Whiskey in the Jar,” traditional Irish music has no shortage of unique tunes featuring strong, female voices. Because the English largely denied education to the Irish and decimated historical records, so much of Irish history lies within its songs. As I started studying Irish music and listening to traditional Irish musical artists and singers, I was delighted to discover how much the canon reveals the hidden histories of women. Strong, sassy, cross-dressing women as a matter of fact.
I could probably create a whole set of songs about cross-dressing Irish women spiriting away across the seas, but one song in particular always stuck with me. The song is called “The Maid That Sleeps in Love,” and I first heard it performed by one of my favorite traditional Irish bands, Solas.
The first verse immediately pulled me in:
I am a maid that sleeps in love and cannot feel my pain.
For once I had a sweetheart, and Johnny was his name
And if I cannot find him, I’ll wander night and day
For it’s for the sake of Johnny, I’ll cross the stormy seas
I liked the idea of a young woman so absorbed in love that she couldn’t feel anything else, much less her own pain. Part of the narrative arc for my main character Mary is learning how to feel authentically and to discover what it is she truly wants.
Beyond her vulnerability, the voice in “The Maid That Sleeps in Love” always struck me as so strong and courageous. What sort of woman cuts her hair, dresses as a boy, and places herself in such a perilous position to serve on a ship teeming with hundreds of sailors? I knew I had to tell this story somehow, to figure out why this woman would go to such incredible lengths to find her “Johnny.”
As resolute as the women in this song is, the sensuality of the Captain inspired me, too, and I knew he needed to become a romantic hero. Here he is, lying on his bed and studying his peculiar little cabin boy as he goes about his business:
The very first night the captain lay down on his bed to sleep
These very words he said to me, “I wish you were a maid
Your cherry cheeks and ruby lips, they’ve often enticed me
I wish to the gods, unto my heart, a maid you were to me”
For years I wondered what actually went down between the sea Captain and this plucky Irish woman, and when I finally sat down to write their story, the words poured out of me and onto the page as if they had waited for me to find them. If the proliferation of cross-dressing women in Irish sea shanties is any indication, my character Mary was not the only woman who boarded a ship bound for adventure. The Captain’s Rebel is my homage to those wild women, and I’m excited so share their hidden history with my readers.
Be sure to pick up C.B. Halverson‘s newest release,
Land. Power. Influence. Mary O’Malley knows these are the only things that matter in her war-torn country. Determined to win back her ancestral home, she must embark on a journey across the Atlantic disguised as a cabin boy. But her ruse brings her under the control of a dangerous sea captain who demands from her the one thing she will never give—complete and total submission.
Captain Richard Grant runs a tight ship, and he didn’t claw his way up through the ranks of the Royal Navy to be undone by a headstrong Irish girl hell-bent on jeopardizing his mission and his crew. If she insists on dressing like a man, then she can take his punishments. He demands obedience, but his insatiable need for her leads to a complex game of sex, desire, and dominance not even he can control.
Awakened by the passion Grant stirs in her, Mary finds herself falling for the stern captain. But when her false identity leads to rumors of her spying for the French, she must choose between her love for Ireland and the man who commands her body—and her heart.
Colleen Halverson also writes erotic romance as C.B. Halverson. As a child, she used to play in the woods imagining worlds and telling stories to herself. Growing up on military bases, she found solace in her local library and later decided to make a living sharing the wonders of literature to poor, unsuspecting college freshmen. After backpacking through Ireland and singing in a traditional Irish music band, she earned a PhD in English with a specialization in Irish literature. When she’s not making up stories or teaching, she can be found hiking the rolling hills of the Driftless area of Wisconsin with her husband and two children.