Transfer traces the lives of those on Anna’s Fancy, the Clausen estate on Saint Croix in the Danish West Indies, handed down through three generations. A historical novel and the sequel to Fireburn (OC Publishing 2017), Transfer sees Niels Clausen, the illegitimate child of a Danish landowner and his black mistress who both died as a result of the 1878 worker revolt, leave his adoptive mother’s sugar plantation and sail to England to continue his education.
With the help of Toby, a British aristocrat, Ivy, a lady’s maid turned lady and her botanist husband, Timothy, Niels challenges the perceptions on the streets of London of a black man at the turn of the 20th century. His development as a writer and political protagonist continues as he travels to Denmark and France where he meets up with childhood friends, Javier and Fabiana Gomez, before returning to Saint Croix.
The Danish West Indies face an uncertain future as the declining sugar industry lessens Denmark’s interest in their colonial outpost. Niels becomes increasingly involved in the future of the islands as war looms and concerns grow that Germany might covet a presence in the Caribbean. Will the islands’ security be guaranteed by the transfer of power to America?
The highs and lows of Niels’ life are punctuated by the crossing of oceans and cultures as well as the political manoeuvrings of a turbulent time in Europe, the United States and the Caribbean.
I have had the privilege of living and working in many countries – 12 at the last count. Perhaps it is that which spawned an indelible cultural curiosity, and a love of history. Or maybe I’m just nosy. In my first book, Expat Life Slice by Slice I wrote in the prologue that, “I truly believe to know a country we have to become involved in that country. We cannot be a mere bystander if we wish to pierce the psyche of a nation, to become more than a paying guest, to come to lover her culture and her people without necessarily being enamored by all her behaviours.” I also think we need to know our history in order to understand the present and prepare for the future. That sounds rather sanctimonious, priggish, but it’s something I believe.
All that paves the way for talking about research. I love it. And therein lies the problem.
I write historical fiction. Historical fiction requires a lot of research. But I am not an historian. And I am slowly coming to realise I will never please all the historians in the world. And history is subjective. Ask any member of your family to describe a gathering and everyone will have a different take on the same event. So whilst I try my damnedest to get it right, I do occasionally slip up.
But when is there too much research? Is there every too much research?
When I decided to write Fireburn then the sequel, Transfer, I knew very little about the Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands). I started from scratch, reading everything I could find about the early days – building a backstory. As I progressed from the Caribe and Taino to European countries – Holland, France, England, Spain, Knights of Malta and Denmark – all of whom at one time had a stake on St Croix, I narrowed my focus to the period just prior to a worker rebellion of 1878 known as ‘fireburn’, or ‘the great trashing’. Transfer took the characters, and the next generation through to the eventual purchase of the islands by America.
The story revolves around those who live on a sugar plantation – Anna’s Fancy, and how events of the time impact their lives – both black and white residents. Living in the Caribbean in the 1800s was just a tad different to living there in the 2010s. What did people wear? What did they eat? How did they cook? What about medical care? What did the houses look like – both the plantation great house and the servants and labourer’s quarters? What about education? Umm, I wonder how they cleaned silver back then? Did they filter water? How? Oooh, Anna has some German porcelain brought to the islands by her grandmother. I wonder what the symbol for Meissen looks like? And so on.
And that was just for the first book. When I wrote Transfer, the characters took themselves off to Europe and North Africa. The wonderful thing about writing about old European cities is the centres don’t alter that much. The grand boulevards and avenues are still
there as are many of the grand old buildings. So too the souk of Tétouan in Morocco. But the means of getting between them have certainly changed.
And politics. Because the purchase of the Danish West Indies was a long-winded affair I found I had to delve into American history – Secretary of State William Seward started the process in 1865 with the eventual sale not being completed until 1917. What was the the final thing that pushed the sale through?
The research is fascinating… but it is, for me, oh so easy to be side-tracked. Following a path that does not hold any bearing on the book I’m trying to write. For example, a dig into what Copenhagen looked like in 1892 led me to wonder when the Little Mermaid was commissioned. 1909. I should’ve stopped there. I didn’t need to know the statue was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of Carlsberg. Or that the statue’s body was modeled after the sculptor’s wife…. you get my drift.
I am currently working on a book about the euphemistically called ‘emergency’ in 1950’s Malaya. In reality a communist push to control the peninsula and spread through South East Asia. It is a love story for a country and a woman, but in order to make it realistic I must research the era so I can put you, the reader, in the jungle, in the club, in the firing line. Do I need to know what young British conscripts ate whilst on patrol? Yes. Do I need to know the Manchu Milk Bar in Kuala Lumpur served everything except milk? Yes. Do I need to know that in Indian mythology double-egged yolks eaten whilst pregnant will make twins a likelihood? No!
I must, must, must learn to rein in my research.
Thank you, Apple Gidley and Love Books Tours.
About the author
Apple Gidley, an Anglo-Australian author, has revelled in the cultures of the
twelve countries she has called home, and considers herself a global nomad.
Her roles have been varied – magazine editor, intercultural trainer, interior
designer, Her Britannic Majesty’s Honorary Consul to Equatorial Guinea. Now
writing full time, Apple evocatively portrays peoples and places with empathy
and humour. She is currently working on her third novel which is set in 1950’s
Other books by Apple Gidley
Expat Life Slice by Slice (Summertime Publishing 2012)
Fireburn (OC Publishing 2017)