The 17th Century is the new frontier in historical fiction, and I’m delighted to spotlight a fellow adventurer. Please welcome Sheila Dalton, author of Stolen, who will share with us her thoughts and inspiration about her work.
But before we meet Sheila, here is a video clip of her novel Stolen. Enjoy!
Sheila, you’re an eclectic writer, with your books ranging from literary fiction, poetry, YA and children’s books. Stolen is your first historical with action/adventure and romance set in the 17th Century. What inspired this story?
The story was inspired by trips to both Devon, England and Morocco. In Morocco, I saw the underground dungeons where Christian slaves were kept; in Devon, a friend took me on a tour of the caves and coves used by British pirates during the 17th century. As I researched more about life in that era, a story began to take shape. What would it be like to come home to find your village destroyed and all your friends and family kidnapped or killed? How would a young woman on her own cope in a world where vagrancy and poverty were punished by deportation as a prisoner to the New World?
Stolen takes us into the world of pirates and privateers during the 17th Century. The Golden Age of Piracy was a little later during the early 18th Century. What drew you to write about this earlier period?
Actually, my research dated the Golden Age of Piracy from 1650 to 1730 in some instances; starting and ending even earlier in others, so I assumed my book, which starts in 1633, was at the very beginning of this period, often listed as occurring “soon after the discovery of the New World”. Certainly, between the years 1623 to 1638, the Caribbean became a haven for pirates, with over 500 ships destroyed or raided; and as early as the 16th century, the rise in maritime technology and trade traffic between Europe, Africa and New World gave rise to piracy. Numerous ships and towns were ransacked in the newly discovered Americas. I actually found several different timelines for the “Golden Age”. Some had it starting as late as 1700, others in the 1620’s.
But the reason I picked the time period I did had nothing to do with pirates. I chose it because the events I was writing about – raids by Barbary Corsairs along the coast of Britain, the rise in the black and white slave trade – happened during the 1630’s.
How did you find writing historical fiction as compared to writing contemporary literary fiction?
I thoroughly enjoyed my first venture into hf. It’s a genre I’ve always loved, plus I find research fascinating. That’s the main difference between contemporary literary fiction and hf – the amount of research needed. However, my last novel before Stolen, The Girl in the Box, was partly set in Guatemala in the 80’s during the civil war there. I’d read about the war at the time it was happening, but I needed to do quite a bit of research to refresh my memory; I also had to research laws surrounding immigration at the time, and around ‘not guilty by virtue of insanity’, which means different things in different countries. However, researching a whole distant time period involved far more work.
As an author, hf presents other challenges – you have to get inside the heads of characters who lived in a world very different from your own. But that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write Stolen – to try to figure out what life might have felt like back then.
Stolen tells the story of Lizbet Warren whose family is captured by pirates and who, during her search for them, is also taken prisoner. She forms complex bonds with her captors, and her story touches on slavery and freedom. What revelations or insights did you discover about these subjects while writing this story?
As I researched, I began to think that human cruelty is all-pervasive, and that all races and peoples (even to this day) inflict some form of slavery on one another. Though slavery, both black and white, was at its height during the 17th and 18th centuries, it has never totally gone away. It shows up in new forms all the time – human trafficking, sex slavery, third-world labour for first-world countries, child soldiers are all forms of slavery. It is, regrettably, a constant thread in our way of being in the world.
I was also intrigued by the human tendency to want freedom, but to be drawn into scenarios involving slavery and dependence, such as cults. I think this is because most of us have two co-existing drives–one to lead, the other to follow. Lizbet, like many young people, is vulnerable to seductive, dominant partners. Luckily she has the insight to see through her attractions and forge ahead.
Stolen has been praised for its rich historical detail balanced with a thrilling adventurous tale. How did you manage to strike that balance?
I admire the work of great storytellers such as Dickens and Daphne du Maurier, who manage to weave serious themes into compelling narratives. They were my role models for Stolen. As for integrating the historical detail, I’m so glad readers and reviewers think I found a balance. I’ve been writing for many years; I think experience helped me with this. I’m aware of the temptation to put material in a novel that is interesting in itself but doesn’t really blend with the story because I’ve fallen into this mistake myself in the past. Awareness and self-editing were the tools I used. Sometimes it was hard. I found many interesting historical details I wanted to include, but couldn’t because they didn’t flow with the storyline. Hard to resist!
Thank you, Sheila!
Sheila Dalton was born near London, England and came to Canada with her family when she was six.
Sheila has published novels and poetry for adults, and picture books for children. Her YA mystery, Trial by Fire, from Napoleon Press, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award. Her literary mystery, The Girl in the Box, published by Dundurn Press, reached the semi-finals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, and was voted a Giller People’s Choice Top Ten. Stolen is her first book of historical fiction.
More information about Sheila and her work can be found at sheiladalton.weebly.com
Stolen is available for sale as an eBook through Amazon (click here), Kobo, Nook and iTunes, and in paperback through CreateSpace.