Today, I am pleased to welcome Sheila Dalton to Outtakes as she discusses the inspiration for her latest release, Stolen.
By Sheila Dalton
The 17th century was a tumultuous age. The colonization of the Americas began in earnest; the slave trade, both black and white, was in full flood; new inventions, including the telescope and the microscope abounded, and, in England and elsewhere, there was a great flowering of the written word. It also became known as The Golden Age of Piracy.
I did not know any of this when I began researching my novel, Stolen. I knew only that pirates were active in Devon, and Christian slaves were kept in underground dungeons in Morocco in the 1600s. I had recently visited both places. When I came back to Canada, I began researching white slavery, and learned that raids by Barbary Corsairs took place along the coast of Devon. Because I had coincidentally been to both places, I was more than a little intrigued. I began to wonder whether there was a story to be told.
Mostly, I began to wonder what it would be like to be a young woman alone in such a hostile world. The more I read about the 17th century in England, the harsher it sounded. There were vagrancy laws so stringent that a person so charged could be sentenced to two years enslavement or transported as an indentured servant (a virtual slave) to the colonies. If a woman was found alone in the streets, she was automatically considered a beggar or a vagrant, and thrown into prison. The conditions in the prisons were execrable.
And so Lizbet Warren came to be – a young woman who comes home to find her village destroyed and her parents carried off by Barbary Corsairs to the slave markets of Morocco. It was not such a leap to have her encounter both pirates and black slavers – both so prevalent in this decade – as she attempts to locate her mother and father.
Because Lizbet is in such danger on her own, she falls in readily with a man who offers to protect her. I wanted to show how a young woman, sheltered and brought up with strict Christian attitudes to sexuality, could be seduced by a man who not only tries to dominate her but keeps her from her quest. There is sexual content in Stolen, because it seemed the only honest way to portray a complex character in dire straits.
Even before the Puritans came to power under Cromwell, attitudes in 17th century England were such that marriage provided the only space in which a woman was allowed to express her sexuality, and even here, her scope was severely restricted. Passionate love between husband and wife was considered undesirable. This resulted in many conflicting aspirations and desires for women, demonstrated by the fact that 25 percent of 17th century Englishwomen had already been pregnant at the time of the wedding!
Though it was a harsh and violent age, I believe Lizbet’s story is uplifting. She battles her way to independence, and though her moral choices are difficult and troubling to her, she has qualities such as a sense of humour and courage that allow her to forge her way against all odds and live up to her new ideals.
Sheila Dalton has published novels and poetry for adults, and picture books for children. Her YA mystery, Trial by Fire (Napoleon Press) was shortlisted for the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award. Her literary mystery, The Girl in the Box (Dundurn Press) reached the semifinals 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 and is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other vendors.