Trudy J. Morgan-Cole is the author of the Breakwater Books release, A Roll of the Bones. Her previous book was the well-received novel Most Anything You Please. A Roll of the Bones is Book One of The Cupids Trilogy a historical fiction series based on the settling of Cupids, a small community in Newfoundland, back in the early seventeenth century. I was pleased to get the opportunity to interview Trudy before the new release.
Tell us a little about your background, education, employment, etc.
I’m a writer and a teacher – I teach English and social studies to adult learners, and I write novels, mostly historical fiction. One of my recent challenges to myself has been to learn to write plays, so that’s something I’m currently working on too.
Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to write.
I was very fortunate to grow up in a family where reading and writing were valued and encouraged. My dad was in the printing business, so there was always an abundance of paper around the house, and my mom was an office administrator who owned a beautiful IBM Selectric typewriter (this was the 1970s, so that was the height of technology). I was writing stories and making them into little books as early as I can remember. When I was 12 I wrote my first “full length” book, painstakingly typing it out on my mom’s typewriter, and then my dad took it away and had it bound in a beautiful hardcover with the title and my name embossed on it. This was long before the era of easy self-publishing, so the idea of having a printed book in the house with my name on it was amazing, and I look back on that as such a typical story of the faith my parents had in me and the way they encouraged my ambition to be a writer.
What a nice thing for your father to do! Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?
The book I have reread most in the world is Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. It’s written in the 1930s and is part of a series of mystery novels featuring her aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey. I’ve reread the whole series many times, but Gaudy Night is the book where Lord Peter’s romance with mystery novelist Harriet Vane comes to the conclusion it’s been building towards, and I think the book is just the best, smartest, most appealing love story ever written. I first read it when I was sixteen and I’ve come back to it again and again over the years. It never disappoints.
Your last book, Most Anything You Please, was a real pleasure to read. The characters and their lives were very down-to-earth. Can you tell us a little bit of some of the main protagonists in A Roll of the Bones?
Thank you; it’s great to hear that you loved Most Anything You Please. The new book takes place in a very different time period, but if you can imagine a character like Audrey from Most Anything You Please – a practical, no-nonsense redhead who doesn’t get everything she wants in life, but plays the best hand she can with the cards she’s dealt – and transport her to the early 17th century, you might get a character somewhat close to Nancy Ellis, who is the main character in A Roll of the Bones. Nancy is a servant girl who’s never planned any life other than being a servant in a simple tradesman’s home in Bristol – and suddenly she finds herself pressured into a crossing an ocean, going to Newfoundland – a world which must have seemed as alien to girls like Nancy as a trip to Mars would seem to us today. She’s accompanying her mistress, Kathryn, who is more of a dreamer – Kathryn likes to imagine herself as a heroine of romance, and although she’s going to Newfoundland to accompany her very unromantic husband, she has great dreams of what might happen to her over there. The third member of the trio of main characters is Ned Perry, a young man who was apprenticed to Kathryn’s father, so all three of these young people have grown up in the same household, and now here they are on the other side of the world, trying to make a life for themselves in circumstances that are so different from their lives back in Bristol.
I see from the cover image that your new book, A Roll of the Bones is Book One of a trilogy. Can you tell us where the idea for this book came from? Do you already have Books Two and Three roughed out?
There were two impulses for this trilogy. The first came from a random fact I learned back in 2010 when Newfoundland was celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Cupids colony, the first English settlement in what is now Canada.
There was a reference to John Guy who established a colony of 39 men there in 1610, returning from a trip to England in 1612 with fresh supplies, which included, along with goats and cows, “sixteen women.” I was fascinated, as I often am in writing historical fiction, by the erasure of women’s names and experience from the story, by the way they were simply tallied with the livestock, and I wanted to write a story that would bring to life the experiences of people, especially the women, in this colony. I wanted to give them voices and names.
The other impulse came from reading Dorothy Dunnett’s great sweeping series of historical novels, the Lymond Chronicles, set in the 16th century, in which her characters swashbuckler their way all around Europe and the Middle East, having one adventure after another. I wanted to write a story that had a broad canvas like that – something where my characters could travel far and experience a lot, against the backdrop of an era when so much change and adventure was happening on both sides of the Atlantic. So that’s why I decided to try my hand at turning this story into a trilogy rather than a stand-alone novel. I know in a general way what’s going to happen in Books Two and Three – I know where all the characters will end up – but I don’t know everything that’s going to happen along the way. I’m the kind of writer who figures a lot of it out during the process of writing.
What are some of the challenges inherent in writing historical fiction as opposed to fiction?
I love historical fiction, both reading and writing it because it’s like time travel. But the amount of research required for every little detail definitely makes it more challenging to write than contemporary fiction. Every time I write a scene I have to ask myself, “What are they eating? What is she wearing? What does the room around them look like?” and every question requires a session of research. For one scene early in A Roll of the Bones where two people are talking and one of them is carrying a bucket of water, I lost a whole afternoon to researching water systems in 1600s Bristol, just to figure out where the person with the bucket was coming from. So, there’s that kind of thing, constantly. And it’s fun, because I love research, but it slows down the process.Then, you do all that research and after that (if you’re me, anyway) you show the manuscript to someone who’s an expert in that time period – in my case it was Bill Gilbert, the archeologist who excavated most of what’s been found at Cupids and who is the leading expert on that colony – and he catches a bunch more errors. And finally, you send the book off to press with the sure and certain knowledge that there are still a few more historical inaccuracies that neither the writer, nor the historical expert, nor the editor, ever saw – but which some reader will spot within ten minutes of opening the book.
What do you enjoy most about living in Newfoundland? If you didn’t live there, where else would you like to live?
St. John’s is my home and I love everything about living here, except of course the weather which is horrific except for three good weeks (not consecutive) every summer. I love the culture, I love the landscape, I love that everything is familiar and so it feels easy and natural to me.
I guess the obvious and true answer to “where else would I live?” is that if I couldn’t live in Newfoundland for some reason, I’d live in Nova Scotia because it is literally the next best place. My daughter is in a university there now and we love to visit, plus Nova Scotia has the benefit of being connected by land to the rest of the continent, which makes travel so much easier.
I love to travel and I love visiting big cities, and I sometimes imagine an alternate life where I lived in New York or London. But I feel like that would be a completely different life, and I’m not sure I would love it year-round rather than just for a week or two on vacation.
Finally, what do you like to do when you are not writing? Any guilty pleasures?
I don’t believe pleasures should be guilty! People enjoy what they enjoy, and that’s great. My non-writing pleasures are simple. When I’m not writing or teaching, I like reading – mostly historical fiction, but other genres too; I read pretty widely. Today I’m reading Annelies by David Gillham, a book that imagines the life Anne Frank might have had if she had survived the concentration camps.
Apart from reading, I love playing board games, especially Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan. I like walking my dog and, in the right season, hiking along our beautiful East Coast Trail. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day. Like everyone, I waste some time on social media – I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I host my own podcast, Shelf Esteem, where I talk to people about the books they love. I love music and live theatre – we’re lucky to have a great local theatre scene here in St. John’s and I go to as many plays as I can. I enjoy a well-crafted TV series – right now I’m watching This is Us, The Man in the High Castle, and my husband and I are finishing up a rewatch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which was the best Star Trek series (although, to be honest, we love them all).
Great interview, thanks, Trudy!
Trudy’s website & links to her social media accounts can be found here: https://trudyj65.wixsite.com/trudymorgan-cole