This month I welcome Maggie Plummer from Big-Sky country and her novel SPIRITED AWAY, a Novel of the Stolen Irish.
Tell us about your book:
My novel is historical fiction that will make you say, "Why have I never heard of that?"
SPIRITED AWAY – A NOVEL OF THE STOLEN IRISH paints an intimate portrait of 1650s Irish slavery in the Caribbean.
The book tells a story from a forgotten chapter in the history of human trafficking. In fact, I dedicated the novel “to all the people and organizations combating modern-day human trafficking.”
The novel begins in May of 1653, when young Frederica (Freddy) O’Brennan and her sister Aileen trust a stranger on an empty beach in western Ireland, inadvertently placing themselves in the crosshairs of Cromwell’s notorious Reign of Terror.
Freddy awakens in the crammed hold of a slave ship bound for Barbados. Ripped from their loved ones, she and Aileen endure the voyage – only to be wrenched apart when purchased at auction by sugar plantation owners from different islands. Freddy faces the brutal realities of life as a female Irish slave on a seventeenth century Barbados sugar plantation. Amidst the island's treacherous beauty, she must find a way to bear her cruel, drunken Master’s abuse.
Heartsick with yearning for her family, Freddy must reach deep inside herself for the strength she needs to protect her young spirit from being broken. As she struggles to survive rape, degradation, beatings, and the harrowing spectacle of her Irish countrymen being flogged and starved to death, she is buoyed by powerful friendships with her fellow slaves – especially the Native American kitchen slave with whom she works long hours in the plantation cookhouse. The two women risk severe punishment by sneaking food and medicine to the suffering Irish and African field slaves.
Eventually Freddy braves much more for the sake of love and loyal friendship.
I am proud of this, my debut novel. It took four years to research and write. I’m also proud of the brand new, professionally-narrated audiobook edition of the novel, available on Amazon, Audible, and i-Tunes.
SPIRITED AWAY has been well received. Currently it has 91 five-star reviews! There are a total of 183 customer reviews, averaging 4.2 stars.
Publishers Weekly says: "... Short chapters full of hope and Freddy's fierce spirit will keep readers turning the pages."
Also, this novel has earned:
* Quarter-Finalist, 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest (General Fiction)
* 2nd Place, Best Historical Fiction of 2013, The Paranormal Romance Guild (PRG) and
* 2013 Finalist, Best Indie Book Awards
What inspired you to write this book?
In 2008, I was reading about Irish history and stumbled across this information: During Oliver Cromwell's Reign of Terror in the 1650s, a majority of Ireland's Catholic population was either slaughtered, exiled to the west, or sold into slavery in the Caribbean.
I did a triple-take, amazed.
How could it be that I'd never heard of that?
I asked around, and no one else had heard of it either.
I began reading. The more I read about Cromwell's Reign of Terror in books and articles, the hotter my Irish-American blood boiled. These massacred, ousted, and enslaved people were my ancestors.
I had to write something about this obscure yet pivotal period of Irish history.
That is how the novel's main character, Freddy O'Brennan, came to be. With the exception of Cromwell, all of the characters in the novel are fictional. The story, however, is based on real history.
In 1649 Cromwell led an invasion of Ireland that many historians call genocide, or ethnic cleansing. During the 1650s, Ireland lost about 41 percent of its population. The infamous Irish Famine of 1845 to 1852, by comparison, resulted in a loss of 16 percent of the population.
Cromwell hated Catholicism and wanted to punish Irish Catholics for the rebellion of 1641. Catholicism was banned; priests were wanted men. An estimated 100,000 Irish people, mostly women and children, were sold to West Indies sugar plantation owners and literally worked to death. Some were flogged to death. They toiled long days and suffered horrific conditions, disease, starvation, and torture.
"The curse of Cromwell upon you" is still a popular saying in Ireland. To this day, Irish mothers threaten their misbehaving children with the ultimate punishment: "Cromwell's going to get you!"
The bitterness caused by what took place during the 1650s has been a powerful source of Irish nationalism for more than 350 years.
Irish slavery was an atrocity that should not be forgotten. I find it outrageous that so few know about it, and I hope this novel is helping bring it to light.
What kind of research was involved?
Tons and tons of research was involved! It is not easy to write about the 1600s. Material about that era is tough to find. Much of our information about slavery, colonialism, and piracy is about the 1700s.
The most important research I did was get my hands on a book called To Hell or Barbados: The ethnic cleansing of Ireland by Sean O'Callaghan (Brandon, 2000). This wonderful book inspired me to create my novel, by providing authentic, astounding details about what Irish slaves went through in Barbados.
I also thank author Padraic O'Farrell for his book, Irish Toasts, Curses and Blessings (Sterling Publishing Company, 1995). Many of the charming Irish blessings and curses I used in SPIRITED AWAY came from O’Farrell’s book.
Also, I traveled to Ireland in 2008. Much of the imagery in the novel is based on my experiences there.
I found myself constantly Googling while writing this novel (and while writing the sequel, too). For example, I continually checked on words, to make sure that they weren’t too modern to be used in the novel. As I wrote, I almost always had an online etymology site ready in the wings.
I have wanted to write fiction since I was sixteen years old.
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan during the 50s and 60s, but both of my parents were from western Montana. As a kid, I heard about Montana almost every day. After a whole lot of “Volkswagen Gypsy” wandering around the United States during the 1970s, I finally settled in northwest Montana.
I’m a retired journalist who is finally writing and publishing novels. I also am a part-time book editor. Along the winding trail, I’ve been the Odd Job Queen, working as a book publicist, census enumerator, school bus driver, field interviewer, waitress, post office clerk, fish processor, library clerk, retail salesperson, Good Humor (ice cream truck) girl, fishing boat first mate, race horse hot walker, apple picker, and bus girl.
I am the author of a non-fiction book entitled PASSING IT ON: VOICES FROM THE FLATHEAD INDIAN RESERVATION, published in 2008 by Salish Kootenai College Press (Pablo, Montana). SPIRITED AWAY is my first published novel. I am almost finished with a second one, the sequel, entitled DARING PASSAGE: BOOK 2 OF THE SPIRITED AWAY SAGA.
SPIRITED AWAY is available in paperback, e-book, and audiobook here:
Try as they might, they could not awaken poor Bridget. That afternoon, the smell of death crept into the hold's lethal stink. When Silas brought their daily salt meat and biscuit, he indifferently dragged the girl's corpse to the steep steps. Without a word, he heaved her thin body over his shoulder, climbed to the main deck, and put her down to lock the grate.
A moment later, the women's heads turned toward the loud splash.
"She's free now," someone said.
"May God level the road for her soul," Ciara prayed.
"Aye, may she rest in peace," the others intoned numbly.
"Among the angels," Freddy added in her native tongue.
"She's just the first," someone across the hold muttered. "There's many can't survive the middle passage…"
"Aye, some of the men are sick with the scurvy," someone else added.
"Small wonder I heard the right wicked wail of a banshee last night," another said.
"And felt the stark chill of ghosts on this death ship," yet another added mournfully.
"Let's don't start that sort of talk," Ciara snapped.
For once, Freddy was glad of the older girl's bossy ways.
"I dreamed of Bridget floating down with the wee faerie folk, down into the green glen where they live under the western sea," Aileen whispered. The sisters huddled together, shivering in spite of the night's steamy heat, the scent of death lingering in their noses and in their minds. It was damp and misty. The patch of sky above them held no stars this night.
"Aye, I can see it." Freddy hugged her sister. "And her in bliss among the Tuatha de Danaan in lovely Tir na nÓg. The strength of St. Patrick's horse to her."
"Tell me, please…"
"Tell you what?"
"About Tir na nÓg..."
Freddy smiled in the darkness and tried to imitate Mam. "Imagine," she whispered into Aileen's ear, "a land of youth and beauty, a golden otherworld where there is no sickness, no hunger, no thirst, and no death…only music, strength, life, and eternal happiness."
The night's silence was broken only by the ship's creaking as they both pictured it.
"Why does God punish us so?" Aileen asked, her voice as soft as a sigh.
Freddy held her tighter and stroked her long brown hair, wondering what Mam would say. "We must not question God's will," she murmured. "It's not for us to know what's in store. May we never fear the will of God."
"I miss Mam…"
"As do I…"
"Will we ever see her again?" Aileen's small chest heaved in a sob.
"We must have faith." Freddy rubbed her sister's narrow back, searching for the right words to bolster both of them. She took as deep a breath as she could through the apron she had pressed tight against her nostrils. "We must keep our wits and find a way back. We are O'Brennans, descended from the Old Ones, the Tuatha deDanaan, the real people. Da always says so, remember?"
She could feel Aileen nodding wordlessly in the black night.
"That's right," Freddy whispered, "even though the Church frowns on such talk and calls our faerie folk demons."
"Surely they're not demons…"
"No, macushla, far from it." Freddy rested her cheek on top of Aileen's head.
"The sharks will eat you if you try jumping overboard," Silas warned, pointing at the turquoise water twinkling around the Three Brothers where it was anchored in the crescent-shaped Bridgetown harbor. "Ye'll take your turn resting, and make yourselves presentable. I'm watching ye."
When the wind was right, the women could hear voices from the bustling town square. Their view of the Barbados capital was blocked by the tall ships in port. Occasionally the aroma of smoking meat drifted out, making Freddy's mouth water. Warm breezes floated around the deck as they stuffed themselves with local victuals brought on board to plump them up and pinken their cheeks. That way they would bring a higher price. The higher the price, the better the planter, Silas had advised. With clean air and passable food, the young women recuperated quickly from the deadly ten-week voyage. Three more of their group had expired as the Three Brothers plunged across the sea.
She and Aileen ate as much as they could. Their favorites were the strange tropical fruit, fried fish, and sweet bread. Aileen loved the juicy papaya, but Freddy refused to taste it. To her it was a bitter reminder: had she not been made the fool by that churl's promise of papaya sweetmeats, they would not be here facing God-knows-what fate.
The group swabbed the filthy hold and washed away the voyage's stink in tubs placed on the main deck. The women hung aprons from a circle of lines, creating a bathing area curtained away from the men's stares. The welcome baths were delightful, in clear seawater warmed by the Barbados sun. Then, as they took turns rinsing their grimy clothes and hanging them to dry in the hot sun, the younger girls chattered about finding a planter who would become a decent husband.
Freddy finished her bath, put on her clean dress, and left the women's private circle to perch on a deck crate and dry her thick black hair. The island was beautiful, she admitted to herself, gazing to the north and taking in the white beaches, lush mountains, and swaying palms. Terraced fields ruffled in the warm wind, above water so clear it revealed a pink bottom. The humid air was flower-scented and filled with birds. Near the Three Brothers, seagulls cried as pelicans glided by. Yesterday she and Aileen had watched a cluster of shiny dolphins splash near the ship, amidst the bay's blue and green stripes. Perhaps the others were right. Perhaps the West Indies could be a fine place, where a planter could turn out to be a worthy husband.
But last night, frightful noises had drifted out from the town. Freddy had heard moans and the high cracks of a whip. Perhaps the island's sunny beauty was fickle and shallow, barely concealing the brutal undercurrent flowing beneath the surface. A painfully lovely place it was, the sort they dreamed of back home when chilled to the bone during months of driving rains and dank fog. But never had they dreamed of heavy ropes on their wrists, of being merchandise bought and sold. The tropical splendor was like a juicy piece of fruit that stuns with bitter poison. It was treacherous, like candied papaya promised to hungry girls on a County Galway beach.