Thursday, January 19th, 2017
We’re delighted to welcome to the blog author David Hingley, especially as it is publication day for the paperback edition of his debut historical crime novel Birthright (currently a Book of the Month with £2 off!) and its follow-up Puritan in hardback. If you’re in the mood for some adventure, travel and mystery, why not join David’s heroine Mercia Blakewood now…
It took Mercia Blakewood ten weeks to travel from England to New York by ship in 1664.When I moved there in 2013 to live, the plane took seven hours. Mercia arrived to the sight of a pristine Manhattan covered in forests and streams, the odd patch of smoke rising from a wilderness campfire. When I arrived, the plane descended over the seemingly endless urbanity of Brooklyn, the lights of Times Square beyond almost blinding even at that height.
When Mercia disembarked, she sneaked on land under the cover of a heap of blankets. Perhaps a good thing I didn’t try that!
When I decided to write a novel back in 2012, I had no idea that my characters would end up travelling the ocean. I had a genre – historical crime – a female protagonist without a name, and a love of books I had cultivated since childhood. Then my husband got a job in New York, and I decided I could mirror life in fiction by writing a story that too would link my homeland and my adopted place of residence. And so Mercia, as she was now called in tribute to my past, found herself with two men in tow on the trail of the King’s inheritance on a creaking ship amidst a bunch of rowdy sailors.
In the end, it was perfect, a ‘tale of two cities’ linking the heaving metropolis of London and the brand-new settlement of New York, or New Amsterdam at the time. I knew precious little about the early history of colonial America then, and researching it on site was all the more special, even if nothing nowadays remains of the seventeenth century mercantile port. But the clues are there if you look hard enough – Stuyvesant Town / Square / Street for the redoubtable leader of New Amsterdam; Wall Street for the palisade that was supposed to deter invaders; Brooklyn and Harlem for the Dutch villages that were springing up all around until the British came over to seize the land for the King’s brother, the Duke of York, after whom the town was renamed.
Travelling the Atlantic now, it’s hard to imagine the anticipation those early ocean-crossers must have felt, the sheer boredom of weeks stuck on a ship with no personal space of any kind. It’s taxing enough to spend even seven hours in a plane seat! But imagine, if you will, the smell of the ocean, the feel of the spray as a wave touched the hull, the terror of a storm or of being becalmed. The utter joy you would have felt on seeing land again, on hearing the bird cries around the cliffs. And then – slipping around into the harbour outside New York, the three islands welcoming you in where one day the Statue of Liberty would stand, the windmills and the fort on the shore coming up in greeting as one day a family of skyscrapers would beckon you towards their towering embrace, until. . .
. . . until you have to complete your mission for the King, and regain your stolen BIRTHRIGHT.