There’s such a lovely interview on One More Page that I thought I’d post it here…
The Lost Duchess is an epic adventure with a love story at its heart. It’s set against the backdrop of Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempt to found the first permanent English settlement in America, one that met a mysterious fate and has become known as the ‘Lost Colony of Roanoke’. The book follows Emme Fifield, a lady-in-waiting to queen Elizabeth I, and Kit Doonan, a mariner with a troubled past, in their endeavour to begin a new life in the New World. They encounter treachery, hostile Indians and danger beyond comprehension, and they have to fall back on all their reserves of fortitude and trust in one another in order to survive. The story was inspired by a fascination with the enigma of the disappearance of the Lost Colony, and the more I found out about what really happened – at least as much as is known – the more I wanted to write a story about characters caught up in the drama of that enterprise.
The book is an Elizabethan adventure; what drew you to this particular period of history?
My debut, Mistress of the Sea, was based on Francis Drake’s first triumph against the Spanish – his raid on the ‘silver train’ – the mule train carrying bullion from Peru across the isthmus of Panama. Investigating that episode in history in the early part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign led me to consider other aspects of Drake’s career which were to have historical significance. One of these was his evacuation of the first English garrison established in what became known as Virginia. I wanted to find out more about that, and what happened afterwards. Once I came across the story of the Lost Colony I was hooked. It’s one that is little known in the UK, though it’s of immense importance in the context of the history of modern America, and its resonance is compelling. In the story there is the best and worst of humanity, the contrast between the hope of paradise and grim reality, a unique conflict of cultures, and the enormous courage of those who left everything for a fresh start in a land that was then completely unknown. I found it breathtaking.
How did you go about your research for the book and what is your favourite fact that you learned?
My initial research was online and through reference books, then I went to museums and all the locations of key relevance to the story, including Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina, and Puerto Rico, which was one of the stopping off points for the Lost Colonists on their way to America. Finding as many of the original sources as I could was important to me, and a reprint of the diary of the Colony’s Governor was always on my desk, along with catalogues of his wonderful paintings which were a great inspiration.
A fascinating fact I learned was that many of the indigenous Algonquian Indians thought Englishmen were dead men returned who could never be killed (something which accounted for their pale skin). The belief of the elderly leader of the dominant tribe in the region was that the English could never be destroyed because they would only come back from the dead to cause the Indians more harm. In a way he was right – the English did keep coming back and eventually, of course, the Indians were almost completely wiped out.
On a lighter note I’ll mention Queen Elizabeth’s pet name for Raleigh which was ‘Water’ – I found that delightful.
For readers interested in finding out more of the history behind the novel; which books would you recommend to them?
I’d recommend ‘Roanoke the Abandoned Colony’ by Karen Ordahl Kupperman and ‘Big Chief Elizabeth’ by Giles Milton; they’re both magnificent.
How would you sum up leading lady Emme Fifield in one sentence?
Emme is bold and courageous but also vulnerable because of the damage that has been done to her by the Earl of Hertford with the result that her natural passion is suppressed; she’s a complex character behind a puzzling mask, at once impulsive and loyal, headstrong and caring.
Who was your favourite character to write in ‘The Lost Duchess’ and why?
Because my two leading characters are so many-layered with backstories that give them emotional hurdles to overcome, I very much enjoyed writing about both of them. Kit Doonan, the hero of ‘The Lost Duchess’, was particularly fascinating to write about because of his guilt concerning the fate of his Cimaroon lover and his relationship with his mulatto son, Rob, who does not even realise that Kit is his father. Kit has inner demons to contend with, but he is also immensely brave and a charismatic leader. On balance, I think Emme was the character I enjoyed writing about the most mainly because of the scars left by her abuse and the way these interfered in the development of her relationship with Kit. Emme is a deep character and it took me a while to understand her fully – but by the end of the book I hope I did!
If you could time travel to any time and place, where and when would you go and what would you do when you got there?
I’ve become so wrapped up in the story of the Lost Colony that I’d love to go back to Roanoke Island in the late summer of 1587, just after Governor White left, and observe what the colonists did next. I’d probably want to warn them to leave and not wait for Wanchese and his warriors to attack, but I wouldn’t attempt to interfere with the past. I’d just like know a little more about it.
And finally … what can we expect next from Jenny Barden?
Next, almost certainly, will be another love story in the context of an epic Elizabethan adventure – this time with the Spanish Armada as the backdrop. I’m developing my ideas for that now and I’m getting excited about them already. The truth is, I can’t wait to begin the writing proper…
Thank you Jenny for sharing your adventures with us – what a fascinating period of history.