Good morning everyone! And good morning Sophie Schiller! I want to introduce you all to the author Sophie Schiller and her new book, Spy Island. Sophie has taken the time to answer some questions for us today to get to know her and her book better. Take it away!
I love novels set during or surrounding WWI, however I have never seen one set in the West Indies before. Why set your novel here?
Hi Heather, that's a great question. I wanted to write a novel that would bring to life the Danish colonial period in St. Thomas. As a child growing up in Charlotte Amalie, I marveled at the Danish architecture, the Danish street names, the fascinating history and beauty of the islands, and I longed to read a novel set in this unique location, but there was nothing available. That was the genesis of this novel. I wrote Spy Island to honor the upcoming Centennial Anniversary of the transfer of the Danish West Indies to the US, which took place in 1917 at the height of the Great War. This was a tumultuous time in history for the islanders. They went from being Danish subjects to being American subjects overnight. Down came the Dannebrog and up went the Stars and Stripes. Throw in a runaway German U-boat deserter, a mad Voodoo Queen, a ruthless German spy, Old World Danish characters, colorful West Indian characters and a resourceful and brave island girl and you've set the stage for some serious drama!
Your bio says that you grew up in the West Indies, did that have an influence on your writing? Did it give you any unique opportunities for researching your novel?
Without a doubt, growing up in the West Indies gave me a unique insight into the people of the West Indies, their thought patterns and behavior, their beliefs, their social structure, their quirks, the beauty of their traditions and culture. I tried to infuse some of that into my novel.
What has the publishing process been like for you? Have you found anything particularly challenging or surprisingly easy?
The publishing process is not for the faint at heart. It's a discipline that requires extraordinary dedication, perseverance, and love. I don't think there's anything easy about it. It's hard work. But when the job is done, you end up with what you hope is a beautiful product.
Is there any interesting tidbit that you learned while researching Spy Island that didn’t make it into the novel that you could share with us here?
During WWI, a large number of Jamaicans signed up to fight for Great Britain in the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR). In the original manuscript, I showed a group of these young men boarding Abby's steamship, but ended up taking it out. In one particularly sad case that occurred in 1915, a troopship bound for Nova Scotia hit a freak storm that sent temperatures plummeting. Dressed only in tropical weight uniforms, hundreds of these young West Indian men came down with frostbite, requiring hundreds of amputations that resulted in the deaths of five soldiers.
You are currently working on a new novel, Race to Tibet, what can you tell us about this upcoming novel?
Race to Tibet is set in 1889 at the height of Europe's obsession with the Buddhist kingdom on the Roof of the World. At that time, no living European had stepped foot in the Forbidden City of Lhasa, and no man had ever met the Dalai Lama. My novel is about a group of intrepid explorers who set out to reach Lhasa and encounter some hair-raising adventures (and a beguiling Buddhist princess) along the way. Stay tuned for more information!
If you could travel anywhere to research a novel idea (whether it is to access a library or absorb ambiance of the locale) where would you go and why?
My first choice would be Tibet for obvious reasons. Over the years I developed a fascination with the Himalayas which stands in direct contradiction to my tropical upbringing! My second choice would be the French Antilles for a project I have slated for 2016.
Thank you Heather for inviting me to the Maiden's Court. I enjoyed sharing tea and crumpets with you and your readers.
Sophie Schiller was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in the West Indies amid aging pirates and retired German spies. She was educated at American University, Washington, DC and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
A forbidden friendship that blossoms into love is at the heart of this colorful historical novel.
Abigail Maduro arrives in the Danish West Indies on 1916 to live with her Aunt Esther, a bad tempered spinster, and her houseful of eccentric servants. Despite the island’s veneer of tranquility, St. Thomas is a hotbed of German spies who use their Hamburg-America steamers to aid the Kaiser’s war effort.
When a mysterious stranger suddenly appears in town, Abigail is drawn into the conflict. In the scholarly Erich Seibold, she finds the friendship and love she has been craving, even after she learns that Erich is really a deserter from a German U-boat. But their idyllic interlude comes to a crashing halt when the island’s German consul also discovers Erich’s identity, and blackmails him into committing sabotage. After a melee involving the Danish governor, Erich is thrown into prison, forcing Abigail to risk everything to save him. Action and adventure abound in this colorful historical novel that brings to life a fading West Indian sugar colony in the last days of Danish rule.
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