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Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Quaker Trilogy by Ann Turnbull

Some stories take a long time to grow. For a few years in the 1980s I attended Quaker meetings, and it was from the books in the local meeting’s library that I first learned about the origins of the Quakers in the 17th century. Those early Quakers insisted that people had no need of “hireling priests”, and their meetings were held in silence which could be broken by anyone, male or female, who felt moved to speak. They refused to pay church tithes, used the informal “thee” and “thou” to everyone, and would not doff their hats, even to those in authority. They were considered such a threat to church and state that they were subjected to relentless persecution. I was amazed to learn of their courage and the turmoil created by their radical beliefs.

No Shame, No Fear
grew out of this reading and my personal involvement with Quakers, but it was nearly twenty years before I began writing the book. Until then, I had always written for children, but this was to be a young adult novel - a love story. Fifteen-year-old Susanna, the eldest child of a Quaker weaver in rural Shropshire, goes to live and work in town. There she meets Will, the son of a wealthy wool merchant – a scholarly, thoughtful youth, brought up an Anglican but drawn to the Quakers. As the repression of Quaker meetings grows worse, Susanna and Will struggle to uphold their beliefs and stay together.

I started writing without knowing exactly how the story would unfold, or what decisions Will and Susanna would make. When I reached the end I knew I had to write a sequel.

Forged in the Fire starts with Will and Susanna’s attempts to reunite and marry, and continues with the horrors of the plague and Newgate prison, and then the Great Fire of London and its aftermath. No Shame, No Fear had been a difficult book to write as I struggled to find my characters and story. Forged in the Fire was easier. I knew what I had to do; I knew and loved my characters; and I had the bonus of great and terrifying events for them to live through. It was a wonderfully exciting book to write.

Seeking Eden was written much later. A third book – in which Will and Susanna and their children would emigrate to Philadelphia – had always nudged at me, wanting to be written. By the 1680s the suffering of Quakers had increased. William Penn, a wealthy and inspirational Quaker, acquired a large tract of land in America and founded the colony of Pennsylvania as a “holy experiment”, based on Quaker philosophy. This seemed a likely time for Will and Susanna to go. And yet I hesitated. These two dearly loved characters would now be in the background; Josiah, their son, would be the main character. And I was not familiar with America and its colonial history. Could I pull it off?

But the idea would not go away, and at last I gave in and began to read more on the subject. I discovered that there were already Quakers living in the American colonies – quite large numbers of them in Maryland and Barbados. It was a time when the slave trade with Africa was growing fast – and I was astonished to discover that many Quakers kept slaves. I knew then that I had found my story. Seeking Eden takes Josiah from London to an apprenticeship with a merchant in the New World – and face to face with the evil of slavery.

All three books can be read as stand-alone novels, and adults enjoy them as much as teenagers. New paperback editions were published in 2012, and e-book editions will be coming out this summer.

"I felt that I had entered the Garden of Eden and found the serpent coiled at its heart." 

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