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Monday, 2 September 2013

Spy Island by Sophie Schiller



As a child growing up in the island of St. Thomas, I used to spend hours roaming through the side streets and alleyways of Charlotte Amalie, admiring the Danish colonial architecture, wondering at the Danish street names, and drinking in the rich history behind this beautiful former Danish colony that captured the imagination of such historical figures as Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard the Pirate, Henry Morgan, the exiled Mexican General Santa Anna, and the American Writer Herman Wouk. A single, nagging question always returned time and time again: Why aren't there more novels detailing the rich, vibrant history of the Danish West Indies? After all, the islands have been praised for their beauty for centuries. The capital, Charlotte Amalie, possesses one of the most splendid natural harbors in the world. For inspiration, all a writer would have to do is gaze at her rolling green hills dotted with colorful flowers, lush tropical flora, Danish watch towers, and ubiquitous red-roofed houses. Since no novel yet existed that could satisfy my desire to read about this fascinating place, I decided to write my own. And that is the seed that germinated into my novel "Spy Island".


When I finally decided to write that novel, it took me about a year to develop a plot in which a local girl, Abigail Maduro, the scion of an old Sephardic merchant family, returns to St. Thomas after her parents are killed in a railway along the Panama Canal to live with her aunt, a bitter spinster and her household of eccentric servants. One day, while out running an errand, she stumbles into a mysterious stranger who turns out to be a deserter from a German U-boat. In Erich Seibold, Abby finds the friendship and love she has been craving. She hides him in the basement of her aunt's house, but unbeknownst to them, the island's German Consul, Lothar Langsdorff, also discovers Erich's true identity as a deserter, and uses this information to blackmail him into committing sabotage and murder on the eve of the islands' transfer to the United States, in order to scare away the Americans.


Along the way, many wonderful people helped me develop my story, including the Grandson of the man who was the real Director of the Hamburg-America Line office who was accused of the Americans of spying for Germany and arrested by the US Marines in 1917 right after the Transfer ceremony and after the US declared war on Germany. I also acquired a new lifelong friend in the Croatian military historian who helped me conjure up Erich's back story and his life-altering journey from the Azores to the West Indies on a Spanish tramp steamer. But most important, in the end, I succeeded in bringing to life the last days of a floundering Danish sugar colony in the West Indies with all its charm, nuance, and color. My wish was finally fulfilled and my own journey had come to an end. So treat yourself to Spy Island for a Caribbean journey unlike any other you'll ever have, a journey right into history.

6 comments:

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

It's amazing how writing a book that requires research introduces you to a new world and new friends. Your book sounds fascinating.

Sophie Schiller said...

Thank you, Elizabeth! Meeting new friends is definitely the icing on the cake!

awriterofhistory.com said...

Hi Sophie .. I particularly like your cover. It draws attention to your book right away. Great choice and a very intriguing plot line.

awriterofhistory.com said...

Hi Sophie - I really like your cover, draws attention to the book right away. Hope it's successful.

Sophie Schiller said...

Thanks Mary (That's the writer M.K. Tod, author of Unravelled for those who are new to the Historical Fiction genre). The story of that cover is an epic saga in itself! When I recently found the picture of this beautiful Croatian model with the elaborate hairdo, I knew I'd found my Abby. The funny thing was, when the book was first released last year as "Transfer Day", this picture had not yet been taken...so I had to "wait" so to speak, until the cover found me. As we all know, life's timing is not perfect, but somehow it eventually all works out!

Deborah Swift said...

That's interesting about your cover Sophie. I enjoyed your post, thanks for contributing and all the best with Spy Island.