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Talking Location with Marie Evelyn – Barbados

2nd January 2017

#TalkingLocationWith… author Marie Evelyn who talks about Barbados as featured in The Turtle Run

1783753277-01-ztzzzzzzA quick background: When Charles II died there was such terror about the return of a Catholic regent (as his younger brother, James II, was), that many people preferred the idea of Charles’s illegitimate (but Protestant) son – the Duke of Monmouth – as king. This culminated in the Battle of Sedgemoor in Somerset in 1685 – a battle they lost (inevitably), and the ‘Monmouth rebels’ who were caught were either executed or exiled to the British colonies as indentured labourers on plantations.

The Turtle Run concerns the rebels exiled to Barbados. The protagonist, Becky, is tasked with finding out what happened to their descendants, who were known by the (now politically incorrect) term of ‘Redlegs’.

My mother’s line came from a cousin of John Evelyn (the C17th diarist) and our family spent many years in Barbados. The Turtle Run was partly inspired by a scene my mother once witnessed whilst driving in Barbados: she came across barefooted, blue-eyed, fair-haired children struggling to carry buckets of water from a standpipe to their chattel whilst their mother hollered at them; it made an impression on my mother firstly because they looked so miserable, and secondly because it was the first time she had come across ‘poor whites’ – a phrase that carried much more shame in Barbados then than we can imagine from our current perspective. It was only later that my mother learnt that these were Redlegs – likely descendants of the Monmouth rebels.

You will still see many chattel houses on the island today.

 

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My mother and I wrote the book together, relying on a combination of memory and return visits – and Google. We chose the northern parish of St Lucy as the location of the old plantation house in which Becky becomes trapped, precisely because it is a relatively remote and less visited area.

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There was a little bit of artistic licence. For example, the drystone walls that Becky comes across (one of the few tangible legacies of the Monmouth rebels), you would be more likely to encounter in Pico Tenerife – in the neighbouring parish of St Peter. Likewise the inspiration for Matthew’s hotel was Sam Lord’s Castle – the mansion of a grandiose pirate – which – when I was young – still had turtles in a special holding area (Sam Lord was partial to turtle flesh). When I next returned to the island in 1998, Sam Lord’s castle was still there, but the turtles had gone. And now – I am grieved to say – Sam Lord’s castle as I knew it is gone too: gutted by fire. It sounds like it has become an unofficial tourist attraction for rather haunting reasons.

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Much of the book is about seeking continuity and accepting change – something my mother and I had to do as well when writing the novel. For example, when we lived in Barbados there was a wonderful Easter tradition of flying homemade kites in the Savannah by the historic Garrison (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site). That has pretty much gone, and we had to downgrade our depiction of what used to be a vigorous competition, as people tried to launch huge structures into the sky – not always with success.

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On a personal note, (and something that we couldn’t squeeze into the book), the story that fascinated me as a child concerned the moving coffins in the Chase Vault in Christchurch. Allegedly noises would be heard from within the vault, and every time it was opened to receive another burial, the heavy lead coffins would be found strewn around the vault – with no apparent natural or man-made cause. Family anecdote has it that the Evelyns and Chases could not stand each other, and that the movement of the coffins was down to the querulous nature of the Chases – even when dead! Christ Church Parish Church in Oistins is a good place to visit, though I believe the church and cemetery are now quite peaceful.

My mother Margot (Margot Gameson née Evelyn) in particular has seen the island go through a lot of changes, especially in the lead up to independence – Barbados celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent nation in 2016. However The Turtle Run shows there are still resonances of its lesser known history on the island today.

Thank you so much to Marie for sharing wonderful insights. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter and you can buy her book here 

And do come and connect with Team TripFiction via Twitter (@tripfiction), Facebook (TripFiction), Instagram (TripFiction) and Pinterest (TripFiction)… and now YouTube

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Comments

  1. User: marieevelyn1685.gmail.com

    Posted on: 03/01/2017 at 12:26 am

    Hi Sylvia, I would have been quite envious of your aunt-in-law, because when I was young I longed to explore inside Sam Lord’s Castle. Butlins? Noooo. When I was young, it seemed like a rather cool castle, but then again we were short of castles on Barbados, and any crenellated building caught my imagination.

    Comment

  2. User: marieevelyn1685.gmail.com

    Posted on: 03/01/2017 at 12:17 am

    Hi Cathy, Hope you enjoy it. Actually, now that you mention weddings, the last time I went back was for my sister’s wedding. After a brief ceremony and lunch, we went swimming with turtles; it certainly beat the alternative of drunken uncles trying out steps on the dance floor!

    Comment

  3. User: Sylvia Robbins

    Posted on: 02/01/2017 at 3:08 pm

    Gosh! My late Aunt-in-law was a one time housekeeper at Sam Lord’s Castle. Hubby and I caught the local buses to visit the Castle from where we were staying but were rather disappointed as it rather resembled a Butlins. It must have been in the 1990s or even earlier. I bought a book from a local author at that time. I must look out for your book.

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  4. User: Cathy Johnson

    Posted on: 02/01/2017 at 12:52 pm

    How wonderful! I love Barbados (got married there) and am always interested in anything to do with the island’s history so I will definitely look out for this one

    Comment

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