This March 31, as islanders and Danes commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Danish to American rule, OC Publishing will launch Apple Gidley’s latest novel, “Transfer.” No coincidence.
The story, much of which takes place on St. Croix, begins in 1892 and culminates with Transfer Day, 1917.
Amazon and Barnes and Noble both start shipping the book on March 31; Undercover Books & Gifts in Gallows Bay has scheduled a book signing with the author from 4:30 to 6 p.m. April 11.
“I love writing historical fiction, absolutely love it,” Gidley said.
Her first novel, “Fireburn,” depicted the era from 1876 to 1887, when St. Croix’s once vibrant sugar industry was crumbling. Its release on Oct. 1, 2017, marked the anniversary of the 1878 worker rebellion in Frederiksted for which the novel was named.
“Transfer” picks up the story a few years later.
“This new book is not just about the transfer from Denmark to the United States, it’s also a generation transfer from the characters in “Fireburn,” Gidley said. “The next generation travels to Denmark, France and England but comes back to St. Croix.”
While main characters in “Fireburn” such as Anna, Sam, Ivy, and Emiline, retain strong voices in “Transfer,” the younger set now assumes leading roles. Anna’s adopted son, Niels Clausen, figures prominently, as do his childhood friends Fabiana and Javier Gomez.
The child of a Danish plantation owner and his mistress, both of whom perished as a result of the 1878 rebellion, Niels heads to London to continue his education. There he challenges the British perceptions of a black man at the turn of the 20th century, according to the book’s blurb.
“His development as a writer and political protagonist continues as he travels to Denmark and France… ,” the blurb said.
Gidley adds real life people to the mix of fictional characters: David Hamilton Jackson and artists Camille Pissarro, Henry Ossawa Tanner and Mary Cassatt.
She uses such characters as a vehicle for the action, she said.
“It was great fun to incorporate the artists,” Gidley said. “This allowed me to get Fabiana to North Africa. Her artist friends persuaded her to go there to learn to use light in her artwork.”
The introduction of Henry Ossawa Tanner, an African American painter living in Paris with his Swedish wife, permitted Gidley to bring in a theme of interracial marriage.
Other than history and mixed marriage, she touches on aging, the suffrage movement, and divided loyalties.
“There are some very sad moments,” she said.
Gidley’s publisher had pushed for a 2019 yearend book launch but Gidley, “deeply involved” with the Danes coming for Transfer Day celebrations, held firm to her notion of a March 31 release.
“Transfer Day 2020 seemed too long of an interval between these books,” she said. “I had to get with it. I sat down and knuckled down.”
Having researched a good bit of St. Croix’s history when writing “Fireburn,” Gidley spent three days on her own in Denmark as groundwork for “Transfer.”
“I walked Copenhagen,” she said. “I wanted to visualize the area I was writing about. Like St. Croix, it’s an old city and the basic structure has not changed much.”
Not only did Gidley travel to Denmark, she read books and documents about the Danish West Indies.
And she talked with people.
“All sorts of people. They drop information in passing, almost by accident. They are so generous with their knowledge of many disparate things,” she said.
Gidley also values the support and constructive criticism she gets in her weekly writing group, the Writers’ Circle of St. Croix.
“It’s nice when you can talk to people who understand what you are going through,” Gidley said. “We learn from each other, even though we all write different genres.”
Her mind now spins with a different story, that of 1950s Malaya. She lived there in her formative years, from age seven to 15.
“It’s a book I’ve wanted to write for a long, long time. I understand the culture and I have wonderful contacts,” she said. “Now is the time to write it.”
No one mentioned the word “war” in Malaya back then. Called “The Emergency,” the period was defined by what was essentially a community uprising, Gidley said.
“It was a bizarre, fascinating time in history,” she said.
Born in England and raised in expat life, Gidley has lived in 12 countries including Papua New Guinea, Thailand, The Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Equatorial Guinea, and the United States. Her memoir “Expat Life Slice by Slice” describes her experiences.
“I think these characters have legs for one more run,” she said, tapping her copy of “Fireburn.” “But I need to give them a break and let them ferment.”
Meanwhile, the March 31 book launch looms large. Serving on the board of directors of Friends of Denmark and helping with Transfer Day celebrations has distracted her from dwelling on her new novel’s release.
“The last month before a book comes out is terrifying. I get collywobbles,” she said.