Welcome to the fourth round of our Expat Author Game, in which global creative Apple Gidley has agreed to be the participant. For some of you, Apple requires no introduction. She has been on our site before, when Displaced Nation co-founder Kate Allison reviewed her memoir, Expat Life: Slice by Slice.
Apple also fits right in at the Displaced Nation. On her author site, Apple brands herself as Nomad | Author. That “nomad” comes first reflects the way she has lived almost since birth. Her Anglo-Australian family moved to Nigeria when she was just one month old. After that Apple assumed the mantle of global itinerant: she has lived and worked in countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea, Thailand, The Netherlands and nine others. She currently divides her time between downtown Houston and St. Croix.
Spending time in St. Croix, which is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, fired up, so to speak, Apple’s imagination. She recently produced her debut novel, Fireburn, a book that readers say transports you completely and totally to another place and another time: to Caribbean life in the 1870s. The book’s name derives from an actual event that took place in 1878, when St. Croix was part of the Danish West Indies. Fireburn was the name given to a slave uprising that was led by three Crucian women, who are today considered heroines throughout the islands. Houses, fields, sugar mills and stores on nearly fifty St. Croix plantations were set ablaze. Over half the city of Frederiksted was left in ruins.
But if the book takes place against the backdrop of a slave revolt playing out in acts of arson—in fact, Fireburn came out on October 1, 2017, to commemorate Fireburn’s anniversary—it is also a love story. The protagonist, Anna, an Anglo-Dane, returns to her beloved home, a plantation called Anna’s Fancy, after her mother dies, only to find that her father has let it go to seed. She makes a disastrous marriage to her neighbor, Carl Pederson, after which she realizes that the man she truly loves is her black foreman, Sampson. As one reader says of Anna and Sampson: “They are oceans apart not just in status but in cultures too.”
Now let’s play Part One of the Expat Author Game and see what Apple comes up with as an algorithm for her novel, for its burning story of passion and rebellion.
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If we like Fireburn, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?
Jean Rhys’s wonderful book about the first Mrs Rochester, Wide Sargasso Sea, was made into a BBC movie about ten years ago. Although it was based in Jamaica, the sultry setting would give readers a feel reminiscent to 1870s St Croix where Fireburn takes places. Add inappropriate relationships (for the time), the sights and sounds and tastes of the Caribbean, the relief when the Trade Winds return after the brooding heat of mid-hurricane season and you’ll be right in the mood for …
What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?
A cassava chicken croquette (a dish Emiline, Anna’s black servant-cum-cook, makes)—but remember, if not cooked properly cassava, known in the US as tapioca, can produce cyanide. Here’s the recipe:
1 egg, beaten
2 cups well cooked then mashed cassava
1 cup cooked, diced chicken
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 cup milk (or you can use coconut milk)
1 cup breadcrumbs
oil for frying
Mix egg, cassava, chicken, onion, salt & pepper, parsley and a little milk to make the mixture firm but not soggy. Make croquettes, then dip in remaining milk and roll in breadcrumbs. Fry until golden. Drain well. Croquettes can either be “meal” sized or finger food…
If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?
It should be washed down with a rum punch—preferably Cruzan Rum!
Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?
Emiline is fond of wearing colourful scarves wrapped around her head—she often matches the cushion covers and curtains as she tends to use left-over bits of fabric!
If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which sights should we take in?
Well that’s easy—you must come to St Croix! Though now part of the US Virgin Islands, it used to be owned by Denmark and formed part of the Danish West Indies, as you explained in your introduction. Much of the Danish architecture lines the streets of Christiansted—foot-thick walls, shuttered windows, galleries and inner courtyards. Frederiksted, on the west end of the island, has some buildings left—but much was burnt in “fireburn”. As you mentioned, Fireburn was the name given to the 1878 slave uprising that took place in the Danish West Indies. You can also visit Fort Christiansvaern and Fort Frederik, both of which were constructed between the mid-1700s and mid-1800s to protect Christiansted and Frederiksted from smugglers, pirates, and European invaders; to collect taxes on exports and imports; and to deter slave rebellions. Both forts are open to the public and give a real feel of what it was like to serve in the military then—a hard life for the common soldier/sailor. Then you absolutely must take a maxi-taxi to St George Village Botanical Garden—recovering after damage sustained from Hurricane Maria—where you will get an idea of the layout for the plantation at Anna’s Fancy.
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So, readers, tell us: Has Apple come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of sipping rum punch while munching on chicken croquettes, your head wrapped in scarves, in a sultry setting akin to one depicted by West Indian novelist Jean Rhys, make you want to hold Apple’s book in your hands—or are you afraid your palms might burn? Can you almost feel the heat of the fires burning, both outside and in your heart, as you make your way down the streets of Christiansted, lined with Danish buildings?
Assuming that by now you’re burning with curiosity about the history of the Caribbean and the contents of Apple Gidley’s book, I suggest you check out her author site. You can also follow her on Twitter, where she announces her next book readings.
And STAY TUNED for Part Two next week!
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Photo credits: Book cover and other photos (supplied).
I didn’t realize St Croix was part of the Danish West Indies! From the name I thought there was a French origin. Thanks for that tidbit. Good luck with your book – it sounds intriguing.
Thank you so much! Fireburn, the event, took place 30 years after emancipation, but conditions had not changed much for the workers in the cane fields.
St Croix has actually flown under 7 flags! In no particular order – British, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Knights of Malta and the USA from 1917. It is the centennial year and so lots of events both in the VI and Denmark. There is a very strong Danish West Indian Society active in both places, and some fascinating family stories.
@Apple I hadn’t twigged that it was 60 years after emancipation! I guess the Danish colonials were still treating their sugar plantation workers largely as slaves? Hence the reason for the uprising…?
Yup – but sadly not only the Danes!
Excellent selections. Read “Fireburn” it is a wonderful read.
Thank you so much – I’m glad you enjoyed Fireburn!