In 1863 an American slave girl, Trinity, escapes to Liverpool just as Jubal, a high-ranking Confederate officer pitches up in the same city. An American Civil War conspiracy plays out against a vividly realised backdrop in Liberty Bazaar (Aurora Metro Books, £9.99), an original debut novel from Bolton-based author David Chadwick.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
The American Civil War has captivated me since I was a kid in the sixties, when I collected bubblegum packs with picture cards portraying gory battle scenes and replica Confederate dollar bills that looked and felt real. Many years later, as I looked more closely into the war, I was fascinated by the massive efforts of both sides to influence British public opinion. Further reading soon identified two real historical events in Liverpool that formed the nub of the novel. The first was a grand bazaar in aid of Confederate Prisoners at St George’s Hall that raised £20,000 – £2.2 million in today’s money. The second was the building of two ironclad battleships for the Confederates, known as the ‘Laird rams’. They were seized by the British authorities at the last minute, but if the South had got hold of them, they could have been a game-changer.
Why did you choose to alternate between the perspectives of the two main characters, Trinity and Jubal?
The idea of writing about two very opposite individuals coming into conflict as foreigners abroad was very appealing. By switching between the two points of view, the reader gets to know what one character thinks of the other – and how their opinions change as they realise they are caught up in the same conspiracy. I also wanted to write a balanced story that showed both sides of what was a complicated conflict. Alternating perspective was a good way of doing this.
They have such distinctive voices. Were they a challenge to get right?
Capturing voices from another era is always a challenge, but I loved it. Trinity was tougher to do because I needed her to be articulate, yet still echo plantation life. I got a great insight into African American English from comedian Richard Pryor’s autobiography, which he wrote excellently without losing touch with his roots. Jubal’s voice was more straightforward but still had to reflect the period and his background. In a way he is like the straight guy in a double act – although the novel isn’t a comedy.
Reviewers have praised the Dickensian descriptions of Liverpool in the book. Who are your influences?
Dickens, for sure. Also the literary thrillers of Robert Harris, William Boyd and John le Carré. Another key influence was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – a masterclass in the use of different storytelling voices.
How much was the course of the American Civil War shaped by Liverpool?
Liverpool’s influence on events in America was enormous and activities in the city could have tipped the balance to enable a victory for the slaveholding Confederacy. From an office building in the city centre, nicknamed the Confederate Embassy, the Rebels hatched all sorts of schemes to buy a navy from Merseyside shipyards. Meanwhile, United States Consul Thomas Dudley – known as Lincoln’s spymaster – was equally determined to stop them. Although Dudley prevented the Laird rams from leaving port, a number of wooden commerce raiders, including the infamous CSS Alabama, devastated the Union’s merchant fleet. Liverpool was the unofficial home port of these Confederate privateers and Anglo-American relations were soured for many years after the war as a direct result.
Do you have plans for another novel?
Just finished a spy thriller called Stalin’s Cowboy. It’s set in Moscow, London and at sea in 1945 and hinges on the official relationship between Stalin’s terror organisation the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) and Britain’s Special Operations Executive.