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New novel explores life for women among early English settlers in Cupids

Trudy Morgan-Cole is the author of "A Roll of the Bones."
Trudy Morgan-Cole is the author of
CUPIDS, N.L. —

The story of English merchant John Guy's 17th century settlement in Cupids is generally well documented.

The ultimate goal was to establish a permanent colony. There were problems with farming and pirates, and there was some squabbling between Guy and his fellow colonists. He ultimately left Cupids for good in 1615, five years after he arrived. The Newfoundland Company ceased activities in the Conception Bay community a few years later.

But one less concrete aspect of this story is the role of women in this society. Guy brought 16 women to Cupids in 1612. A year later, a baby boy was born in Cupids, believed to be the first child born in Newfoundland to an English couple.

The documents that kept alive the story of the early English settlement in Cupids were otherwise scant when it came to details about women. It's with this angle in mind that Trudy Morgan-Cole approached her latest book.

"A Roll of the Bones," set to be released Oct. 14 through Breakwater Books, imagines what life was like for these nameless women who came to a strange land. It centres on three young people — Ned Perry, Nancy Ellis, and Kathryn Gale — who leave Bristol, England for a new life in Newfoundland. The story tests the limits of love and loyalty for these characters living amidst a harsh and challenging environment.

"So often, women's story are either not written or underplayed in history," said the author, who was struck by the lack of existing information about who these 16 women were.

"These women, who must have from their perspective been going to the end of the known world, we don't even know their names or anything about them. As a novelist, that's really interesting to me. I'm always attracted to the gaps in history and the things that we don't know, and try to fill them in imaginatively."

"A Roll of the Bones" represents something of a departure for the St. John's writer, who has now published five novels with Breakwater Books. It's Morgan-Cole's first attempt at telling a story through a series of books — "A Roll of the Bones" will be part one of a planned trilogy.

"I thought it would be fun to try writing a series and see what it would be like to tell a story that had that bigger and broader scope," she said. "The only thing was, would I get Breakwater to commit to a trilogy? But they were pretty enthused about it, too."

At this stage, Morgan-Cole has a general sense where the story will develop over the course of three books. It will include an eventual detour to Jamestown, Virginia, which was the site of the first English colony in North America. Cupids is the second oldest. Morgan-Cole found there were more accounts about the life of women at that colony than there were for Cupids.
The series will also address the colonists' interactions with the Beothuk people.

The full tale will span approximately a dozen years when complete. The first book takes place over the course of four years, from 1609 to the summer of 1613.

"The people who interest me are the people not covered in the chronicles — women, lower-class labouring men," said the author. "To think what a leap this must have been for people like that. It must be similar to the people today who talk about whether you'd go on a mission to Mars knowing that it very well might be a one-way trip. You would live and die there. Most of these people — except for the wealthy men who had the ability to go back-and-forth across the ocean — most of the common working people didn't. They knew that if they were going out to a colony, they were probably going to live out the rest of their lives there, effectively cut off from everyone and everything they know."

The book will be available for purchase Oct. 14. A launch event will be held in Cupids later this fall.

editor@cbncompass.ca

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