Travel to The Keepsake with Julie Brooks
The Keepsake set in London and Samoa
Julie Brooks is the author of The Keepsake about a a Georgian pocket book that sparks a mystery….
When I begin writing a new novel, I usually know where I want to end up but I don’t know where the story will take me along the way. The Keepsake was no different. I knew it would begin and end in Somerset, and that significant events would take place on an island in the South Pacific. I knew that the protagonist, Prudence, and her pocket book, would journey there by ship — it was 1832 after all — but I wasn’t sure what route she might take or where else her journey might lead. The story events would suggest the route.
Somerset, I had visited several years before and there was a wealth of information available, both historical and contemporary, accessible from far distant Australia. I chose Somerset because it had the geographical and cultural features, I knew I would need. It had grand country houses, meandering rivers, charming villages, an excellent heritage centre, and the remnants of old mines. Although, the novel doesn’t specify the exact location, I had in mind the Mendips. And it wasn’t too far for Prudence’s brief seaside visit to Sidmouth.
I chose Samoa — where I had never visited — rather than an island nation that I had visited because it too had the geographical and cultural features to complement my story. Plus, the cultural collision between Samoans and Europeans in the 1830s really interested me. In my preliminary research I had read about the history and culture of a number of Pacific Islands, including Fiji, the Marquesas and Tonga.
But Samoa’s chiefly political system and family structures at the time (and to this day in many respects) intrigued me and seemed perfect for my story idea, which centred on ‘community’. I was looking forward to visiting to do my on-the-ground research — for who doesn’t love palm trees and coral reefs?
So, there I was, happily working on my story, engrossed in research, 30,000 words written, when the pandemic hit. Borders closed. Samoa wouldn’t let me in. Australia wouldn’t let me out. Disaster! Once I had picked myself up from the floor and dusted off my writing pants, I considered changing the Pacific setting to a place I had visited already; such as Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Tahiti or the Cook Islands. But none of them was quite the right fit.
Some had too many warring clans in the 1830s, not to mention the occasional headhunting incident. Others were too far from the usual shipping routes. And some had already had too much European contact. Samoa it had to be. Therefore, all my research would have to be done online. Luckily, I found excellent resources in Samoan, Australian and New Zealand museums, libraries, cultural and scientific organisations. Now, having read so much about Samoa, I am half in love and determined to get there one day.
Several shipping routes from England to the Pacific were current in the 1830s, so since Singapore is such a cultural melting pot, and I had been there several times (including a recent fortuitous visit with lots of photos) that became a brief port of call on Prudence’s journey. Sydney turned out to be a location for a couple of scenes, and I was lucky to make a quick trip during a break in lockdowns to take photographs and research the specific location I had in mind. Photographs, drawings and maps are always an integral source of my research.
Prudence’s journey in The Keepsake took her halfway across the globe in a sailing ship. My journey turned out to be tame by comparison; partly by plane, partly by car, and a lot via the internet. And one last coincidental fact — all my locations turned out to begin with S! Somerset, Sidmouth, Singapore, Samoa and Sydney. Weird.
BookTrail Boarding Pass: The Keepsake