An Interview with Christopher Dinsdale, author of Stolen Away
Stolen Away is the second book written by Christopher Dinsdale. Aimed at younger readers, it gives the story of Keira, who was kidnapped from Ireland by Vikings, and now lives as a slave in legendary Vinland. Two native bands, the Beothuck and the Thule, are also fighting over the land, thrusting the Norsemen into war. While the Vikings search for a new home, an accident at sea leaves Keira miraculously saved by a Beothuck warrior. Keira settles into the Beothuck way of life, learning their customs and coming to care for them. But she dreams of risking everything in order to find a way home. The book is published by Napoleon Publishing.
For more information on this book, click here.
I would like to begin by asking how you became interested in being a writer?
It’s a bit of a twisted story as to how I became a writer. In fact, my wife, Amanda, is the English major and she has had the writing itch for as long as I have known her. Quite often, on long car rides, we share and build upon storylines in an effort to help her with the writing process. One day, I mentioned an idea I had about Ste. Marie among the Huron and she loved it. I was surprised when she said, “I think you should write it. After all, it’s your idea.” It was my first attempt at a novel for young adults and it evolved into Broken Circle. I’m told how rare it is that a first attempt gets published so I’m still overwhelmed by the accomplishment.
The setting for this novel is Vinland (present-day Newfoundland), during the 11th century, when a Norse colony existed on the island. Could you talk about why you choose this particular setting for the novel and any research you had to do regarding the Vikings and Beothuck?
I’ve always been fascinated by first contact stories, you know, when cultures meet and interact for the first time. Certainly, the Vikings coming to North America and interacting with Canada’s First Nation community ranks up there as one of the most important first contact stories in Canadian history. Being a teacher, I wanted a novel that brought to life that time period when the Vikings lived within our borders. That’s how the idea for Stolen Away was born. Since I had only a high school textbook background on the subject, the in-depth research came next. Surprisingly, it was the research that wrote the storyline. My first research mission was to try and identify the Skraeling people often mentioned in the Vinland sagas. It seemed that there were two possibilities; the northern Thule First Nation or the Beothuck of Newfoundland. I had never heard of the Beothuck First Nation. As I dug further on the Beothuck, I was floored to find out that this First Nation had been murdered into extinction by the early British settlers. I couldn’t believe such a tragic part of Canadian history had been so successfully buried. The only public display of their existence was a dilapidated memorial situated outside of St. John’s on the Trans-Canada Highway. The memorial commemorates the last of the Beothuck people, a young woman named Shanawdithit. She had witnessed first hand the brutal slaughter of her family and cousins at the hands of local British hunters. Her life was saved by a local church minister who took her in and protected her. Shanawdithit never did master English and everything we have learned about the Beothuck culture has come from her many drawings of earlier life. After reading about the tragic end of this nation that lived at the important crossroads of early North American and European culture, I knew I had to make their tale a central theme to my story. An interesting bit of archaeological information has been unearthed recently at several old Beothuck village sites. It appears that they were the only First Nation in North America to master early iron forging technology. Did the Vikings pass on this technology to the Beothuck? With the extinction of the Beothuck people, we may never know. As you can imagine, the information for this time period is sketchy at best. I spent a lot of time in the local libraries, on the internet and also emailing experts at the Newfoundland Museum and the L’Anse Aux Meadows Historical Site in order to make the tale as accurate as possible.
One theme of your novel is how people from different cultures interact with each other. The main character, Kiera is an Irish girl who had been captured by the Vikings and lives as a slave, but she soon meets up with the Beothuck and other Native peoples. Why was it important for you to have this kind of interaction and contacts between these groups?
I thought it was important to show how even though the Vikings, Irish and Beothuck were very different culturally, they were all very similar due to their shared humanity. The different characters all felt love, anger, friendship, loneliness and hope at some point during the story. I think that it is a very important message to share with children today. Some people look at those from other cultures or religions as if they arrived from a different planet. Underneath it all, however, we are just simple human beings trying to do our best in the world we’ve been given. Mutual respect will go a long way to finding solutions to the many social and political problems we are currently experiencing.
This is a novel aimed at younger readers (ages 10-12). What do you think makes this book appealing to this group, and did you have to change your writing style to accommodate a younger audience?
As a teacher, I often find it difficult to find good quality novels that I can tie to the different topics of the junior curriculum. I also noticed a severe shortage of books that appeal to boys at this age. Remembering what books appealed to me when I was younger, I decided to write quick-paced, action-packed stories that would not only hook the reader, but also teach the reader from beginning to end. It’s a style that I feel I am still trying to perfect, but I must be on the right track as Broken Circle received the child-selected Canadian Toy Testing Council Best Book award in 2006. In fact, I just found out several days ago that Stolen Away has been chosen as an Our Choice book by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre for 2007! Even though I feel I’m not there yet as a writer, these awards reassure me that I must be moving in the right direction.
Finally, I was wondering if you have any other upcoming writing projects that you could let us know about?
Actually, as a medievalist, you might be interested in my next project. I can’t say too much about it now as I just sent off the finished manuscript to my publisher. It’s another action-adventure junior novel that takes place in 14th century medieval Scotland. I have good friends in Scotland and during my visits there, I came up with this new storyline. I’m really excited about this project because the storyline had been brewing in the back of my head for over a decade. It’s a great feeling to finally get down on paper.
We thank Christopher Dinsdale for generously giving his time to answer our questions.