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Guest post: Linda Spalding

December 26, 2013

Linda Spalding collage

I’m thrilled to welcome author Linda Spalding here today.  Her book, The Purchase won Canada’s 2012 Governor’s General Award for Fiction and sounds fantastic!

Historical fiction? Is that what my book is? Or is it a real vision of the past. I must admit I had no idea how to write about something that happened to a long-ago relative. But I felt compelled to find out why he’d done what he did. Daniel Dickinson was a Quaker, as all of my father’s people were when they crossed the ocean to settle in Pennsylvania. It was a tolerant state, with a very civil society. The Quakers were the first people in England and America to argue for the abolition of slavery! They were pacifists and believed so sincerely in speaking only the truth that they refused to take oaths or vows. But my grandfather’s grandfather, Daniel, was thrown out of his community and I wondered why. Had he done something terrible? What kind of sin had he committed? When I gathered all the family papers I could get my hands on, I found that he had made the mistake of marrying a Methodist after the death of his first wife. This was considered (by the tolerant Quakers) a breach of faith so serious that he was disowned and had to move away.

Of course I wondered about that Methodist girl. What strange attraction did she hold? Perhaps she was a servant in the household and therefore simply convenient, since Daniel had a passel of children who needed immediate care. What he did, then – and this was 1798 – was pack all of his children and his new wife into a wagon and take them to the very edge of what was then the United States. They settled by the Cumberland Gap, at the border point of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. There was no town in that wild place, no one to help them farm or build. And that answered the really big question I had always asked myself. Because I knew that Daniel had become a slave owner.  But how, I wondered, could he betray his beliefs and convictions in such a horrible way? How would he have lived with himself? How would his children, so well brought up, react to this shocking mistake?

A few years ago I made the same trip Daniel made, along what used to be called The Wilderness Road that cuts right through the Shenandoah Valley. Beautiful nature on every side! But Daniel had come to a place where he had to build a home, start a farm, and feed everyone. His sons were too young to help and his thirteen year old daughter hated his brand new fifteen year old wife. Everything was chaos. Daniel must have been overwhelmed. When he drove off by himself to attend an auction and buy some tools, he was suddenly overcome by an impulse he himself didn’t understand. He had unconsciously raised his arm when a young boy was put up for sale. Apologizing, explaining that he didn’t have enough money in the world for such a purchase, he was rounded on by the local men, who took all of the money he had plus his best horse. And this is only the beginning of Daniel’s tale. All of his children have their own stories – including that thirteen year old daughter, who becomes dangerously attached to a runaway slave girl named Bett.

History? Fiction? I became so engaged with these characters that learning about the world that surrounded them was nothing but fun. I learned about clothing, and food and habits and speech and the tiny divisions in protestant beliefs that kept neighbors feuding. There is a murder and then another. There is cause and there is effect. As I wrote, I began to understand my grandfather’s grandfather and to feel the results of his awful mistakes in those of us who live now.

About The Purchase:

In this provocative and starkly beautiful historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested.

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, recently widowed and shunned by his fellow Quakers when he marries his young servant girl to help with his five small children, moves his shaken family down the Wilderness Road to the Virginia/Kentucky border. Although determined to hold on to his Quaker ways, and despite his most dearly held belief that slavery is a sin, Daniel becomes the owner of a young boy named Onesimus, setting in motion a twisted chain of events that will lead to tragedy and murder, forever changing his children’s lives and driving the book to an unexpected conclusion.

A powerful novel of sacrifice and redemption set in a tiny community on the edge of the frontier, this spellbinding narrative unfolds around Daniel’s struggle to maintain his faith; his young wife, Ruth, who must find her own way; and Mary, the eldest child, who is bound to a runaway slave by a terrible secret. Darkly evocative, The Purchase is as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life. Its memorable characters, drawn with compassion and depth, are compellingly human, with lives that bring light to matters of loyalty and conscience.

About Linda Spalding:

Linda Spalding was born in Kansas and lived in Mexico and Hawaii before immigrating to Canada in 1982. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and (with her daughter Esta) Mere. Her nonfiction includes The Follow (Canadian title, short-listed for the Trillium Book Award and the Pearson Writers’ Trust Prize, and published in the US as A Dark Place in the Jungle), Riska: Memories of a Dayak Girlhood (shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize), and Who Named the Knife. She has been awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the Canadian literary community. The Purchase received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award and its Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Spalding lives in Toronto, where she is the editor of Brick magazine.

Visit Linda’s website at

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2013 4:20 am

    This novel does sound fantastic! I can’t imagine the amount of research, empathy and imagination it would have taken too write – I can fully understand why it won such a prestigious award. I shall have to look out for this in 2014; I think I’d enjoy it. Great guest post! Thanks for sharing the story behind your latest novel Linda, I’m glad you got the opportunity to learn more about your family. 🙂

  2. December 26, 2013 7:46 am

    This does sound fantastic! I love historical fiction that is well researched!

  3. December 26, 2013 10:03 am

    I have to read this one. Love how you can start from an event from the past and write a book around it. I’ve always wondered about my ancestors, but in India, it is near impossible to go back more than a few generations because there wasn’t that much paperwork done then.

  4. December 26, 2013 10:27 am

    I have had the ARC of The Purchase for many months and continue to overlook it when I go into my TBR pile. No more. Thanks to your post, I’m going to get to it – soon.

  5. December 26, 2013 10:38 am

    Oh how fun! I am engaged in what this one is about – love that it is around someone that the author is related too. Very interesting!

  6. Patty permalink
    December 26, 2013 11:20 am

    Sounds very interesting!

  7. Beth Hoffman permalink
    December 26, 2013 1:31 pm

    Terrific guest post! The minute I first heard about Linda’s book I added the title to my list (love the cover, too). I’m so eager to crack the spine.

  8. December 26, 2013 2:05 pm

    This sounds so good! It’s seems pretty unusual for a Quaker to own a slave though. Thanks for introducing me to this author. I’m surprised we haven’t heard more about her since she won a GG award! Where was the publicity?!

  9. December 26, 2013 9:50 pm

    What a unique storyline! I’m adding this to my list of must-reads. Actually this would make an excellent book club selection.

  10. December 27, 2013 3:46 pm

    I can hardly wait to get this book and read it! What a story. I’ve long wanted to write the story of my husband’s maternal grandmother as a novel. Maybe this will inspire me to settle down and write. Thank you for the guest post.

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