Based in Vermont, author Tim Weed teaches at GrubStreet in Boston and in the MFA Creative & Professional Writing program at Western Connecticut State University. He is the winner of a Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Award and a Solas Best Travel Writing Award and also has published many short stories and essays. In addition to his writing work he has more than two decades’ experience developing and directing educational travel programs around the world and is currently a featured expert for National Geographic Expeditions on traveling programs to Cuba, Spain, and Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego.
Tim Weed’s first novel, Will Poole’s Island is set in New England, 1643. A meeting in the forest between a rebellious young Englishman and a visionary Wampanoag leads to a dangerous collision of societies, an epic sea journey, and the making of an unforgettable friendship. Will Poole's Island is a tale of adventure, wonder, and mystery in which a young man discovers that he is destined for more than his narrow upbringing led him to expect.
Tim Weed stops by In Reference to Murder today to talk about how his interest in family history led him to research that inspired the events of this novel:
Several years ago I got interested in family history. Tracing the Weeds back through the decades and the centuries, I found that the first Weed, Jonas, had come to America in 1630, on the ship Arbella, with Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Another ancestor was a young widower named Thomas Trowbridge, who crossed the Atlantic with three young sons and a household servant in 1637 to become one of the founders of New Haven, Connecticut. In 1645, Thomas Trowbridge sailed back to England to help Oliver Cromwell fight against king Charles in the English Civil War. He was killed in battle, leaving the three young Trowbridge orphans in the trust of their father’s servant, Henry Gibbons. Gibbons turned out to be corrupt, and basically swindled the boys out of their fortune.
Left on their own to survive in the wilds of America, the boys became merchant sea captains. One, William Trowbridge, was captured by the French and later became the subject of a sermon by the famous Puritan cleric Cotton Mather. Anyway, all of this was fascinating to me, and those who have read the book may recognize echoes of these ancestral histories in the story of my protagonist, Will Poole, his brother Zeke, and their legal guardian, the servant James Overlock.
I also have Native American ancestors – my great grandmother was half Cherokee – and I was fascinated by that heritage. So I wanted to find out more about the New England Indians too. I started reading a lot of primary resources, mostly accounts written by early English travelers and colonists. These books were very interesting, but they were of course written purely from the English perspective. Most of the observations of Indians by these early English described them as tall, handsome, healthy, with exceptionally good teeth. And then there was the fact that English captives, especially young ones, were often reluctant to return to the settlements after they’d been ransomed or rescued – because the freedom and ease they found in Indian society compared favorably to the strictness and repression of Puritan society. I found this most provocative, and it gave me an important insight into the character of my protagonist, Will Poole.
In 1614, six years before Plymouth Rock, an English sea captain named Thomas Hunt kidnapped twenty-seven Algonkian-speaking Indians from different spots along the New England coast and sold them as slaves to the Spanish. Among this group was a Patuxet Wampanoag who called himself Tisquantum, a name that was later shortened to “Squanto.” Tisquantum managed to escape slavery in Spain and made his way to England, where he was taken up by a group of investors interested in colonizing the New World. Tisquantum spent five years in England and found his way home in 1619, only to discover that his entire band had perished in a devastating plague. There is a character in my book, Squamiset, who has a very similar story.
Anyway, in the course of all this research I was beginning to develop a mental picture of New England in the 17th century. The thing was, the picture wasn’t complete. It wasn’t vivid or alive in my mind. And so in a sense the novel came to me because I passionately wanted to know more about the time and place, and I was only getting a dry and limited vision from my research.
And when it came time to transition from the research phase to the novel-writing phase, I began to get a feeling of accumulating energy, as if the story were telling itself. It was as if my early American characters had an important message they wanted to communicate - a new way of thinking, perhaps, or a reminder of a very old way of thinking. Novels are obviously limited in what they can achieve, of course, and in the end this is just a story. It’s a story about the friendship between a young man and an old man, their adventures and struggles and the landscapes they travel through, and the people and beings they interact with. I hope you enjoy it!