#LoveOzYA Q&A with Meg Caddy for SLIPPING THE NOOSE
Meg Caddy is a bookseller and self-proclaimed nerd whose love of history and pirates shines in their latest release, SLIPPING THE NOOSE – the sequel to Devil’s Ballast, and continues female pirate Anne Bonny’s journey.
Meg recently spoke to #LoveOzYA’s Bianca Breen about Bonny. You can watch the interview on our YouTube channel or read on below!
Can you tell us a bit about where Devil’s Ballast ends and where SLIPPING THE NOOSE begins?
Devil’s Ballast pretty much takes us through what history knows of Anne Bonny’s life at sea, and ends where history about her also ends. The beginning of Slipping the Noose is really where history drops the ball and loses track of Anne. She and the crew are captured and Anne is left on her own in a difficult situation. All we know from history is that she wasn’t executed – and that’s a big deal because a lot of the people in her story were executed. There were a lot of historical stories I read about what might have happened to Anne, but I couldn’t find anything concrete, and I hated most of those stories, couldn’t stand them. So I wanted to write an alternate ending for her, something I think she would approve of.
Did you always know you were going to write a sequel?
Well, yes, because I wrote the sequel first. I was reading these stories of what had happened to Anne Bonny and I just got really mad about it, so I started writing Slipping the Noose and I sent it to my editor at Text Publishing who said, ‘I love it, but… this is a sequel. You need to write the first book now.’ Writing Devil’s Ballast was actually a lot trickier because there were more concrete historical events I had to tie it to – it was a better known story. But once it was done I rewrote Slipping the Noose. So, yeah, I always knew there was going to be a sequel.
I wanted to ask you about research, because I thought you must have done so much research for the first book that you must have had a pretty firm grasp of the characters and the world before writing the second – I guess now I want to ask whether the initial draft changed much.
The only thing that really stayed the same between drafts was Anne kicking about in London and ruining everything. I always knew Ned Fletcher was going to be in there – he’s so different to Anne, he’s not a pirate by any means, but I’m really fond of him. He really holds the story together for me. A lot of the research I did in London was for both books at the same time. Knowing that I was going to write Slipping the Noose, I was walking the streets I knew were in the book, making sure I marked out how long it took to get from one place to another. But I was also visiting museums and pirateologists for Devil’s Ballast research. It was really nice to jump from the bright brilliant waters of the Bahamas to London, which is a very different creature; I was aware I was going to have to make that contrast, and especially the contrast between a river like the Thames, and the ocean.
This isn’t really a spoiler because it’s literally on the back cover – but when we start Slipping the Noose, things are very different and very dark. What was the creative decision to have such an abrupt cut off between stories?
Slipping the Noose always began at Anne’s lowest point, where she’s lost everything except for this little baby. There’s a lot of grief and complicated emotions wrapped up in the baby as well, and Anne’s not the most maternal figure in the world. I wanted it to start at a point where Anne was out of her depth and without a big boisterous group of pirates behind her. Historically, Anne is a very resilient person, so part of writing about her is putting her in these difficult situations and watching her bounce back in inventive ways, seeing how she can think around these problems because she can’t muscle her way out. So while Slipping the Noose starts at a very low point for her, I wanted to make it clear that she was still going to think her way around it and find ways to strike out on her own. Sometimes that’s to the detriment of her mental health, because she doesn’t really let herself grieve when she needs to because she’s already onto the next plan. So the book is also about her journey of grief and how she forestalls it for as long as she possibly can.
Anne is a mother, and you’re about to become a parent yourself, did your own journey affect any creative decisions over Anne and Molly?
Yes, but only in contrast. My feelings about motherhood are very different to Anne’s. For Anne, with Molly, it’s not something she’s prepared for or wants, whereas I’ve been planning since I was 25. She wants to be a pirate for the rest of her life, it’s not something you can do with a toddler on your hip. But she’s coming to motherhood on a very different path and finding family in different areas. I guess my own experience did influence it but in the understanding that motherhood takes so many different shapes and approaches and attitudes. It helps me understand a little bit more about Anne and the way she adapts – even when she realises she has to keep the child, she’s all in. Anne has never really been in the domestic space, her own relationship with her parents was interrupted and strained and difficult – her own mother died young – and she’s never really spent time around other women in that space. So she doesn’t really know what motherhood looks like. I didn’t ever want it to be a case like ‘Oh she’s a mother and realises it’s what she’s wanted all along’. That’s the story I was trying to avoid writing her into. But it is important that she finds other ways to be a mother and that there are lots of people involved in parenting her child. Having a good solid network is something that reflects my own journey, as I’m going into this as a single mother.
I want to talk about my favourite character – Read! Is he based on any real historical figure, and what was the decision to give him a greater role in this story?
In the initial stories about Anne, we hear a little bit about ‘Anne Bonny and Calico Jack’, but you mostly hear about ‘Anne Bonny and Mary Read’. Mary was about ten years older than Anne, they went to war, married a man they met during the war and ran an inn with him, and when their husband died, decided piracy was more lucrative. Almost by chance they met Anne, and the two of them developed a close relationship, which some people say was romantic as well. The person history knows as Mary went under the name Mark or Martin almost exclusively except for when they were running the inn. Martin comes across more convincingly as a trans figure in history than someone like Anne who is dressing as a boy for the sake of convenience. In Devil’s Ballast, many people see the relationship between Anne and Calico, but the crux of the story for me is Anne and Read meeting for the first time, and finding in each other a kinship that they hadn’t found anywhere else. But Anne’s a lot younger than Read so there are some historical stories that I look at where I’m like, ‘That was Anne, that was Read… that may have been Read, that might have been both of them together.’ History often lumps them together, but for me, they have very distinctive attributes and attitudes toward gender. It’s a love story between Anne and Read – not a romantic one, but a platonic one, and as someone who is asexual and nonbinary, it was always the story that was going to mean the most to me. They’re the voices in each other’s heads. They rely on each other. So while history has Read dying at what would be the beginning of Slipping the Noose, I knew that was another historical wrong I had to get rid of.
How do you decide what to keep and what to change when writing about historical events in a fictional novel?
My process is to write everything as close to history as possible and creating a really boring book to send to my editor, who gently tells me it’s a really boring book. I’m a history student so I struggle with being too tightly tethered to the history. In Devil’s Ballast, there were a lot of points where I had to let the history go – I was honouring the characters and not the occasions. It’s hard though, because whenever I watch pirate content, I’m that nerd who’s yelling out that they’ve got it wrong. I hate the thought of people doing that to my books but there’s a need for it. Slipping the Noose was easier because while there’s a few historical figures and settings, the actual plot was my own.