As a kid, I loved to read. One of my favorite characters was Pippi Longstocking.
She had freedoms I didn’t. She could dress however she wanted. She was free from the conventions of how a “proper young lady” would behave. Pippi was loyal to her friends and generous. She had a spirit of adventure and so much energy. To top it off, she had bright red hair and freckles all over her face–an instant connection. When I read stories about Pippi, I lived my life vicariously through her.
When I sat down to write my middle-grade novel SAM OF THE SEAS, Pippi was my muse. Sam lives on the RMS Harmonia, where her father is the ship’s captain. On the ship, Sam has freedoms most girls didn’t have in 1908. She can wear pants, visit places around the world and mingle with passengers from a myriad of cultures. She’s always looking for adventure and is easily distracted from school books. Just like Pippi, Sam is a rebel. Of all the characters I’ve written, Sam embodies a younger me.
The ship that inspired the RMS Harmonia was called the Morea, which was owned and operated by P&O (The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company). It’s routes intrigued me. Imagine being a kid who travels to places throughout the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, India, Australia, New Zealand and more. I ordered photo books featuring ships of this era and read extensively on sites devoted to ships like this. I read dissertations about Lascar crews, and how they were treated. There were stories of these ships transporting political prisoners, entering ports under quarantine flags, rescuing passengers from disabled vessels, and even helped stranded citizens after a massive earthquake in Italy. The possibilities of what a kid living on a ship like this could experience are endless!
One thing I also loved about writing a character from this time is the chance to view society through her eyes. The treatment of the Lascar crew members by the passengers and British crew stunned her. In my book, one of Sam’s biggest advocates is the Serang of the Lascar crew. India was still under British rule, a woman had just qualified as a physician in England, but there were still many expectations for how a young girl should behave. Sam wants no part of these rules! I love that about her.
Shortly, this book will be out on submission with editors. It feels like I’m sending out a part of my heart into the world to be trampled. But that’s how publishing works. For now, enjoy the pictures that helped inspire my story. I hope when you get a chance to read it, you’ll love it as much as I do.
I’ll post updates if there are any!