Appledore Books Newsletter
October 2009
Author of 2 Isles of Shoals Novels
Talks about Researching Historical Fiction

Julia Older spoke at a standing-room only presentation co-sponsored by the Pease Public Library and Plymouth Historical Society in Plymouth NH on October 13. She read key passages from her historical novels The Island Queen about Celia Thaxter of the 19th century and This Desired Place about 17th century life in northern New England, illustrating how she integrated authentic facts and events into historical fiction.

She recounted how she slipped on Celia’s seashell bracelet (housed now in the Houghton Library of rare books and manuscripts at Harvard), hand-copied the exact wording of a 300-year-old indenture document in the Salem Peabody Museum, examined a treasure of jewels and a gold toothpick—recovered from a Spanish galleon— that was on display at the Fox Run Mall in Newington NH, found and copied at the NH State Historical Museum the trial transcript of Louis Wagner (hanged for the axe murders of two Norwegian women on the Isles of Shoals in 1873).

“These are primary sources,” she said of documents and artifacts that give historical novels an authentic overview.

During a question and answer period, Older explained the difference between privateers (commissioned to fill the King’s coffers) and pirates (outlaws filling their own coffers).

When asked if she thought Wagner really committed the axe murders on Smuttynose Island, Older said, “Yes, I believe Louis Wagner was guilty of murdering the two women.”

She went on to explain that the trial revealed significant discrepancies in Wagner’s testimony. For instance, it’s dubious he could have baited 900 fishing hooks as he claimed because the bait hadn’t arrived on the train from Boston. In the court transcript he brags about having killed a man while on board a ship, and his abusive relationship with one of the murdered women is documented in Celia Thaxter’s correspondence. Thaxter was one of the first Islanders the survivor Maren talked to after the murders.

Another audience member asked if Wagner could have rowed the nine miles from Portsmouth to the Isles of Shoals. Older mentioned that on the fatal night of March 6, 1873, the sea was calm and the moon full. Also, one thing she learned researching these novels is that the ocean tides was a convenient, effortless form of coastal travel.

Book Scene: Poets House Opens in Manhattan
The grand opening September 25-26 of the Poets House in Battery Park also opens a prime collection of more than 50,000 volumes of poetry and a vast multimedia archive. The 11,000-square foot, two-story Poets House at 10 River Terrace, on the banks of the Hudson River and next to Nelson A. Rockefeller Park in Lower Manhattan, is open to the public and has been established rent-free until 2069. Several Appledore Books are catalogued in the Poets House collection.

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