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Interview: Sherryl Jordan talks about The King's Nightingale

Sherryl Jordan, multi-award winning author, was born in Hawera and currently lives in Tauranga. Sherryl was a successful illustrator before she ever published a word. Once embarking on her true love, writing, she had written 36 picture books and 12 novels before her first, Rocco, was selected for publication by Scholastic. Then followed The Juniper Game and Winter of Fire and her much-loved, funny middle-grade series about Denzil, a hapless young medieval wizard.

Many of Sherryl’s books have been translated into other languages.

Sherryl talks to NZ Booklovers about The King's Nightingale.

Tell us a little about The King's Nightingale.

The King’s Nightingale is a story about a white slave, Elowen, who is captured from her fishing village and taken on a pirate ship, under appalling conditions, to the far coast of a desert land and sold to a foreign ruler as his singer.

What inspired this novel?

Her story was inspired eight years ago, when I was doing research for another novel. I discovered that over several centuries, until the 1800s, there had been a white slave trade as extensive and horrific as the trade of black slaves, which we all know about; few of us know about the trade of white slaves. Over those centuries, over a million white slaves were sold in Northern Africa to Muslim masters.

What research was involved?

It was harrowing research, as I read accounts written by slaves themselves, who had either escaped and returned home, or been redeemed by families who were able to raise enough money to buy their freedom. Those Christian white slaves were seized by pirates from coastal towns of England and Ireland, and from countries on the Mediterranean coast, and sold in slave markets in Africa. I read about white female slaves who were taken to desert places deep in Africa, who were sometimes given the opportunity to return home, but who chose to remain in slavery. Their courage, and the enormity of their decisions, intrigued me. And so The King’s Nightingale was born.

Call you tell us more about the world you have created?

Though the story is set very firmly in history, I decided, for various reasons, to set it in a mythical world. I invented a group of small northern islands called the Penhallows, and a distant, southern land called Rabakesh, where the white slaves were taken. I loved inventing new countries, new religions, new customs and cultures, and new languages and names. Though the lands in the book are invented, they are based on real places. The royal court where Elowen is a valued slave and singer, was inspired by the court of Mehmed 11, a great sultan and conqueror who ruled the vast Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century. Again, I did a great deal of research.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I loved writing this book more than anything else I’ve ever written. I was not well all the time I wrote, and as I was unable to leave home, it was possible to immerse myself totally in the world of the story. It was better than travelling; in my mind I lived in Elowen’s tiny fishing village, and then stayed with her in the glorious palace of the King of Rabakesh. It was the perfect escape, and Elowen was marvellous company, with her strength, her courage, and her hope. As with all my books, I was sad finishing it, and at having to leave that other world. For many reasons it is the favourite of all the books I’ve written, and I am more glad than I can say, that Scholastic have published it.

What is the favourite book you have read recently, and why?

As for my own reading… the best book I read recently was The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. She had some delicious things to say about books, reading, and writing.

Scholastic New Zealand


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