Bestselling author sets latest novel in 1940s Bermuda
Bermuda sits at the centre of the latest novel by Jonathan Cullen, a "bestselling author of historical fiction".
Inspiration for Bermuda Blue came from the love affair the American writer has had with the island since his first trip here in the 1980s.
He has since visited about a dozen times, his interest piqued by the stories of his great uncle, Horace Shearer, a Bostonian who travelled here every year for decades to participate in tournaments hosted by the Blue Waters Anglers Club.
"It's a place that’s very near and dear to my heart," he said. "[My great uncle and I] used to talk all the time about Bermuda and he would tell me about going there as a young man back in the '50s, the '60s. That sort of sparked my interest in the history and the culture."
Bermuda Blue is about three US veterans and their coincidental reunion here shortly after the Second World War.
The main character, Jerry Canavan, is a reporter on a four-week assignment to cover the Newport Bermuda Race; Cam McShane is a classmate from university who lives on the island; Paul Crump is a military policeman at Kindley Air Force Base.
"[Jerry] watches the lives of his friends unravel and it ties in with things that are going on at the time," Mr Cullen said.
"I had a good sense of place but I really had to find out what life was like in the late '40s so I read and I reached out to people and in areas where I got stuck, I did research, but I really wanted to capture the cultural dynamics of the time period. One area that was interesting to me was the Black/White divide, or the racism."
As such he had his character Paul, who is white, fall in love with a Black Bermudian.
Said Mr Cullen: "Horace, my great uncle, was black; so that was a theme that was very interesting to me. But I had to dig a little. Race relations in the States are sort of out there but when I did some research in Bermuda it was very quiet, very subtle. The few people I talked to about what it was like then … I had to dig deeper and ask them some hard questions."
He discovered that although segregation existed it "wasn’t really by law but it was by tradition".
"There's one scene in the book where Paul, an Italian American who is a military cop on the base, goes to see a movie with his girlfriend and there are some words exchanged [before they will let her in] and he ends up getting arrested. There are some big themes in the book.
"Another one is sort of the sense after the war that everything is back to normal when everyone is really heavily traumatised. A lot of local Bermudians suffered greatly. The economy did well with military bases during the Second World War but a lot of people were displaced, people had to move out of their houses and things like that. It was kind of bittersweet I think for Bermudians, from what I've read. But this is looking at it from the outside. I always like to step carefully through my analysis because I'm not native to the island."
Although he studied to become a teacher, Mr Cullen always planned on becoming an author. In his late twenties he began writing professionally.
"I would say in the last ten years it's been my sole career, so my primary source of income. My first book was published with a small press back in 2006 and then I got with the publisher I'm with now, Liquid Mind Media. They publish exclusively through Amazon."
He had already authored a handful of "standalones" as well as a crime fiction series before tackling Bermuda Blue last year.
"I was having feelings of nostalgia," said Mr Cullen, who was forced to cancel a planned trip here in July of 2020 because of Covid-19 but is hoping to return next year.
"I write historical fiction so I was always interested in what it was like after the Second World War on the island and how people were able to readapt. A lot of people, especially I think Americans, forget how much of an important role Bermuda played in the allied war effort. The more I read about it the more I was impressed and surprised just how significant a role it was. So that’s where it started."
He is pleased with the finished product.
"It’s a beautiful book. Someone told me it was the best book I've written, and I believe that. I absolutely love it. It’s a quick read. There's a lot that goes on – there's a mystery, there's romance. I'm very proud of it.
"I kind of wrote it in a whirlwind during Covid and sometimes in those periods, where there's a lot of uncertainty, we're all apt to take more risks, I think, and just sort of push through. And that’s what I did. I wrote the first manuscript, the first draft, in three months."
As Mr Cullen had other books in the works, his publishing company held off releasing Bermuda Blue until last month.
"One of the things I think [Bermuda residents] will enjoy is the fact that it takes place in the past; a lot of young folks may not even have a sense of that time except maybe things they’ve heard from probably their grandparents.
"It was a very exciting time on the island right after the war. There was this sort of sense of devil-may-care, a lot of drinking; a lot of celebration. I think people will get swept up in the romance of the time period. I hope that I did my due diligence with the research – and I think that I have – so I think people might learn a thing or two that they weren’t aware of. But it's just a heck of a good read. I think people will really enjoy it."
For more information visit www.jonathancullen.com. Bermuda Blue is available on Amazon