I write both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve published ten novels so far, a book on utopian thought, and biographies of Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers, and of Samuel Sewall, the only one of the Salem witch trial judges to admit the whole thing was a miscarriage of justice. More recently I produced a sort of collective biography in my book about the ill-fated Fruitlands experiment, undertaken by Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane (along with their long-suffering families) in Massachusetts in the 1840s.
I have just revisited Sewall’s Salem traumas in a novel, Crane Pond, published by Europa on 6 October. Biography can only tell the external part of a story, and as time has gone on I’ve come to feel this extraordinary drama cried out for engagement on psychological and emotional levels that were hardly accessible when I was confined to the written record. Sewall’s diary, frank though it is about family, friends and delicious meals, tells us little about his thoughts and feelings during the crisis. An historical approach involves painstakingly putting together the pieces the past has left behind. That’s a vital activity (and hugely satisfying in its own right). But having done it to the best of my ability in Judge Sewall’s Apology, I felt free to let myself tap into another dimension of the whole episode. Historical fiction lets you try to breath life into a long-dead world. As I wrote I kept thinking of that famous remark in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: ‘It’s true, even if it didn’t happen.‘