Fourteen Days in EXILE | Our new anthology of Historical Tales | Day 1: Deborah Swift


by Deborah Swift
Only the misfortune of exile can provide the in-depth understanding and the overview into the realities of the world – Stefan Zweig (author of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, exiled from Austria during Nazi occupation).
The verb ‘exile’ comes from the Old French word essillier, meaning to banish, expel, or drive off. In the past to go into exile was often a punishment, though now people sometimes live in exile voluntarily – or because life at home has become too dangerous or difficult. Alison Morton’s story ‘My Sister’, Cathie Dunn’s ‘Exile’ and Elizabeth StJohn’s story ‘Into the Light’ emphasize this tug between the familiar world that has become unsafe, and the lure of a place where life might be lived in more freedom.
But exile is always a step into the unknown, and often holds no possibility of return. Each of us at some time in our lives has probably experienced the feeling of being an exile – of not quite fitting in to societal norms, and as in the story ‘Into the Light’ the dislocation is often an internal one, as well as an external one.
Exile as a theme for a story collection has all the ingredients you might need for good fiction. The falling in love between a prisoner and his jailor’s daughter, the tearing away of the familiar environment, the gulf between the self and its true home, and the arrival in an often hostile place, is a big feature of these stories. The exile need not even be to another country, Elizabeth Chadwick’s story ‘Coming Home’ features a woman exiled to the Tower of London, a gilded cage but exile nonetheless. Helen Hollick’s story exploits the idea of removal from London to the remote countryside of Exmoor, and as her character St Croix says; ‘he saw the sense of honourable exile over pointless execution.’
In many stories, and in many of these in this collection, it is the families ripped apart that take the heaviest toll; a mother separated from her child, or a wife from her husband. This is well expressed in the heart-breaking stories ‘Unwanted Prince’ by Anna Belfrage and ‘Wadan Wraeclastas’ by Annie Whitehead.
The anguish of being parted from your ancestry, the place where the bones of your family lie, and of having to give up your history, looms large in this collection. Once exiled, the person must build a new life to survive. If returning home, then in one sense the exile will never return to the place they knew. Their old life has moved on and can never be the same. The separation has formed a chasm between the old and new lives. In this collection, the time-slip tale ‘The Past, My Future’ by Loretta Livingstone explores this sense of dislocation, and is a lovely way to highlight societal differences between the past and the present.
The stories in this book span many worlds, from 11th Century Wales, to Iceland, to Greece, to the forests of Robin Hood and even the suburban house of an enemy alien in WWII. Each story is a little jewel of time and place, and so I recommend that you take time to savour each one. I’m sure you will find much to enjoy in this excellently written selection.
© Deborah Swift

Deborah Swift is a delver into archives, drinks too much tea, and loves antiques and old buildings. Her sturdy, stone-built house used to be the village primary school, and from her window she has a view of a few 17th century cottages, and behind those, green fields dotted with grazing sheep.
As a child she loved the Victorian classics such as Jane Eyre, Little Women, Lorna Doone and Wuthering Heights. Before becoming a writer Deborah used to work as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV, so historical fiction was a natural choice because she enjoyed the research aspect of her job. She has always loved poking about in archives and museums, not to mention the attraction of boned bodices and the excuse to visit old and interesting houses!
In her books Deborah likes to write about extraordinary characters set against the background of real historical events. Her first novel was The Lady’s Slipper which was shortlisted for the Impress Prize, and her book The Poison Keeper, about the Renaissance poisoner Giulia Tofana, won the BookViral Millennium Award. She has written eighteen novels to date including two series set in WWII – her latest, The Shadow Network is due for release in early 2024.
She lives in England on the edge of the Lake District, a beautiful area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, and when not writing, she enjoys exploring the mountainous landscapes and interesting coastline near her home.
‘Her characters are so real that they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf.’ The Historical Novels Review.
Buy Deborah’s books on Amazon:
Harper Collins

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