Unfortunately it was because of racial violence, tensions and inequalities, as well as a number of tragic events concerning “honour” killings that have made the mainstream news here in the UK over the years.
Whilst many arranged marriages are happy ones, some are not and these horrific crimes are happening in the 21st century. When I began gathering my research for Bird, I found that English history had disturbing similarities with regards to arranged marriages and marrying within the same class, race and religion.
I therefore decided to set this important issue that has occurred within modern British minorities in the Victorian era.
Saying that, I also toyed with the idea of setting Bird during the 1970's, and I suppose it would have fit in just as well then, what with the Notting Hill Carnival riot in 1976, and the high racial tensions that existed and continue for many people of colour, because Bird is inevitably about race, about interracial love and about racial violence and intolerance, but it is also about hope for justice and equality for all of humanity.
Therefore, focusing on British history, in particular the Victorian age, I endeavoured to gather research on those people of colour who were part of a predominately white society. History can easily be forgotten or rewritten, so it was very interesting to find information dating back to the Roman times in Britain, of troops etc., who were a part of society.
It is also reported that there has been a continuous black and Asian presence in the UK since 1555. During the 18th century people of colour became a little more evident in art and writing, for they were unfortunately considered an exotic trinket by their wealthy employers or owners, and were painted by famous artists such as Edgar Degas.
The famous painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle with her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray has inspired a British film called Belle. Mixed race, Dido Elizabeth Belle was the great-niece of William Murray, The First Earl of Mansfield, who as Lord Chief Justice presided over many of the historic cases that affected enslaved Africans.
I was also intrigued to read about Mary Seacole who became known as the Angel of the Crimea, and Mademoiselle LaLa who was an acrobat famous across Europe. Other notable individuals were actor Ira Aldridge, composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the Abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass and Queen Victoria's god-daughter Sarah Bonetta Davies.
It's a shame to focus on colour but I decided to make race the issue rather than religion, and also to highlight this lack of information that should be much more prominent within British history.
And so Josiah is a moderately wealthy black Victorian of African/Caribbean heritage who has been educated in England. The interracial theme, of Emily's and Josiah's love, is just as relevant today, and makes me question how much further we have come since the Victorians.
Racism can never be stamped out, nor can prejudice, for human nature is destined to repeat, but thankfully and hopefully with more awareness comes more tolerance and understanding that we all bleed. Skin simply holds it all together. I know, I guess I'm a cynical optimist.
Unfortunately honour killings and race related crimes are still occurring somewhere in the world right now. How many families are there like the Sandersons? They're an average (in this case middle-class) family who sadly put their social reputation before the safety, love and respect of their youngest daughter.
Emily dared to love outside of their rules, whilst Josiah was an innocent man whose fatal mistake was trusting in the humanity of others.