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East Longmeadow resident currently writing third novel

Date: 11/7/2014

EAST LONGMEADOW – Novelist, historical consultant, and resident Michele Barker is currently working on her third novel, tentatively titled “The Sea Captain’s Daughter.”

The story, which is set in Salem and Polynesia during the 1840s and 1850s and focuses on the relationship between a mother and daughter.

“It’s about a sea captain’s wife and daughter and [the sea captain is] in the [Old] China Trade and he gets lost at sea and so the two of them have to make a living without him and of course end up dealing with the emotional [impact] of his disappearance,” Barker, 54, who writes under the pen name M.P Barker, said.

“And then into their lives comes this botanical illustrator who is a female scientist, which is of course very unusual in the 1840s and 1850s,” she added. “And she kind of turns things upside down and shows them that they don’t not necessarily have to be boxed in as much as they think they have to be [in their] roles as Victorian [era] women.” 

Barker said the mother and daughter find that they have talents as artists, which are developed throughout the novel. The major themes of the work include overcoming one’s own expectations of themselves and strong female characters.

“[I think it’s interesting] to see how women can be strong in an environment where they’re really bucking the current [and] fighting against the prevailing norms of society,” she added.

Barker said she has written at least 200 pages of her first draft of the novel, which is being written in a journal format for the mother and daughter. She said she might finish a first draft consisting of about 400 to 450 pages sometime next year.

“The Sea Captain’s Daughter” involves a great deal of in-depth research such as a study of period era botany illustrations, knowledge of seafaring, and an understanding of the cultures of indigenous South Pacific peoples.
    Barker has released two other works of fiction. Her first novel, “A Difficult Boy,” was published by Holiday House in 2008 and is the winner of the 2009 International Reading Association Notable Book for a Global Society.

“A Difficult Boy,” is about two indentured servants – 16-year-old Daniel Linnehan and 9-year-old Ethan Root – she explained. The novel takes place in a small Massachusetts town in 1839.

“The 16-year-old is Irish, which is not a very popular thing to be in New England in the 1830s,” she said. “The younger boy is a Yankee kid and they clash because of their ages, because of their different ethnic backgrounds and then they realize it’s their boss who’s the real enemy.

“What brings them together is this horse that they both have to take care of,” Barker added. “Eventually, their able to overcome their differences and challenge their master who’s very tyrannical.”

Holiday House published Baker’s second novel “Mending Horses” on Feb. 14. This novel focuses on Daniel Linnehan, a roving peddler, and a child fleeing an abusive father. The characters end up working together at a traveling circus and Daniel becomes a horse whisperer.

“As [Daniel’s] kind of mending these horses, the horses and the work he’s doing with them kind of helps him mend his own life and also the three traveling companions kind of mend each other’s lives,” she explained. “There’s a kind of theme of healing in the story.”

“A Difficult Boy” went through seven drafts, which included major revisions to the plot, before publication, Barker said. “Mending Horses” was completed after 10 drafts with minor alterations along the way.

“Each book that I write is progressively more challenging [for me],” she explained. “The first book was set in one location, one town, and had one character’s point of view. The second book; the characters traveled all around New England and there were several character point of views.”

For her first two novels, Barker said she was inspired by her previous work as an archivist at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum and her time as a costumed historical interpreter at Old Sturbridge Village in the 1990s.

“As a writer you kind of have to stretch yourself with each project and challenge yourself to do something more than you’ve done in the previous one,” she added.

Barker is also the author of two nonfiction books. The first, “Images of America: Chicopee,” was published in 1998 by Arcadia Publishing and features a pictorial history of Chicopee. The second, “140 Years of Providential Caring,” entails a history of the Sisters of Providence of Holyoke.

For more information about Barker and her collected works of fiction and nonfiction visit her website at