As I get closer to releasing Janet’s Yellow Butterflies, I have been reflecting on some of the literature, media and memories that inspired ideas for it.
Today’s inspiration is the novel Burial Rites, by Australian author Hannah Kent. Set in 1829, it is the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, who is sentenced to death for her involvement in a double murder. Agnes will become the last person executed in Iceland, and is sent to live on a farm for the months leading up to her execution. Initially her host family does not interact with her, but as time passes, circumstances change and they realise that she is human too, just like them. Hannah has very convincingly put herself into Agnes’s shoes, painting a vivid picture of her daily struggle to come to terms with her imminent fate.
There are many parallels with Agnes and Janet’s stories. Janet’s Yellow Butterflies is also based on a real and tragic event – Janet was the last person executed in her homeland, in her case for alleged witchcraft, in 1727 in the British Isles. Both Agnes and Janet lived in a time and place where women were often not only denied a voice, but as women condemned, they were suppressed and ostracised.
Like Hannah, I have tried to tap into the psyche of Janet, and of her daughter who escaped the execution, to gain a deeper understanding of their plights. I have tried to imagine what their lives might have been like as real people with families, hopes and challenges, just like us.
I like to think that the retelling of these stories, even with some fictional reimagining as in Janet’s Yellow Butterflies, helps keep the memories of these women alive, after all that they went through.