Thursday, 24 November 2011
Monday, 14 November 2011
I first saw Hampi by moonlight, the outer battlements of the city wall glimmering, and the enchantment slithered into my subconscious, unfurled and remains to this day. The next day, sitting in the Queen's Bath, I slipped back in time and Achale danced before me, out of the keys, onto the page. While Achale remained a part of me, I heard the first faint whispers of her story only when I read about the strange case of the boy-saint, a widow's son who came out of the temple pond with his sacred thread, in the colonial gazetteer.
This is a true story, which happened in Virinchipuram, Tamilnadu, India. In the book, I set this incident in the fictional village of Alur, near Hampi.
The theme was born out of the desire to rewrite history from the woman's perspective, not as a victim as she is so often shown, but as an individual, making the best of her circumstances. Hence, Achale, courtesan but not prostitute, a career woman who gets waylaid but not derailed, by life. Maya, the other protagonist, seemed to me the ideal counterpoint to Achale- the modern career woman- how far has she journeyed?
What started me on this journey was an article in the woman’s journal, ‘Manushi’ about women saints and sainthood being an act of liberation. Religion, even in modern India, occupies not only the headlines but page three as well. More so in Vijayanagara, where an empire was established allegedly to rejuvenate an ailing religion. The sacred and the profane are closely interlinked in the religious discourse and sexuality is but an expression of love for the divine. I was intensely interested in AK Ramanujan's translations of Tamil poetry of the saints in ' Speaking of Siva,' the meta physical yet erotically charged imagery of secular poetry and Hindu philosophy which links Creation, procreation and destruction in the dances of the Gods.
The title ‘Middle Time’ alludes to the medieval era, of course, in which part of the novel is set. It is also a reference to the continuity of time, its cyclical nature. Between Hampi in the middle ages, and Chennai in 1996 there is a similarity - in that society was changing and economic opportunities were growing. As well, there was a religious revival sweeping through India in both periods and governance was at an all-time low.
Priya's blog- http://priyavasudevan.wordpress.com/.
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
The ‘Swallowcliffe Hall’ trilogy: ‘Polly’s Story’, ‘Grace’s Story’, ‘Isobel’s Story’
It was dates that inspired me to write my three ‘Swallowcliffe Hall’ books. I suddenly realized that a young Victorian girl could have had a daughter of that age in 1914, on the brink of the First World War, and a grand-daughter her age in 1939, on the eve of the Second. So there was the timeline for my three novels: these fascinating periods of history. I decided to root the stories in a grand old English country house, large enough to accommodate an army of servants besides the aristocratic family who’ve lived there for generations. I wanted the house to become another character, regarded in a very different light by each of my three heroines. Polly, who comes to the house as under-housemaid in 1890, wants nothing more than to stay there and serve the Vye family for the rest of her life. Her daughter Grace, a reluctant kitchenmaid, is stifled and suffocated by the Hall; she manages to find work in the stables when the male servants go off to fight in the war, but still feels the restrictions of servant life – especially when she falls in love with a member of the Vye family, and he with her. And although Grace is determined her own daughter, Isobel, will have nothing to do with Swallowcliffe, she has no choice but to send her there to convalesce after a bout of TB in 1939, when the country is on the brink of war. Isobel is captivated by the Hall’s crumbling beauty and the chance of sanctuary it provides for Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe.
Each girl’s reaction to the house and to the world of service gave me a clue into her character, a starting point to examine all sorts of other thoughts and emotions. I became fascinated by the way in which the world changed between 1890 and 1939, all in the lifetime of my first heroine, and realized my own grandmother had lived through the same tumultuous time. If only I could have asked her about it! I also loved finding out about the strict code that governed the servants’ hall in a big country house: the upper servants departing to take their pudding in the housekeeper’s parlour, the under-housemaids who were only allowed to dust the legs of drawing-room furniture rather than the surface, the condescending ‘Rules for the manners of servants in good families’: do not smile at droll stories told at the table, do not enter into conversation with your mistress, give any information required in as few words as possible. ‘Downton Abbey’ has its appeal, but it’s just as well those days have gone and we’re living in more open, fairer times today.
For a wealth of background information into the stories, including original photographs, extracts from servants’ letters, and much more, visit
where you can also purchase the book as an e-book or in print