Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Author Alison McQueen stops by...

Alison McQueen, author of Under The Jeweled Sky
Forbidden love set against the backdrop of a maharaja’s palace in post-World War II India is at the center of Alison McQueen’s new novel, Under the Jeweled Sky (Jan 21, 2014; $14.99 U.S.; Fiction; Trade Paper).

Sophie Schofield always knew she would return to India. When she does in 1957, she is the new bride of ambitious British diplomat Lucien Granger and part of the glittering expatriate set that called New Delhi home following India’s partition. But it’s not the country she fell in love with 10 years earlier and Sophie is soon confronted with the memory of her first love and its devastating consequences. The past still haunts her - the guilt she carries, the destruction wreaked upon her fragile parents, and the boy with the tourmaline eyes.

Join me in reading what Alison McQueen has to say about her research involving declassified diplomatic documents, and her love affair with India while writing this interesting book.

Under The Jeweled Sky is set during two key points in history: the 1947 run up and aftermath of India’s partition, and the 1957 lead up to the first visit to India by a serving British Prime Minister. The tangle of politics and diplomacy during both periods seemed a fitting backdrop to the disordered lives of the characters, with layers of deceit and half-truths and nothing being quite what it seems.

In the early stages of the first draft, I had it in my head that the research wouldn’t take too long, which is akin to a form of writerly denial. I should have known better. The research took months, leading me inevitably to the British National Archives where I unearthed declassified documents from the 1957 Macmillan government which would have caused a great deal of diplomatic embarrassment should they have been leaked at the time.

The archives catalogue a mire of political corruption and inaction, naming names and pointing fingers of accusation. I had started out without too much idea of what I was actually looking for, only to stumble across all manner of declassified secrets, some of which ran to hundreds of pages. Very little of it ended up in the final manuscript, but it is an absolutely necessary part of the process.

I sometimes liken the research to the making of a sculptor’s maquette, or a frame of scaffolding around a building. Ultimately you won’t see any of it, but it has to be there in the first place otherwise nothing will hold together. The story’s environment has to feel totally authentic, and the only way to achieve that is to do the legwork and to be completely sure of the ground you are walking on.

India’s partition took me back to a subject I have studied for years. Here in the west we all know about the holocaust, yet the business of the British hauling out of the jewel in its colonial crown was a heart-stopping moment in history too in which millions of people died.

Part of the story is set in a maharaja’s palace. Although the fictional palace and its location are anonymous, I did have an inside track into life inside an Indian palace. In her twenties, my mother was hired as the private nurse to the Maharaja of Indore’s mother-in-law.

A car was sent for her every morning, but she said that she preferred to walk. So off she would go, strolling through the grounds while the car followed along a few yards behind, driving at snail’s pace in case she should change her mind. Her breakfast would be served to her on a solid silver service, with a footman standing by should she want for anything.

From what she has told me, I am not sure she handled it particularly well. She said that she didn’t want any fuss, which was quite the wrong way to go about things in a palace. There was also an incident when she was caught preparing her own boiled egg, which didn’t go down at all well. The cook was quite overcome with grief, and my mother never ventured to lift a finger again.
As always I am overwhelmed by how much work goes on behind the scenes to present a work of fiction by hard-working writers. Thank you so much, Alison, for stopping by and letting us be a part of your research process for Under the Jeweled Sky (416 pages, Sourcebooks Landmark, ISBN-10: 140228876X).

You can find the author at these places online : her website & blog, Twitter (@Alison_McQueen), Facebook, Instagram and even Pinterest.

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