Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Heading east

I'm back from India at last! And my editors and I have finally agreed, after over an hour and a half of debate, on a title for Book 2. And a tentative release date. I hear tell that the title should be in the √¶ther reasonably soon, but watch this space for more definite information. 

Here's what happened during my stay in India. It was my first time in Asia, and it was an absolutely unforgettable trip. 


Chennai 

Dawn over the Bay of Bengal
The first stop on the trip was Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu in South India. My agent David Godwin and I flew in at about 3AM. The literary festival we were attending was Lit For Life 2014, sponsored by The Hindu newspaper and held at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall. 

I did two panel events at the festival. One was with bestselling author Ashwin Sanghi, author of such mythological mysteries as The Krishna Key and Chanakya's Chant, which was chaired by comedian Shovon Chowdhury; the other was with David and Jim Crace, whose novel Harvest was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. During the first panel, 'Tall Tales: Fantastical Stories from the East and West', we talked about the influences of religion and mythology on fantasy writing, what introduced us to fantasy and how we built our worlds. In the second, 'The Writing Life', Jim and I spoke about our lives as full-time writers. At the end of the festival, it was announced that Anees Salim had won The Hindu Prize 2013 with his novel Vanity Bagh. The festival was brilliantly organised, and while it's not nearly as large as some other Indian literary events, the small scale meant I could interact with lots of writers and readers.

Chennai is a bustling metropolis with a tropical climate. There was so much going on outside: stray dogs and cattle roaming the streets, tuk-tuks racing between cars, street food cooking, construction work being carried out. We were given a wonderful tour by Meena Kandasamy, who showed us the Victory War Memorial, the port, the remains of Fort St. George, and the vast Marina Beach. The sea along the Bay of Bengal is notoriously rough, and police were chivvying people away from the waves on horseback. Dusk over the beach was beautiful. The marble War Memorial, which marks the beginning of the beach, has several layers of history. Also called the Cupid's bow, it was first constructed to commemorate the victory of the Allies in World War I, but later became a memorial to people from the Madras presidency (an old name for a large part of South India when it was under British colonial rule) who lost their lives during World War II. There are several smaller memorials surrounding the largest one, remembering combatant units that fought during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, the Kargil Operation, the 1948 Kashmir aggression and the war with China in 1962.    

Flowers at the War Memorial


New Delhi 

David and I flew out of Chennai straight after our time at the festival was over. I was only in Delhi for two days, mostly for interviews, so I didn't get to see a great deal of India's capital city. The whole place was swathed in thick fog – so much I could barely see out of the window. The climate in northern India was to be cold and foggy for the whole time I was there. (It's like I'm carrying the British winter around like a portable fridge. Argh.) Unfortunately I was also wretchedly sick, probably because I'd forgotten to drink bottled water. While I was in the city, I was invited by Dr. Annie Koshi to speak at St. Mary's School in Safdarjung. The students gave me a lovely welcome and asked some really interesting questions about The Bone Season and writing. I also did a signing at the Ambience Mall. Thanks so much to everyone who came, and sorry if I seemed a bit tired – I really wasn't feeling well, but I still had a wonderful time.   


Jaipur 

India is a real assault on all five senses, in the best way possible but Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan and home of the Jaipur Literature Festival, really encapsulates that feeling of sensory overload. A riot of colour, scents and noise, it's known as the Pink City for its innermost buildings, like the Hawa Mahal ("Palace of Winds"). It might be more appropriate to call it the Sunset City, as there are a whole range of warm colours to be seen: orange, yellow, peach, rose, amber. The buildings were painted that way in 1876 by order of Maharaja Ram Singh, who wanted to show hospitality to the Prince of Wales: the man who would later become our very own Bloody King of clairvoyants, Edward VII. The people are still bound by law to keep the walls of the old city pink, but Jaipur now extends well beyond those walls. There are animals aplenty in the region: painted elephants, camels, rhesus macaque and grey langur monkeys, wild pigs and goats, cows and dogs.  

The Jaipur Literature Festival was held at the Diggi Palace – previously a royal palace, now a hotel where it's been held since 2006. A huge amount of people go through the festival every day, and the vast majority of panels were full to bursting. My own panel was simply titled 'The Bone Season', and was moderated by Supriya Nair, associate editor of The Caravan. It was lovely to be able to meet a whole line of readers afterwards!

Sheesh Mahal interior at the Amer Fort
In Jaipur I was able to do some sightseeing with my agent and other authors: first at the Amer Fort, then at the Samode Palace. The Amer Fort (spelled and pronounced Amber Fort) is in Amer, just outside of Jaipur. It was built by Raja Man Singh I in 1592. One of its most beautiful and famous features is the Sheesh Mahal ("Mirror Palace"). I can't pinpoint where this legend came from, but sites about the palace say that in the ancient days of India, queens were forbidden from sleeping outside and seeing the stars. The king had this hall built to solve the problem, inlaid with thousands of intricate glass carvings. We were told that if a single candle was burned, or a single ray of light entered the hall, it would light up all of the tiny mirrors like stars. Tourists are no longer allowed to venture under the mirrored roof, but the exterior walls are beautiful. 

It took us quite a while to reach the Samode Palace, which is located in the Aravalli mountain range in the Shekhawati region, overlooking Samode Village. It was originally built as a fort, but was later converted into a palace and has been a heritage hotel since 1987. While we were there, we saw a huge gathering of grey langur monkeys on the rooftops, as well as a single, slightly grumpy-looking rhesus macaque. We were also able to see a Kathputli puppet show. Kathputli is an art native to Rajasthan that has been around for over a thousand years, and the string-puppets, which are used to tell folk tales, are sold all over Jaipur. They are given voices by the puppeteer using a bamboo reed. The palace itself was just as stunning as the Amer Fort, with its own exquisite Sheesh Mahal and the colourfully painted Durbar Hall. Afterwards, we trooped up 376 steps to the top of the hills.
View of Samode Village

Our flights from Jaipur to Delhi were cancelled due to thick fog  so, feeling a bit like a literary rock band, David, Lara Feigel, Richard Holmes and I all piled into a taxi at 3am to drive there. The journey took about four hours, but we made it in time for our flights home. Namaste!



Thanks so much to Rachna Singh and William Dalrymple for inviting me to the two festivals, to all the volunteers that helped out at both of them, and to the Bloomsbury India team for organising everything. Thanks also to all the people who attended my events and a special shoutout to Siva, who has commented on this blog for a long time and who was kind enough to mention my short story Amrita at my first panel in Chennai.

Samantha

18 comments:

  1. I'm interested in your talk on your life as a "full-time writer." Can you say more about that, or is there a decent link to a video of the talk?

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    1. Yes, there's a very good video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYHr3lzIQsE

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  2. This sounds great! I'm so happy for you and your success :) and really excited about The Bone Season 2!

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  3. Did anything you have seen e.g. the puppet shows, inspire ideas for further books?

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    1. Yes, the Kathputli was very inspiring – I got a whole scene idea watching it!

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  4. I'm happy to hear yourself and Bloomsbury have agreed on the title for TBS2. I know how hard this can be. Bloomsbury must be happy with the manuscript you submitted for it (I am amazed how quickly you got through that), so hopefully not as much editing as for TBS. Glad you had a great trip to India. Look forward to reading more updates.

    Thanks & best wishes,

    Pete.

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    1. I don't think there will be quite as much editing, fortunately. I'm very happy with the final title.

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  5. Wow!! I get a mention on your blog!!! Thank you Samantha!

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    1. You're welcome. Thanks for coming to the Chennai event!

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  6. Your trip sounds like it was an amazing experience! I'm sure you had a wonderful time (except when you got sick), so thank you for sharing in great detail. Looking forward to learning the title of book 2 soon!

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    1. It was wonderful! And I should be able to reveal the title soon...

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  7. Now that you have visited Australia and India, is there any possibility for us to see Scion Sydney and/or Scion Mumbai? It will be great to see the Scion citadel from different countries aside from Scion London and Scion Paris.

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    1. You'll definitely see different countries, outside Europe, but which ones, I'm not sure just yet. I would like to have lived in a country for at least a few months before I write extensively about it.

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  8. Greetings From Poland. We're waiting for "Czas zniw" part 2 ;) Good luck! Maciek

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  9. Hey Samantha! I just finished reading The Bone Season and loved it to bits. I can believe you were here in my city and I didn't even know! St. Mary's is a few yards from my place in delhi. Can't wait for The Mime Order. Hugs from New Delhi :)

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