Alaskan Delights – Stan Jones

We’ve just had the great fortune of getting mail all the way from Alaska saying how the booktrail has reached the farthest point of the earth! Well we were shocked  – very pleasantly I might add, and there may have been a happy dance or two around the room. That’s how we heard about Alaskan author Stan Jones who we just had to meet!

TUNDRAAnd so we did, and his books. And today, we’ve tempted him out of the cold to speak to us.

We warm him up with some hot chocolate and a little bit of flaming Christmas pudding and then we chat like crazy!….

Hi Stan!. What a pleasure to meet you and read your Alaskan set stories!

Can you tell us more about StanJones (1)and why he is your lead character?

 Almost from the moment I arrived in Kotzebue, I knew I wanted to write about that lovely part of the world and the fascinating people who live there. Crime novels seemed as good a way as any, because that form offers the author latitude to explore any aspect of culture, society, history, or circumstance that strikes his fancy.

The question was, who should be the cop in crime stories about the Arctic? It needed to be someone with ties to the place and people, but at the same time someone who was conflicted (the first law of fiction being, torment your characters!).

Thus did Nathan Active spring into being: An Inupiaq born in Chukchi, but to an unwed teenage mother who knew she was unfit to raise him. So she adopted him out to white schoolteachers, who soon moved to Anchorage and raised him there. 

Nathan resented his birth mother for giving him away, and grew up trying to pretend she and his birth place didn’t exist. He considered himself an Anchorage boy and set out on a law enforcement career by joining the Alaska State Troopers.

Luckily for fans of the series, life got complicated the moment Nathan completed training. The Troopers, with the customary blind perversity of every bureaucracy since the beginning of time, posted him to Chukchi for his first assignment and he’s been there ever since.

At first, he angled for a transfer back to Anchorage at every opportunity. But, over time, he has reconciled with his birth mother, and has come to appreciate Chukchi for the fascinating place it is. Now he’s there to stay, and has moved on from the Troopers to head the public safety department of the Chukchi Regional Borough. He’s The Law north of the Yukon River and south of the Brooks Range, as he puts it.

Despite all the change, Chukchi is still as unique as ever. As a character put it in the very first Nathan book-White Sky, Black Ice–“It makes sense if you don’t think about it.”

You are a native of Alaska. What is particularly special and dear to you about Chukchi where Nathan Active  is  born?

Caribou hunter's cabin
A Caribou hunter’s cabin (c) Stan Jones

Chukchi is fictional, but is modeled pretty closely on a real village named Kotzebue. My family has lived there at various times and one of my children was born there.

Chukchi (Kotzebue) is about 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Chukchi   Sea. Because it is above the Arctic Circle, that means there are a few days in summer when the sun doesn’t set and few in winter when it doesn’t rise–talk about the edge of the world!

One of the side-effects of this phenomenon is what they call Village Time, meaning that people don’t pay a lot of attention to the clock. Since it’s either light all the time or dark all the time for much of the year, one time’s as good as another!

Chukchi/Kotzebue is home to about 3,000 people, around 80 percent of whom are all or partly Inupiaq Eskimo.

Kotzebue bluff (c) Stan Jones


The first time I landed there was a clear October day. When I stepped off the Boeing 737 jet, it was about five degrees above zero (Fahrenheit) with the wind rolling in off the sea ice at 15 or 20 mph. It was beautiful and, strange as it may seem to denizens of milder climes, it just felt right to me.

Since that day, the place has never been out of my heart or head. I haven’t lived there in a while, but my wife and I still go back to visit whenever we can.

The last such occasion was September of 2015, when President Obama paid a visit–POTUS on the Permafrost, as the occasion came to be known. While I was there, I managed to give one of his Secret Service agents a signed copy of one of the Nathan Active books, Village of the Ghost Bears. I signed it for the president, and expressed the hope that, having seen the real Kotzebue, he might enjoy reading about the fictional version. Wouldn’t it be cool if he read it and posted a review on Amazon!?

And with that thought (Stan we think he should for sure!) we leave Stan warming his hands by the fire and filling his flask full of hot chocolate ready for the ride home.

You can get the book here: Tundra-Kill

And meet Stan here:


Cornwall – Emylia Hall talks about setting, location and the lure of the sea…

Today we’re talking Cornwall with Emylia Hall, author of The Sea Between Us which tells the story of Robyn Swinton and local boy Jago Winters who saves her from drowning  –  a moment that will change both of them forever.

SEAThere’s this line from the book for example –

“One day we’ll buy a house on a cliff without a neighbour in sight wake up each day tasting sea salt, go to sleep to the sound of the waves”

Cornwall is as much a character in this story as Robyn and Jago. Their relationship grows but then they are forced to go their separate ways…but has fate finished with these two or will the ebb and flow of the tide decide their destiny?

I just had to speak to Emylia after reading this captivating story. So, here we are on a Cornish beach in November – sheltered from the wind however, eating sandwiches and cake with a flask of tea. Emylia has brought a lovely rug so we’re all set!


What do you think we can learn or take from Robyn and Jago’s story?

Follow your heart. That’s probably the crux of it. Not just when it comes to who you love – and it is very much a love story – but what you love too – nurturing your creative spirit, doing what makes you happy, finding fulfillment.

Why is location so important to you as a writer and does this inspire plot?

I always begin with place – the characters, and their story, then follows. My first novel, The Book of Summers, is set in rural Hungary, and A Heart Bent Out of Shape is set on the Swiss Riviera. I’m interested in how people change, or see the potential for change, when they find themselves in new environments. That’s a common theme across all three of my books, in fact – how we respond to our surroundings, and which aspects of our personalities are drawn out by the landscape we move within, how we impress our desires upon it. With The Sea Between Us I liked the idea of taking a local boy, Jago, and an incomer Robyn, and having their two worlds collide – what they share, because they walk on the same soil (sand!), but also what divides them, and the part that their environment plays in that. I also have an innate wanderlust, and a heavy sense of nostalgia, so my novels often have an aspect of wish fulfillment as I satisfy these impulses through my writing.

Life for your characters is really like the tide which ebbs and flows and one random wave put you on a new direction. What has been a tide changing moment in your life?

Leaving London and my job in an advertising agency to spend two winters snowboarding and working in the French Alps was very much a tide changing moment. It was in 2005, and I was 27. It was while I was living in the mountains that I began to write, and the idea for my first novel began to grow. If I hadn’t taken that step in a different direction – changed my environment, and the rhythm of my life – I don’t think I’d be writing now. In fact, I know I wouldn’t be.

What is it about Cornwall you love so much?

I particularly love Cornwall’s far west for its blend of surf, art, and spectacular landscape. It makes for an atmosphere that’s cool, creative, and just plain beautiful – altogether good for mind, body and spirit. I’m a Devon girl, and Cornwall has always held a certain allure for me – it’s that bit more wild and westerly. Now that I live in Bristol and have a small son my husband and I are enjoying introducing him to our favourite Cornish beaches.

What is the best cake you’ve eaten in Cornwall?

After bodyboarding in the rain at Porthmeor in St Ives, very early one September morning, I staggered back across the sand – head full of salt water, grinning exhaustedly – and sank into a seat at the West Beach Bakery. There I tucked into an enormous slice of pumpkin and chocolate cake and it was truly one of the best cakes I’ve ever had. I was still in my wetsuit, looking out over the deserted beach, watching a few surfers and bodyboarders turning their tricks in the water – my husband somewhere among them – and savoured the moment and all it included. It was the unbeatable sensation of relaxing and recovering after having tested yourself physically, the appreciation of the big waves from a distance (no longer getting pounded by them!), and the quite delicious cake.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the first draft of my fourth novel. It’s set in Italy, on the Tuscan island of Elba. At the start of the summer I spent several days there – my first time away on my own since having a baby last year. It was such an inspiring stay – I wrote masses, and absorbed the island atmosphere. I came home in love with Elba, and it’s that feeling of amore that’s carrying me through the rest of the draft.

And with that feeling of ‘amore’ lingering in the air, Emylia tells me there’s a lovely icecream shop not far from the beach selling the best icrecream Cornwall has to offer. So, off we go to find some amore we can eat. Thanks Emylia for chatting today!

Susan Booktrailer

You can contact Emylia Hall here – 

Twitter – @EmyliaHall

Web  –

Rediscovering the Past – The Letter – Kathryn Hughes

Kathryn Hughes is in booktrail towers today. We’ve got her book here to chat and a cake made from an old recipe found in a charity shop cake book so it fits very nicely with the theme of the old forgotten letter which is the subject of Kathryn’s novel.

Hi Kathryn!


Have you ever found something in a charity shop that has made you curious like Tina?

I’m often amazed at what people are prepared to throw away even though I’m no hoarder myself.  Once, whilst sorting through a pile of books in the charity shop where I helped out I came across an old book entitled ‘With Marlborough to Malplaquet.’  It was old, dusty, a bit battered and did not seem to have much to recommend it but when I opened the front cover it had a sticker on the inside which said the book had been awarded as a Prize to John Baker for ‘Trying Hard.’  The first thing that struck me was the simple reason John had been awarded the prize.  Not for coming top in an exam but for just trying his best.  Then I noticed the date:  August 1914, just a month before the start of the First World War.  The book was aimed at thirteen to fourteen olds, so John would not have been eligible to fight, but I’ve often wondered how much his life would have changed just a month later and what became of him. 

What is your favourite memory from the 1970s?

A poll was conducted recently which concluded that the 1970s were the best decade in which to live.  I was only a child then, but my most vivid memory is of long, hot summers, especially the unsurpassed summer of 1976.  From June until August that year it was consistently dry and sunny, with zero rainfall during the second half of July and most of August. The reservoirs dried up, hosepipes were banned, you weren’t allowed to have a bath that was more than five inches deep and we were plagued with ladybirds. We would wake up just taking it for granted that it was going to be hot but we’d never heard of Factor 50, we just used cooking oil.  Oh the blisters!  Happy days.

LETTERSome of the scenes are raw and heartbreaking. Did you find Tina’s story for example difficult to write?

An oft-repeated piece of advice given to writers is to ‘write what you know.’ Thankfully, I have never been the victim of domestic abuse so had to do a lot of research and some of the stories were indeed heartbreaking to hear.  The main problem in writing Tina’s story was that in 1973 there was no law against domestic violence and even more shockingly a certain level of abuse was deemed acceptable. This is alluded to in the book when Molly Craig tries to defend her son by saying ‘What husband doesn’t cuff his wife once in a while.’ Abuse was not talked about, there were no helplines and it wasn’t until the 1976 Domestic Violence Bill that women at risk from violence could be acknowledged as homeless and earn the right to state help with temporary accommodation. Even then, it was deemed impossible for a husband to rape his wife because it was believed the wife was the property of her husband and that by marrying him she had relinquished her right to refuse sex. It was against this backdrop that I had to write Tina’s story, whilst ensuring that the reader did not lose sympathy for her when she returned to her violent husband.

Chrissie’s story was heartbreaking. How did you research the 1930s section of the novel and the role of women?

The internet is such a useful tool for anybody doing any kind of research and a simple search will reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of results for whatever you are looking for.  However, it is also too easy to wander ‘off-piste’ and start looking at all sorts of irrelevant gossipy topics and before you know where you are, you’ve wasted a couple of hours.  For me, there is nothing better than doing the research in the local library.  The whole ambience of the place lends itself to serious study and I have spent many hours there poring over books and old newspapers.

You made me cry! This is one emotional novel. It must have been quite hard to write in parts. How do you get through the tough parts whilst keeping the realism?

Whilst I am delighted that people are moved to tears as it shows they care about the characters, I have to force myself not to be too over-protective of the characters I like. I didn’t really enjoy writing the more violent scenes involving Rick and Tina  and even though it’s a work of fiction I found that I couldn’t pack up for the day and leave Tina or Chrissie, in the middle of a scene in which they were in mortal peril. I made sure I finished for the day on a more upbeat note so that I was able to sleep at night.

So you can sleep at night after this novel but it will stay with you for a long time. Thanks Kathryn for chatting today and hope you’ve enjoyed the cake.  It was made from a recipe found in a 1970s cook book so quite apt! (As long as it didn’t taste as if it was made in the 1970s, I’ve done ok)

Ah I’m assured by Kathryn that it didn’t. So all is well. Enjoy this read, it’s a memorable one!

Susan Booktrailer

Contact Kathryn – @KHughesAuthor

Scottish banter with Alison Baillie – Debut author spotlight

A baillie

On the booktrail sofa today is debut author Alison Baillie. Why do we rate this lady? She writes a cracking crime mystery and she’s a lovely person to boot. We met at a literary event and her passion for her writing and her book was plain to see. Oh how we chatted and drank tea! Now we’ve had to keep a lid on this cuppa and cake as we could talk for hours.

Her book Sewing the Shadows takes us to Edinburgh, Africa and the Outer Hebrides… Hi Alison. Here, have a piece of cake and let’s chat books!

Why did you choose the three locations you have in your novel and what does each of the settings mean to you?

My mother is from Portobello and we always spent my holidays at my grandparents’ house there. It is a very special place for me, tied up with memories of my childhood and also of the time when my sons were young. We were living in Edinburgh then, but we went down to Portobello every weekend to visit my grandmother and run on the beach, whatever the weather. After university I did my teacher training at Moray House in Edinburgh and then was lucky enough to get a job teaching English at Portobello High School. I lived in Edinburgh for the next 20 years, my sons were born there and for me it is the most beautiful city in the world. I go back there as often as I can and would definitely live there if I could.

Erisky Beach -(c) Alison Baillie
Erisky Beach -(c) Alison Baillie

I based the part in the Outer Hebrides on a very poignant trip I made with a friend of mine, whose family is from South Uist, to scatter her husband’s ashes. The part set in Eriskay and South Uist is very closely based on reality and my friend has a lovely auntie like Mary Agnes that we stayed with. Afterwards we drove to Harris and Lewis. The weather and atmosphere changed and I can still remember the impressive stark beauty of the Callenish Stones against the glowering clouds of the sky. The whole section set in Lewis is completely imaginary but based on what I felt there..

Plettenberg Bay is a really beautiful beach on the Garden Route in South Africa. I have a friend who has a house there and I have been lucky enough to visit four times now. I wrote quite a bit of the book there (as there was no internet and no distractions) and hope I have captured the beauty of the place. Actually when I started the book I had Tom and family going to Australia, a place I’ve visited only once and really liked but don’t know very well. It was only when I was in Plettenberg Bay that it occurred to me that this was a place I knew much better that would fit in well in the book.

Can you explain the title?

Sewing shadowsThe title comes from the poem Bat by DH Lawrence, which is reprinted at the beginning of the book. I remember reading this poem when I was about thirteen with a young inspirational English teacher, who bears some similarities to HJ Kidd (only the nice bits of his character). It made a big impression on me then and when I was writing the book and looking for a title it suddenly came back to me. As the theme of the poem is the difference between appearance and reality (the swallows flying round the Ponte Vecchio in the dusk in Florence turn out to be bats) it is very appropriate to the theme of the book and the title could also suggest making sense of some traumas of the past. Also I just love the sound of the words.

Have you ever attended a school reunion? Why did you choose this as a major setting?

I did attend a school reunion about ten years ago, and it is the basis for the reunion scene in the book. I actually went to Ilkley Grammar School in Yorkshire, but I’ve transferred the scene to Scotland. My charismatic old English teacher was there and it was wonderfully organised by a dear old school friend (who doesn’t bear any resemblance to the annoying Patsy). I thought then that this would be the perfect way to get all my main characters in the same place at the same time at the beginning of the book. It was also the 400th anniversary of my school’s foundation and we had a trip round the new school with my old English teacher, a scene which I have also used in Sewing the Shadows Together.

How secrets destroy families is a complex web of intrigue. What kind of research did you do into this area?

I didn’t really do any formal research. It was more as a result of several high profile murders which took place when I was teaching in Edinburgh; I began to empathise with the families and wonder how young people, the age of the students I was teaching, would be affected by tragedies like these. Since then, I’ve often been surprised by people around me – even the most perfect families on the surface were full of secrets and conflicts which were only revealed once you scratched the surface.

Were you inspired by stories of innocent people convicted of a crime in the news?

Oh, yes. I became very interested in stories of miscarriages of justice and read several books, read hundreds of internet articles and followed many campaigns. I was horrified by the way so many people’s lives had been ruined, often on the flimsiest of evidence.

And with that, Alison and I decide to have more coffee and cake and chat about Scotland since it’s a country close to both our hearts and well, talk books too as you can never talk enough about books can you?

Alison Baillie:

Twitter: @alisonbailliex

Facebook: /alisonbaillieauthor


Writing about the Island of Dreams – Dan Boothby

Author of Island of Dreams Dan Boothby popped into Booktrail towers today as I wanted to know what led him to do the ultimate booktrail – to go to the island where Gavin Maxwell once lived. Gavin Maxwell wrote  A Ring of Bright Water – a captivating story about his relationship with three otters and the enchanting landscape of the Scottish highlands.

Dan Boothby
Dan Boothby

Following in his inspiring footsteps, Dan Boothby spent time on Maxwell’s island of Eilean Ban and wanted to write about his experiences. The result- 
Booktrail to the Island of Dreams

but how did he get there?

Getting Into Print Ain’t Easy.

I left the island in November 2007. And drifted. I went sailing a lot – working as delivery crew on yachts all over the world; eking out savings by wintering in India, Malaysia, Thailand; working now and again at Tŷ Newydd – a writers’ retreat in North Wales: cooking, cleaning, a lot of washing up – pandering to poets and students of various genres of writing.

And writing sometimes about the island and what the experience had meant to me. And, through the writing, figuring out – in an unconscious, subconscious way – what it was about Gavin Maxwell and the Highlands that had so obsessed me from boyhood.


I wrote other stuff, tried to write a ‘comic’ novel set in Morocco and, because I couldn’t get the island book to work (early drafts were too ‘lyrical’, with far too much nature writing and not enough bridging passages), I put it away from me and turned my back on wanting to be ‘a writer’, hated writers (those liars!) and writing in general.

Then, in December 2011, in Malacca in Malaysia, bored and looking through my laptop for something to do, something to work on, something to write, I looked again at Island of Dreams and thought, It’s almost there. . .

For some reason I decided to decamp to Krabi in Thailand, where I checked into the cheapest room in a hotel in the centre of town (it was one of two rooms at the top of the building. I think the other (these were more like cells really) was used for, ahem, short-time occupancy, judging by the noises coming through the wall.) I wasn’t interested in my surroundings, in the comings and goings of the Thais and the tourists and expats and the strange, symbiotic, cynical relationship the Thais and the tourists have, and so could get into a daily routine.

I wrote and rewrote and edited. I returned to the UK in February 2012, did a final line-by-line edit and then started sending ‘3 chapters and a covering letter’ to agents and publishers. I figured it would be a numbers game. I got an agent that October. The day after he agreed to take me on, I got another two rejection letters from agents. It makes you laugh in the end.

The agent had my book for two years and couldn’t interest a publisher in it. So, frustrated, I said goodbye to the agent in October 2014 and send out another nine submissions to publishers. I hooked one. Or to be precise – I hooked five, within the space of three weeks.

Odd. And wonderful.

If you want to make it as a writer, get a thick skin and understand well – none of this is personal. It’s about timing and luck as much as quality of writing. And connecting with the right editor for your work.

Thanks to Dan for his words of wisdom. The Island of Dreams is out now!

Twitter – @danrboothby

Web –

A Swedish smörgåsbord of crime fiction – with Carin Gerhardsen

The first three books set in Hammarby, Sweden
The first three books set in Hammarby, Sweden

If you are a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction, then you need to know about Carin Gerhardsen if you haven’t already read her books. Her crime novels are set in Hammarby, in the southern parts of Stockholm and follow Detective Inspector Conny Sjöberg and her team in investigating some disturbing crimes


Carin Gerardhsen (C) Anna Lena-Ahlström
Carin Gerhardsen (C) Anna Lena-Ahlström

Pepparkakshuset (The Gingerbread House) and Mamma, pappa, barn (Cinderella) and Vyssan lull (The Last Lullaby) are the first three in the series and Carin today has invited us to chat about her books with her, plus cake of course. Swedish gingerbread biscuits too….should I be worried?

Hi Carin. We just have to get chatting about your crime books set in Hammarby. Stockholm is such a pretty place but it seems to be the perfect backdrop for some grisly goings on!

The settings used in your book are very pretty places in Sweden. Why did you want to have a range of settings both inside and out of Stockholm city?

(c) Ola Ericson/
(c) Stockholm  -Ola Ericson/

I set the entire series in the southern part of central Stockholm and a bunch of suburbs south of the city. I invented that precinct myself, in order not to annoy any existing precinct and its police officers. It gives me the latitude to follow my own ideas on how the police officers should work methodology wise. Stockholm is the capital of Sweden, quite a big city with all its sounds and smells, skyscrapers, suburb ghettos for the poor, areas with detached houses for the wealthy. Stockholm is surrounded by water, forests and fields, everything I could possibly have use for in my novels.

In the Gingerbread House, was this house inspired by anywhere in particular in Katrineholm? Where did the idea for such a house come from?

The house, as it is described in the novel, was in fact – in every way – the preschool where I spent my sixth year on earth. Most of the harassment scenes in the book are my own experiences. My publisher thought that the opening scene was a little too much, so I was obliged to cut the violence down a bit. But it is a scene from my own life. I was there, so I know what children are prepared to do to each other.

Christmas stars -(c) Miriam Preis/
Christmas stars -(c) Miriam Preis/

Christmas adds another nice, idyllic dimension to the story before the terror is revealed. What is your favourite part of a Swedish Christmas?

The smörgåsbord! I love the Christmas lunch with this huge table filled with Swedish specialities such as ham, sausages, pâtés, different kinds of herring, ox-tongue, gravlax, pies, cheese and… Yeah, you name it.

 Some events take place on the metro – Stockholm metro is famous for its beauty and creativity. Which station is your favourite that people should visit?

My favourite is the Karlaplan station, with its almost one hundred meters long photo montage by Larseric Vänerlöf. It makes me laugh, and I love it.

Cinderella Girl captures the isolation of the fairytale and the name of the cruise ship which travels between Sweden and Finland. What aspects of this – isolation and claustrophobia- did you want to evoke in the novel?

There are two sisters growing up in misery surrounded by alcoholics, there is a young man who’s held captive by his abusive father, there is a little girl waking up one morning only to find that she’s been abandoned by her family in a locked apartment. So I’d say Cinderella Girl is all about different aspects of isolation.

With many thanks to Carin for an insight into the dark side of Sweden and  a great Swedish crime series that we booktrailers recommend!

Facebook –

Vaseem Khan talks elephants, food and Mumbai…

I’m off to meet a man about an elephant today. Yup, you read that right. I am currently sitting in an Indian restaurant, with the fragrances of the food and drink wafting all around me waiting for Vaseem Khan – the author of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. vaseem-with-book-copySuddenly there is a loud trumpeting sound – Vaseem’s taxi? As I approach the door, an elephant bedecked in jewels comes lumbering around the corner before stopping right infront of me. Truck uncoils and a man slides down and announces himself – Hello he says. Vaseem Khan at your service. 

Well with that novel approach (never have I had an author arrive by elephant) I just have to start firing away with the questions straight away.

You create a vivid picture of the sights and sounds of Mumbai. Can you tell us a little more about Chopra’s city?

Mumbai is an eternal city. It is constantly changing but its soul will always remain quintessentially Indian. The city was once a series of seven islands occupied for millennia by Koli fisherman until the Portuguese established a trading centre there in 1534 and called it Bom Bahia or ‘Good Bay’ from whence the name Bombay is derived. A century later the Portuguese gifted the territory to King Charles II of England as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. Charles promptly leased the islands to the East India Company which transformed the disparate islands into a city. By the end of the 1700s Bombay, with its deepwater port and established trade routes, was the ‘Gateway to India’. In 1995 Bombay was rechristened, after Mumbadevi, the stone goddess of the original Koli fishermen.

Today 20 million live in the city. Is it any wonder that Mumbai is a non-stop assault on the senses? People’s lives are a blend of modern and traditional sensibilities – Mumbai, like most metros in India, is facing a cultural onslaught from westernisation – which brings both good and bad, as I describe in my novel. But most people are still very wedded to their ancient culture. What is a constant is how warm and friendly everyone is.

How did you think about having an elephant in your story?

The book comes to life! (C) the booktrail
The book comes to life! (C) the booktrail

You could say that the elephant was born on my first day in India. I remember vividly walking out from Bombay airport in 1997, aged 23, into a wall of sizzling hot air. The first thing I saw set the scene for me – a group of lepers and beggars milling about the taxi rank. At the first traffic junction we stopped at there was a thumping on the window. I turned to see a tall well-built gentleman in a sari. My first eunuch. I turned back to the road and there, lumbering through the traffic as cool as you please, was an enormous grey Indian elephant with a mahout on its back. This surreal sight stuck with me and eventually became a part of the novel I wrote when I returned to England ten years later.

When you think about it, elephants make great crime fighters – they are intelligent, have great memories and display a range of emotions, which is important to me as a writer as the dynamic between Ganesha and Inspector Chopra is a key aspect of the novel, adding much charm and humour.

To discover more read my blog piece: “What makes an elephant a great sidekick for a crime novel?’:

Can you tell us more about Ganesha?

Ganesha is a one-year-old baby Indian elephant. He is sent to Chopra by his long lost uncle Bansi. But Bansi doesn’t reveal why he is sending him an elephant or anything about Ganesha’s background. This is a mystery that will be revealed slowly over the course of the book and series. Bansi does say – in a letter – that Ganesha ‘is no ordinary elephant’. These words gradually prove prophetic as Chopra discovers there is more to little Ganesha than meets the eye.

When Ganesha first turns up he is very despondent. But we soon see his real personality emerge. He is adorable, of course, but also tenacious, determined, mischievous and adventurous – he is a child, after all. As well as helping Chopra he will be getting into a few scrapes of his own!


What next do you have planned for Chopra and Ganesha?

Well, Chopra and Ganesha are just getting started! I have just completed their second adventure, ‘The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown’ which is about the theft of the world’s most famous diamond – the Kohinoor, which was originally mined in India and then given to Queen Victoria during the Raj. The Kohinoor is currently part of the British Crown Jewels. In the novel the Crown Jewels have been brought to India for a special exhibition. A daring robbery sees the Kohinoor stolen and Chopra and Ganesha called in to try and recover the great diamond.

After that Chopra and Ganesha will be on the trail of a kidnapped Bollywood star, and then in the fourth episode they will be travelling outside of Mumbai to Chopra’s native village in Punjab, North India, to try to unravel the mystery of Ganesha’s origins and the disappearance of Chopra’s Uncle Bansi.

My aim is to showcase different parts of India as the series progresses. India is really a collection of countries – it is so different everywhere you go. I’d like to put Chopra and Ganesha into different cities and regions so that we can use those wonderful environments as backdrops to the stories.

What should we eat if we visit Mumbai?

Vaseem feeds Ganesha before we talk more food! (C) Vaseem Khan
Vaseem feeds Ganesha before we talk more food! (C) Vaseem Khan

Mumbai is a gastronome’s paradise. As a world city there are now restaurants from every cuisine on the planet – many of these restaurants are in the suburbs of Juhu and Bandra or in the richer zones of south Mumbai.

Punjabi dhabas – to taste truly authentic Punjabi Indian food – tandoori chicken, nan bread, butter chicken, Mughlai dishes – eat at a traditional dhaba. These are usually rustic restaurants such as Uttam’s Dhaba in Marol, but there are others with an upmarket ambience such as Urban Tadka in Seven Bungalows.

Leopold’s Café is a Mumbai landmark and features in my second novel in this series ‘The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown.’ It was previously made famous in the novel Shantaram. It has a range of delicious Indian and continental cuisine and is a good place to stop when exploring south Mumbai.

Mumbai is a coastal city so there are many great seafood restaurants. Try amazing Maharasthran-style seafood at Gajalee – especially the crab.

Mumbai street food – if you can stomach it. Mumbai’s street food is amazing ranging from steamed rice cakes called ‘idli’ to chicken lollipops. You can find some great pictures of Mumbai street food on my Pinterest board:

With many thanks to Vaseem for a very interesting and food infused interview. Right then, we’re off for an elephant ride now so be sure to catch up with Vaseem later on! and Ganesha of course

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Tasting the best tea there is – Dinah Jefferies and the Tea Planter’s Wife

What better author to have a cuppa and a cake with than Dinah Jefferies who has written a novel set on a tea plantation. How very apt! And an excuse to get some of the most perfect tea I’ve ever tasted. Ah Dinah transports you to a place via all manner of ways….

Hi Dinah

Dinah Jefferies
Dinah Jefferies

The story of The Tea Planters Wife is one about love and loss, and moving to a new country. The sense of feeling alone that Gwendolyn experiences is heartbreaking. Can you tell us more about her?

Gwen is only nineteen at the start of the novel, and arrives in Ceylon full of youthful idealism and hope for the future. She comes from Owltree Manor in Gloucestershire (inspired by lovely Owlpen Manor near Uley and until now has never been abroad. Her story begins in 1925, ninety years ago, when things were so different for women. We didn’t even have the vote! At her new home she quickly senses her husband is keeping something from her and that there are secrets at the plantation. It’s only when she explores on her own that she finds clues to the past – including an overgrown grave hidden in the grounds, far too small for an adult. But that’s just the start; as her story unfolds she is faced with a terrible choice no mother should have to make. Forced to bury a secret at the heart of her marriage, it almost breaks her. Almost but not quite…

You evoke the time and place so well and so vividly. Which memories and experiences do you use and what kind of research did you do?

Gwen's colonial house (c) Dinah Jefferies
Gwen’s colonial house (c) Dinah Jefferies

The idea for The Tea Planter’s Wife was triggered by listening to my mother-in-law’s stories about life on tea plantations in Ceylon and India. Once I have the key idea, I start by reading history books, articles on the internet and novels – anything I can lay my hands. I make tons of notes while I’m doing it, though I often don’t look at them again, but the act of writing helps fix the time and place in my mind. I look at YouTube and love watching films set in the country. For The Tea Planter’s Wife I travelled to Sri Lanka and stayed at a tea planter’s bungalow, beside a lake in the misty hill country. It’s very similar to the setting of Hooper’s Plantation in the novel. It felt like going back in time and really helped me get a sense of how life must have been for the privileged British who lived there.

Ceylon seems like a dream as it must have done to Gwendolyn at first. Can you tell us more about it?

Map of Ceylon from first part of 20th century (C) Dinah Jefferies
Map of Ceylon from first part of 20th century (C) Dinah Jefferies

It’s shaped like a pearl and was extremely unspoilt and beautiful. Sri Lanka, as it is now known, is still gorgeous. I tried to make it as dreamy and seductive as I could, because that’s how Gwen would have seen it, and I wanted the reader to experience it just the way Gwen does. Of course, during the time that the book takes place, 1925-1934, Ceylon was beginning to change. It was a British colony and, after a period of upheaval when there were strikes and many negotiations, independence was finally granted in 1948. 

Where did Sinhalese artist, Savi Ravasinghe come from? Is he just from your imagination or did you conjure him from your research?

Savi is pure imagination. He popped into my mind fully formed and would not leave. I think I’d like to write a book all about him one day. Funnily enough, after I’d written the story I did read about a group of influential Sri Lankan artists who existed at that time.

It’s an epic tale – how racism and prejudice was dealt with at the time is fascinating to see. It was a difficult time for most wasn’t it and so being a young white woman there must have been even more so.

The white women of Gwen’s class were hugely protected from the difficulties many of the population faced. They were rich, indulged and often very snobbish. You only have to listen to recorded voices from that period to hear their underlying sense of superiority and entitlement. I didn’t want Gwen to be like that and I’m sure not everyone was. But the depths of racism in the colonial world is deeply shocking to a modern reader, so I had to tone it down a bit, though it is prejudice that lies at the heart of the book. Most of all isolation would have been hardest and learning how to cope with what would have seemed an alien world. In addition to that, they didn’t have modern medical facilities and I guess many of their children would have died. They couldn’t phone home or travel easily so they were often very cut off and lonely.

What is your favourite kind of tea?

Perfect tea to be enjoyed with this fragrant and sumptuous read (c) thebooktrail
Perfect tea to be enjoyed with this fragrant and sumptuous read
(c) thebooktrail

Oh dear! Good quality builder’s tea – but, of course, it must come from Ceylon.

With many thanks to the wonderful Dinah Jefferies for her fascinating answers and wonderful book. This is a treat on so many levels and Booktrail recommended! Also a Richard and Judy read dontcha know 😉

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Meet Lindsay Hawdon – Author of Jakob’s Colours

This cuppa and a cake was a very interesting and poignant one to do. I read the book and it was very moving indeed. Now, having had a chance to speak to the author, I can now delve a little further into the story behind the story. All the while offering cake of course. It would be rude not to.

Welcome Lindsay Hawdon

Screen shot 2015-08-26 at 15.20.26

This story of Jakob’s colours is a little told one. What made you want to tell it, and in this way?

I didn’t set out to tell a WWII story.  Certainly I felt I had no authority on the subject.  I began this book simply with a small boy running, that was all, and then slowly layers were added to it.  I wanted him to be running from something and to have nowhere to run to, for the natural world around him to be the only thing that he understood and knew.  It was only when I decided that he was a Roma boy that I began to research Romany past and present which led me to WWII.   We are well aware of the Jewish persecution during that time, but between a half and one and a half million Romani lives were lost by 1945 and the Nazi genocide of the gypsies was only officially acknowledged in 1982.

Certainly they were the forgotten people and I think as soon as I found this information out I knew that this was what I wanted to write about.  A subject that is still very relevant today.

As a whole though, Jakob’s Colours, is about a family buffeted in the storm of world around them.  I wanted to explore the microcosm of war through their individual experiences, how it effects everyone, no matter the background, no matter the part played.  We live in a world where we can very much begin in one place, and end in a very different one.  We stray very much from the path we imagine is laid out before us.  I wanted to explore how easily the life we are living can be destroyed, how we have to begin again and again, and how human beings have this extraordinary capacity to bear the unbearable, to still find hope against no hope.

See the booktrail here –

Jakobs-coloursWe see the brutality of war through the innocent eyes of a young boy – do you think this contrast between brutality and innocence allowed you to explore and portray the horror of war more effectively?

Yes I do.  I think with a child any reality is possible, which means their ability to find solace in things is matched by their imagination.  Their inner world is powerful.  Certainly it is what can save them in the bleakest hours. They also live in an immediate world, a very present one, and in times of great grief that can be the only place to find solace. The past is too painful to remember, the future too fear-filled. 

I wanted to approach each scene from a very human place, to explore in the writing if a moment of brutality could be overridden with the love of the people that surrounded it. I wanted that to be what you were left with.  Children hold their emotions very closely to the surface, are raw and transparent with them, and through their eyes we can see more than simply the horrors of a scene.  We can see the love that endures, from parent to child, child to parent, sibling to sibling.

Why do you think the story of the Gypsy holocaust is not so well told as other aspects of the war?

I think because they come from an aural background, so traditionally they do not write stories down, but tell them.  Most historical accounts of Roma past is written by outsiders.  And also I think that for Romany people WWI and WWII were just two moments in time when they had to face persecution, no more no less that anything they had faced before.  Afterwards they had no time to linger on the atrocities that had taken place, to pause and claim justice, they were too busy surviving the next wave of persecution that came their way.

What do you think the use of the local language brings to the novel? Do you speak a little yourself?

I don’t speak Roma.  I found bits here and there and sometimes it was quite hard to find a translation for what I wanted to say.  But I think it’s a beautiful language and I wanted to set it with the prose like a poem, a mantra that this small boy could take with him. 

Do you think your past experience of travel writing really helped your ability to immerse yourself in your story.

Certainly I think travel writing means you train your eye to capture detail.  You are a spectator, invited in to witness someone else’s way of life, to watch it fleetingly from the ringside.  And I am always looking for a story, a small moment in time, that has to then unravel in a way that the reader will want to read on. In journalism you have to capture someone in the first line, keep them reading, before they flick onto the column beside yours.  So I hope that made me keep up an immediacy for the tale in hand.

What I love about writing a novel is the freedom to explore.  There are no constraints, just this vast blank page, the prospect of filling it both terrifying and thrilling.

With many thanks to Lindsay for taking the time out to talk about some difficult subjects and how she came to write about them in such a heartbreaking story.

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