Thank you so much to Dinah Jefferies for agreeing to feature on the Author’s Chats strand. I’m a keen traveller and in particular love Asia so combining my love of travel with a top read ticks the box more than twice over with Dinah’s books. She has recently visited Rossiter Books in Ross On Wye for an event with Julia Gregson another favourite of mine to celebrate the launch of Before the Rains and Monsoon Summer. I have asked Dinah a few questions and here is what she had to say about her favourite authors, her own writing practice and tips for aspiring authors.
Who were your favourite childhood authors and why?
My early childhood – nine years – was spent in Malaya, where children’s books
were not readily available. To be honest, I only remember the books I read as a
teenager when I was living in England, especially Little Women by Louisa May
Alcott. I loved that girls were at the heart of the story and I particularly
resonated with the rebellious independent Jo, who, now that I think about it, was
an inspiration for the character of Emma in my first novel, The Separation, set
in Malaya in the 1950s. I also read Jane Eyre and adored it, as well as Pride and
Prejudice, and even the novels of Thomas Hardy and Henry James. So it was
mainly the classics I remember, including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was
doing the rounds at school and which I read under the bedcovers by the light of
A bit like me Dinah ‘saves’ books to read for special occasions. I still haven’t allowed myself to read Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman but Dinah is saving Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase for her forthcoming holiday. Eva is a new author to me so one for me to try soon…………
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, sent to me as an advance
reading copy. What a find! It’s by Eve Chase who is the author of Black Rabbit
Hall, which I haven’t yet read, but am saving for my holiday in Greece. I loved
the story of Audrey Wilde and would recommend it to anyone. Eve writes
beautifully and I found it a very special book.
How long did it take to get your first book published?
No time at all. I sent it to just one agent who took me on straightaway and sold
The Separation to Penguin within ten days. What came before took a lot longer.
I wrote one novel previously, which I sent out on submission everywhere, with
no success. Now I’m glad it didn’t get picked up, because really it was a
learning experience and not well enough thought through for publication. I think
you keep learning with each book you write. Each one is different and poses its
own challenges and throw up its own problems to be solved.
What is your inspiration for writing?
If you are referring to the inspiration for the books themselves, then each one is
different. For my fourth and latest book, Before The Rains, I came across a little
known event that had happened in India when a bomb was thrown at the
Viceroy during a ceremonial march in 1912. That triggered the whole idea and
became my first chapter. I decided that three separate children would be
watching what happened, and the book explores the way their lives become
interlinked during the early 1930s. So, in a way, it’s about destiny.
I am also inspired by the countries I visit to research the stories, and the
sights and sounds of Rajasthan were amazing. It’s a land of princes and palaces,
where parakeets flock from tree to tree and centuries old customs still continue;
going there enabled me to create the settings of a vast Royal fortress, a golden
rural palace, and the raw beauty of the desert. I went to Shahpura Bagh, where I
discovered that a Raja, in the early 1900s, had mortgaged the family jewels to
create an irrigation project to bring water to his people and this inspired my
story and the title of the book. I wanted the pages to shimmer with the blistering
heat, the incredible colour and the scent of sandalwood. It’s an exciting,
dangerous world where East meets West, cultures clash and old practices can be
cruel. Into this setting comes independent minded, Eliza Fraser – widow and
photo- journalist – keen to make a name for herself. She meets Jay, the younger
brother of the Maharaja, and what develops is a spicy simmering love affair
with a dark edge, that plays out against the arrival of the monsoon.
I‘ve recently read The Tea Planter’s Wife whilst travelling in Indonesia and couldn’t put it down for two days. So whilst not actually in Sri Lanka I could at least sympathise with the heat, enjoy the colours and and be overcome with emotion for Gwen a courageous young wife who follows her husband out to the tea plantation where he has a life and a job and she needs to fit in. This is what Dinah has to say about this lovely novel……….
The Tea Planter’s Wife, which was a Richard and Judy pick and became a
Sunday Times number one bestseller, (such a wonderful surprise) was also
heavily influenced by a visit to Sri Lanka where it is set. My mother-in- law was
born in India and it was something she told me that triggered the whole idea for
the essence of the novel. So the inspiration for each book is different.
Do you have a set timetable for writing and do you have somewhere special that
you generally go to – to write?
I have a beautiful new garden room where I write. It’s such a treat because up
until last autumn I was writing in a cramped back bedroom. This is much more
spacious and I’m very happy and grateful to have it. I write in the mornings and
usually use the afternoon for catching up with emails, taking care of social
media, researching and editing.
What are you working on at the moment?
It’s a novel called The Sapphire Trader, set in 1935 in the three-hundred- year
old walled town of Galle in Southern Sri Lanka, when it was known as Ceylon.
Overlooking the ocean, it has remained unchanged for decades, with beautiful
Dutch built colonial buildings and frangipani trees growing in the narrow
passageways. It’s also set on an enchanting cinnamon plantation, overlooking
the Indian Ocean, where the air is filled with the scent of cinnamon and
citronella, and where monkeys swing in the trees and butterflies and dragonflies
are everywhere. Basically, it’s about what happens when someone you love
turns out to be not who you thought they were. It explores betrayal and the
courage to overcome.
Any tips for aspiring writers?
It’s quite simple. Keep writing, keep editing, keep reading and keep learning.
Don’t be too easily satisfied and keep doubt at bay.
To find out more about Dinah and purchase her books click on Dinah