Today, Christine Lindsay concludes her story about searching for just the right details and history that bring her characters from Shadowed in Silk to life.
On Tuesday, I wrote about the research I did for my hero, Major Geoff Richards of the Cavalry in India during the British Raj.
Today is my heroine’s turn. Abby is a plucky American who is also half English, being the daughter of a famous English general. I researched what her life would be like by reading autobiographies of famous British women in India, as well the experiences of lowly female missionaries. Whether they were as illustrious as the Viceroy’s wife, or that of a humble soldier, most people made the trip to India on the P & O line—Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company.
I found enough detail on the internet for Abby’s clothing, such as the calf-length skirts she would have worn in the year 1919 just after Great War. But I learned more about her lingerie and grooming products by plowing through autobiographies. One of my favorite tiny details is the soap that Abby would have used—Vinolia.
Too much detail can bog a story down, but a little detail here and there nails the scene in reality and gives it texture, taste and fragrance. It’s my opinion that readers want to be whisked away to a far off place, to experience something different from their real lives, but at the same time they empathize better with the characters if they know how characters do their hair, the laundry . . .
If I were writing a contemporary novel I’d never bore the reader with how the laundry gets done, but when you’re in such an exotic land as India in 1919, it’s nice to pop in a quick line of dialogue that the dhobi takes the dirty washing away one day and brings it back the next.
I also believe that readers like to read about food, to be made hungry. So I studied British Raj cookbooks written by English women. It was there I learned a favorite of English children growing up in India was a chappati spread with marmalade. Abby’s little boy Cam found this a great treat. My Indian characters mustn’t be left out though. They had their staple of dal and rice on a daily basis, but people are people. All cultures have special holidays where candy is a big part of life, or as the Indians called candy at that time—sweetmeats.
My research taught me a lot about their favorites like jalebis. I used this particular sweet in several scenes. Abby, Cam and Eshana order these crisp, golden spirals from the shopkeeper in the bazaar who waves a reed fan over them to keep flies away. When they bite into the jalebis, they taste sweet rose-scented syrup that glides down their throat.
I lost count of all the books I read. My guess is somewhere around 30. But there were books on Indian women’s lives, weddings, flora, cooking . . . the various religions there. I even know how to make a fire in a desert—with thorn bush and camel dung.
It was the history of Christianity in India and on reading about the political climate through biographies of Gandhi and Nehru that I came upon a true event that shook India and Great Britain—the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. It was this terrible event that helped Gandhi rise to fame. And it’s against this true event that I set my fictional characters and take them through a turbulent time.
But after all was researched and my story written I wanted to make sure.
A friend who’d lived in India and Pakistan read the novel with the intent of finding mistakes. And still wanting to be sure, I found Dr. Shirley Hereford, a charming Indian woman with a PhD who teaches literature at an all-girls Indian university in India.
Perhaps I did too much research, as a non-published author at the time with no deadline. After reading my story, Dr. Shirley said that she was astounded I’d never been to her country. I seemed to know the place so well. But then . . . I had been there, through the eyes of others.
And I hope that you will come there too, through my eyes—Shadowed in Silk.
She was invisible to those who should have loved her.
After the Great War, Abby Fraser returns to India with her small son, where her husband is stationed with the British army. She has longed to go home to the land of glittering palaces and veiled women . . . but Nick has become a cruel stranger. It will take more than her American pluck to survive.
Major Geoff Richards, broken over the loss of so many of his men in the trenches of France, returns to his cavalry post in Amritsar. But his faith does little to help him understand the ruthlessness of his British peers toward the India people he loves. Nor does it explain how he is to protect Abby Fraser and her child from the husband who mistreats them.
Amid political unrest, inhospitable deserts, and Russian spies, tensions rise in India as the people cry for the freedom espoused by Gandhi. Caught between their own ideals and duty, Geoff and Abby stumble into sinister secrets . . . secrets that will thrust them out of the shadows and straight into the fire of revolution.
Christine Lindsay writes historical inspirational novels with strong love stories, but she doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. Her debut novel Shadowed in Silk is set in India during a turbulent era. Christine’s long-time fascination with the British Raj was seeded from stories of her ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in India. Shadowed in Silk won the 2009 ACFW Genesis for Historical under the title Unveiled.
The Pacific coast of Canada, about 200 miles north of Seattle, is Christine’s home. It’s a special time in her life as she and her husband enjoy the empty nest, but also the noise and fun when the kids and grandkids comes home. Like a lot of writers, her cat is her chief editor.
Terrific, Christine! You’ve given us a sense of early twentieth-century India just by reading these posts. Jalebis…mmm.
Thanks for giving us insight into all the work you did to make Shadowed in Silk such a rich story.