Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Friday, November 6, 2009

Guest Blogger Lori Brighton on India During the Regency

As a child, I dreamt of traveling and seeing the world. Its why, in college, I majored in Anthropology. But traveling to exotic places is a lot easier in your imagination than in real life. With writing, I realized I could travel from the comfort of my home. This is how my career as a writer began.

A few years ago my son was watching the Disney cartoon Tarzan. Around the same time I saw a documentary on feral children. Authors will tell you that their story ideas usually start with a “what if?” After watching Tarzan for the tenth time, I started to wonder…what if my hero had been lost in the jungles as a child? I love those alpha males and you couldn’t get much more alpha than that. But the question remained, where would he have been lost? My husband had been to India for work and with that Country fresh in my mind, it was the perfect place for my hero, Leo, to live. I didn’t need to know much about the history of India for Wild Heart, my debut book, as Leo ends up moving back to England but I knew the second book would take place entirely in India.

And so I started to research. Sure, there were plenty of books on India, but most were inadequate for what I needed. A travel guide on the best places to visit, a history on politics and wars…nope. What I needed was real stuff. What did they eat? What sort of plants and animals would a visitor come across? What was the weather like? How did they live?

It’s no secret that up until recently, the British were deeply entrenched in India. Why did the British feel the need to visit such a far away land? It started the way it always does; someone found something they could make money off of. And so in the 1600s the British started traveling to India. Silk, tea, and opium were just a few of the coveted things found in India.

Of course resentment between Natives and Foreigners quickly flourished. Pick up a book on India and you’ll find information on the tense political climate. But I was writing a romance and romances are about life; the everyday life of men and women. And yes, there were women there. Officers brought their families and wives with when they traveled. In the 1800s in particular, people, especially women, were traveling. Fortunately a couple of these amazing women wrote down their accounts.

There was Mary Sherwood, the daughter of a clergyman, who lived in India for about ten years in the early 1800s. She traveled to India, like most women, because her husband was in the military. Mrs. Sherwood left accounts of her travels as well as her beliefs and fears. Upon arrival poor Mary worried that her unborn child would be born somewhere where he/she wouldn’t be able to be baptized. Because of Mary, we get an idea of what life was like for a woman moving into a culture so unlike her own. And although some of her fears may seem silly to us now, one can’t help but feel for Mary.

But by far the most interesting account of travel was left by a woman named Fanny Parkes; a woman who stayed over twenty years in India. Not only did she write about everyday life, but she wrote about women, a subject sadly lacking in most accounts. Her book, Wanderings of a Pilgrim, is well known with historians. Fanny left for India in June 1822 with her husband. She smoked cigars, traveled without her husband camping in tents, navigated rivers and waterways of India. She was completely outspoken, and talked about every subject under the sun; from elephant-fighting, famine, plague and poverty.

But she also wrote about everyday details; and it’s these everyday details that are jewels for a writer. I was able to find information from Ms. Parkes books that I never would have found in a book on Indian culture/history. “The floors are entirely covered with Indian matting, than which nothing can be cooler or more agreeable.” Fanny’s entries are done by months, which provide the reader with a great reference for climate and change across time. For instance, in December she writes that the weather is wonderful. In March the weather is very uncertain; beautiful one moment, the next moment filled violent rainstorms. Food, weather, wildlife… everything is discussed in Fanny’s journal.

The typical history books we read in school are great for general knowledge. They give us the basics on the dates of war, conflict, political strategies. But history books are written by men and often lack that simple humanity that we, as authors, need in order to write our books. It’s often to women we turn, women like Fanny who kept detailed accounts of everyday life. How about you, where do you like to find your pieces of history?

Leave a comment. Two people will win a copy of my debut romance, Wild Heart.



Haylie said...

Hi Lori,
I really enjoyed reading about the background of your story. I actually just purchased your book and I couldn't put it down! I love your take on "Tarzan" and it's so interesting to hear about how you came up with it. I love love love the character of Leo--you do such a great job in writing men.
Can't wait for your next book and thanks for sharing the inspiration behind your book.

Harris Channing said...

Wow! I have your book (mmmm Leo) and now I want to hunt down Fanny's!

Thanks for sharing how WILD HEART came to be. I can't wait to see what the sequel will be like! Totally in India, huh?

Aaron said...

If I were you, I'd travel to India for "research" and write it off! :)t

Jane said...

Congrats on your debut release, Lori. It would be great if we could afford to travel around the world and learn about the different cultures and histories, but I get most of the info from watching The History, Discovery and Travel channels.

Maureen said...

Hi Lori,
I never had a big interest in history but when I started reading historical romances I really enjoyed the bits of history the authors added. My favorite way to learn about history is to go to the museum and actually see the items people used everyday in the exhibits.

Genella deGrey said...

I like to find my pieces of history while trussed up in a well-fitting corset.


mmccall0911 said...

You're in my tbr coming up, and now I have to move it to the top! Great background. I love hearing how others research and develop characters and plot ideas. Thanks for sharing.

rhea said...

I enjoyed how your characters came to life, Lori.

Amalia said...

I've always wanted to know where authors get their information because a lot of stuff can't be found at the local library. it seems like it must require a lot of digging.

Alannah said...

I liked your last point - that history books are usually written by men, and we have to turn to women for details. I've often thought the same thing.

Jennifer said...

Lori, you're so right about history books leaving out the "everyday" details. I think it's great that you've tracked down first person accounts from women for your research. I look forward to reading your second novel, too!

Anonymous said...

What happened to my post? Left a long one yesterday.
I have a book published in 1878 specifically for Europeans heading for India. It gives information and suggestions on travel, clothing, housing, shopping,social life, dealing with servants, cost of living and budgeting, plus much much more. There is a second book included written by a doctor outlining how to stay healthy and deal with disease and injuries while in India. Very good resource and very interesting.

Lori Brighton said...

Oh wow Pat! Whats the book called? Sounds very useful!

Mystica said...

Its the women who write all the extra details - about the food, how they coped, about customs, attitudes etc. The men give the bare bones only.

Congratulations on the book.

Anonymous said...

Lori, Had all that information in my post that disappeared. It is THE EUROPEAN IN INDIA by Edmund C, P. Hull and MEDICAL GUIDE by R. S. Mair M. D. a combined book. The complete title i The EUROPEAN IN INDIZ; or Anglo-Indian's Vade-Mecum. A Handbook of Useful and Practical Information for Those Proceeding to or Residing in the East Indies, Relating to Outfits, Routes, Time for Departure, Indian Climate and Seasons, Housekeeping, Servants, etc., etc.; also an account of Anglo-indian Social Customs and Native Character.
Published in London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1, Paternoster Square. 1878
I've only read bits and pieces, but it is most interesting.
Not sure you can find a copy. Can't believe I did here in the hills of NE TN. It is inscribed to George Ramsey Elliot from his ? ? ? March 7, 1881.
You never know what you will find at yard sales, auctions or flea markets.

Mari said...

Congrats on your new book. I like that historical romance authors are starting to branch out more to exotic locales, rather than only in England and the US.

runningmatey at hotmail dot com

Debbi said...

Makes me want to find a copy of Fanny's book! Whenever I read a new book about an interesting time or place, I always try to find out more. I really appreciate historical detail in the novels I read.


Lori Brighton said...

You can find Fanny's book online if you google it.

Thanks Everyone for stopping by! And thanks Pat, for the info!