I’m delighted to welcome my first Author in the Spotlight of 2020 Janet MacLeod Trotter. Janet’s most recent book, the first in a new series, is called The Emerald Affair and was published by Lake Union on 1st January. You can order a copy here. I’ve been reading this and have my thoughts further down the page. But first, let’s find out more about Janet.
Thanks for joining me Janet. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
Hello Joanne, thanks for having me on your blog today! I’ve been a published writer since 1985 – over thirty years – and come from a large extended MacLeod family. My children are now grown up and I’ve recently become a doting granny! My husband and I divide our time between Northumberland and the Isle of Skye.
What inspired you to start writing?
Before I was born, a gypsy came to our door and told my mum that she’d have a daughter who would be a writer, so I suppose it’s been my destiny! I’ve been writing stories for as long as I’ve been able to put pencil to paper. My mum read aloud to me and my four brothers from when we were very young and my father was a history teacher and great story teller too – so my love of history and stories was ignited at a very early age.
Tell me about your journey to publication
The first stories that I had published were in the mid-1980s for DC Thomson’s teenage photo story comics; Patches and Blue Jeans. I created the scripts that went into the bubbles!
I then began to get short stories accepted for teenage and women’s magazines. In 1989 I had my first two novels published – one for teenagers and one a Scottish historical novel. But both publishers then discontinued their lists and I had to try something else! That’s when I began writing regional historical sagas, which I did successfully for about fifteen years until my publisher decided sagas were out of fashion. Undaunted, I began to self-publish and was in the vanguard of the ebook revolution. That led to me being taken on by Lake Union (an imprint of Amazon Publishing) and I now write historical novels that are set in both Britain and India, such as The India Tea Series. I love writing these books as my own family have strong connections with India; my grandparents left Edinburgh to live and work there from the 1920s to the 1950s. I’ve been able to draw on their old diaries, letters and cine films for accurate background material.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
At the end of the First World War two friends, Esmie and Lydia, leave Scotland to start new lives in India – one as a nurse in the wilds of the North West Frontier and the other as a hotelier’s wife at the vibrant Raj Hotel in Rawalpindi. It follows their lives and loves against the turbulent backdrop of tribal war and also the tensions underlying the glamour of hotel life, where loyalty and friendship are tested to the limit.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
I didn’t – my editor did!
How did you celebrate publication day?
Publication day is New Year’s Day so I’ll be doing what I do every January 1st and that is to swim in the sea off the Isle of Skye! It’s part of our family tradition. Afterwards we have a chaotic game of football to warm up and then carry on with celebrating the New Year with family and friends.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
I’m at the editing stage of my follow up novel in the Raj Hotel Series; The Sapphire Child. This takes the story of the hotel and its owners into the 1930s and through the Second World War – so a lot happens! The central heroine is Stella Dubois, the daughter of the hotel manager, and the action takes place both in India and Scotland.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
The book that has stayed in my mind long after reading it is; All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It follows the experiences of a blind French girl and an orphan German boy in the lead up to and during the Second World War. Their worlds are vividly described. Not only is it beautifully written but the tension of wanting to find out what happens to them keeps the reader turning the pages too.
What are you reading just now?
I’m half way through Jeanette Winterson’s Christmas Days (reading it in December). It’s a collection of quite quirky short stories interspersed with recipes which also tell their own story! I’m enjoying it so far.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I’ve loved this epic historical tale ever since I saw David Lean’s film as a child. Only years later when reading it did I realise that far more happens in the book – but the film still brilliantly portrays the essence of the novel. And it stars the gorgeous Omar Sharif!
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?
I hope you’ll indulge me here and let me chose my novel, The Tea Planter’s Daughter?! I have already chosen Aidan Turner as the hero (a young tea planter) and Charles Dance as the ageing benefactor in Newcastle. I’m still auditioning for the heroine, Clarissa, and offering a young actor a starring role in their break-out movie!
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I’d love people to connect with me on my Facebook Page: Overlanders-Janet MacLeod Trotter or on Twitter: @MacLeodTrotter
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
I choose to be Mary Poppins – imagine the fun of being able to travel the world by non-polluting umbrella; pack everything you ever need into a small carpet bag and enter magical worlds?!
My thoughts on the book
I was surprised when beginning this book to find that a large part of it is set in and around Ralwalpindi, which is in present day Pakistan but was in India at the time of the novel. I have a tenuous family connection to Rawalpindi as my Grandad was stationed there in the 1920s. I have added a few photos from then below. He was a signaller in the Royal Artillery. Although the main characters in the book are not in the military, the soldiers and garrison are often mentioned. I found it really interesting to get a flavour of what life was like for British people living there at the time. I have always thought it must have been such a surreal experience for people like my grandad, an ordinary working class young man from a relatively poor part of Edinburgh, transported to such a very different place. Sadly, it’s not something I knew about while he was still alive so I was never able to find out his thoughts about being there. I only recently came into possession of his collection of photos from the time which I have found really fascinating.
Anyway, onto my thoughts about the book. I felt so sorry for both Esmie and Tom whose marriages did not turn out the way they anticipated. There was a strong theme of forbidden love for a few of the characters which was quite sad to read about. It was strange that the two friends Esmie and Lydia should have such different experiences of expat life. Esmie was nursing and caring for the native people in difficult circumstances while Lydia was living a society lifestyle. In a way, it seemed odd that the two had been such close friends as they changed so much over the course of the book.
This is a richly detailed, satisfyingly long book, one to settle down with in these dark winter evenings. It is impeccably researched which really brings colonial India to life: the sights and sounds, the glamorous lifestyles but also the dangers. I thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in this book and being transported to India. The Emerald Affair is superb historical fiction and I will definitely be looking out for future books in the series.
From the back of the book
In this evocative tale of life in India between the wars, friendships will be tested and loyalties torn. But can love win the day?
In Scotland in the aftermath of the First World War, nurse Esmie McBride meets handsome Captain Tom Lomax at her best friend Lydia’s home. Esmie is at first concerned for Tom’s shell shock, then captivated by his charm, but it’s effervescent Lydia he marries, and the pair begin a new adventure together in India.
When marriage to Tom’s doctor friend Harold offers Esmie the chance to work in India, the two sets of newlyweds find themselves living wildly different lives on the subcontinent. Esmie, heartbroken but resolved, is nursing at a mission hospital on the North West Frontier. Lydia, meanwhile, is the glamorous mistress of the Raj Hotel, where Tom hopes his sociable new wife will dazzle international guests.
As Esmie struggles with her true feelings for Tom and the daily dangers of her work, Lydia realises the Raj is not the centre of high society she had dreamed of. And when crisis strikes both couples, Esmie faces a shattering choice: should she stay the constant friend she’s always been, or risk everything and follow her heart?