All you have to do is follow the link to GOODREADS to have a chance of winning one of the 10 FREE paperback copies.
All you have to do is follow the link to GOODREADS to have a chance of winning one of the 10 FREE paperback copies.
Recently, I have come across old diaries and letters written in India by my maternal grandparents in the 1920s and 1930s, where my granddad was a forester with the Indian Forest Service. Bob Gorrie had been a gunner in the First World War and survivor of trench warfare (one of the ‘mortar-mongers’ as he nicknamed them). He kept diaries of that ‘adventure’ too, but that’s a whole other story!
On his return to Scotland, he trained in Edinburgh at the University – there’s seems to have been a lot of rowing, tea dances and theatre trips in between lectures on tree species and Hindustani – Bob was relishing life post Flanders. There was a whirlwind romance with sophisticated Sydney Easterbrook (a wow on the dance floor) and then he was off to the Punjab, leaving his fiancee to follow a year later …
As a writer and researcher, I am absolutely hooked on my grandparents story – their life in India leaps off the page – and I’m drinking tea, marking trees, auctioning timber, riding under moonlight and playing ‘topping’ games of tennis alongside them!
Oh, yes – and I’m wearing a brooch made out of a tiger’s claw from a man-eating tiger that my grandfather shot and named Gwendoline …
My next novel – a sequel to the Tea Planter’s Daughter – is taking form and taking my characters back to India in the ’20s. Over the next few months I’ll share slices of that long gone era on this blog – with the help of Bob and Sydney.
My research for The Tea Planter’s Daughter into the Victorian / Edwardian tea trade eventually took me back to the murky world of early British capitalism. This was the time of the British East India Company prising land off rulers in the North of India to grow opium crops.
These were used in the Opium Wars: with the loss of its trade monopoly, the East India Company needed to gain access to China’s lucrative, protected markets, and one of the main products they wanted to buy on an open market was tea. The trade in opium through intermediaries and Chinese smugglers weakened the Chinese economy by simultaneously draining it of silver while creating increasing numbers of addicts.
At it’s peak, it is estimated that ninety percent of all chinese males under forty in the coastal regions were addicted to opium.
Almost by chance, the opium growers discovered that something else grew naturally on the hot, humid slopes and rich soils of Assam – the evergreen camallia. The tea bush was growing wild, right under their noses!
So they switched to tea growing, sending out eager young men (often Scots) to chance their luck as tea planters. Judging from the cemetery records, many died young of malaria, fever and dysentery. Their isolation and misery was more than matched by the dire conditions of their bonded workforce. Lured by the chance of work from the drought-stricken areas of India, they were heded like cattle onto ferries up the Brahmaputra River, and often died of cholera or smallpox before even reaching the tea gardens.
What these early pioneers succeeded in doing though was to change the palette of the British. They were weaned off the delicate, smoky China teas, and onto the stronger, earthier varieties grown in India and Ceylon.
I found a colonial report into the industry that sums it up nicely:
“It is a remarkable fact, in the British Empire that though British tea-drinking proclivities were nourished on China teas, the taste has gradually changed until Indian and Ceylon teas are now predominant. A great part of the credit for this development is due to the blenders for careful blinding in the early days of the industry, the public having been led on by gentle steps to appreciate a good ‘body’ in its tea.
The British people, wherever domiciled, are the world’s greatest drinkers of tea, and their preference is for afine, full-flavoured tea with stimulating properties… China teas are not popular in any part of the Empire, and while it may be too much to say that China tea-drinking in this country is merely a fashionable fad, that expression does approach somewhere near the truth.“
By the end of the 19th century, the tea industry in India was big business. the gardens were run like factory farms and the processing – the withering, rolling, fermenting and drying of the leaves – was all highly mechanised. And those machines? They bore names like Britannia and Victoria, and were made in the industrial heartlands of the the Empire’s mother country.
Like so many products of the age, they were built to last, and some are still in use today:
30 years ago, Geordie matlot John Mew was heading south on HMS Coventry as part of the British Task Force. He didn’t know then that his ship would be bombed and he plucked from the South Atlantic during the Falklands War. We knew him from his involvement with Ponteland Rugby Club in Northumberland where my husband Graeme played in the 1980s and 90s. When he was home on leave John would lead them in vigorous training and fitness sessions – with exacting Royal Navy standards!
After the Falklands conflict, John was generous in talking about his experiences and knowledge of the Navy when I was researching my novel, FOR LOVE & GLORY.
It is set in Wallsend on the River Tyne from where my husband’s family come. I have them to thank for much of the background information on this vibrant community where many of the world’s greatest ships were built. The Falklands material was inspired by veterans I’d read about – ordinary people who’d shown extraordinary courage – long after the short war was over and out of the news. But in particular, I’m indebted to our brave friend, John.
We met up recently to launch a new version of the novel. It’s now available as ebook for the first time. My daughter Amy is the model for the new cover!
These days it is John’s sons who are playing rugby for Ponteland – but I’m sure he can still teach them a thing or two about fitness!
This week marks the 30th anniversary of the start of the Falklands war, which is being commemorated at the National Memorial Arboretum with the lighting of a single flame. This will burn for the length of the conflict – 74 days:
Several of the hundred ships that sailed for the South Atlantic less than a week after the invasion were built on the Tyne - HMS Bristol, HMS Glasgow, HMS Exeter, HMS Glamorgan, HMS Argonaut, HMS Penelope, HMS Cordella, RFA Omleda, RFA Stromness, SS Atlantic Conveyor and SS Atlantic Causeway.
Over the next ten weeks, I (along with the rest of the British media!), will be covering the events in the Falklands from thirty years ago. Later THIS month, a new edition of For Love and Glory will be published – initially for Kindle, but the paperback version will be ready soon after.
Wearing suffragette ribbons, our gathering of North East women (and a few men!) sang hymns, joined in songs with Werca’s Folk, listened to amusing and spirited words from Northumberland’s female High Sheriff (who happens to be a reverend too – how Emily would have approved!) and the Romanian consul – also a woman.
Afterwards we were given long-stemmed white carnations and processed behind Emily’s descendants to her graveside. Flowers were laid to the sound of Werca’s Folk singing the rousing Women’s Marseillaise that Emily would have known well. Then there were hot drinks and a buffet in the nearby hall – the whole event laid on by Northumberland County Council.
(I took this with my phone, balanced against the railings, so that’s why it’s on a tilt!)
Next year is the centenary of Emily Davison’s death – there will be many events to mark the occasion – I’ll keep you updated here.
“The tranquil graveyard was so overrun with mourners that Maggie and Rose could not get near to see the coffin lowered into the ground at the Davison burial mound, so they patiently waited their turn among the lofty pines. Some time later they were able to approach the iron-fenced memorial which was almost hidden under the heaps of wreaths and floral messages. The scent of the flowers was overpowering as Maggie tossed her own modest purple iris onto the coffin.
‘I’ll fight on, I promise!’ Maggie whispered, as around her women openly wept.”
Extract from my novel THE SUFFRAGETTE
You’d never know it, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, when I was writing last week’s post about Ringtons Tea, I was actually sitting in a salon de thé in Antibes. We were over there taking a few days well-earned R&R.
Tea shops suddenly seem to be quite the thing in France - très chic in fact. Trendy boutiques sell everything you could need to make a really good cuppa – I bought one of these little tea infusers, which now that we’re home, I’ve been using to make endless cups of green tea:
The only thing you can’t buy is a tea cosy – maybe with the warmer weather in the South of France, they don’t think they’re necessary
In the salons de thé, things are obviously quite different from a British tea room like one run by Clarissa Belhaven Tyneside. There’s none of the ritual that we have – when you order a cup of tea, you get a tea cup full of hot water, with a tea bag on the saucer brought to the table. Once, the waiter even forgot to put the tea bag on the saucer – much to his embarrassment!
Maybe they could all do with learning the secret of how to make a brew – as shown in this film from 1941:
Great granny Janet Gorrie – around the 1870′s / 1880′s
Great granny Janet Gorrie in later life as a voting woman!
Granny Janet’s daughter, Mary Gorrie went on to run the Scottish Female Domestic Service Association, which cared for the latter years of domestic servants. Before the coming of the Welfare State, old age could be hard and grim for those who’d spent all their lives in service. The kindly paternalism shown in the likes of Downton Abbey was far rarer than the rose-tinted glasses of TV producers would have us think:
The Newcastle firm Ringtons Tea was part of the inspiration for The Tea Planter’s Daughter. My husband, Graeme, worked for them during school holidays when he was a sixteen year-old school boy in Wallsend, and I was always intrigued about this family business whose delivery vans are such a feature of the North East – seen in this film from the time of my teenage years:
Rington’s was established in 1907, so I’m sure you can see the close links with my character Clarissa Belhaven – the story of The Tea Planter’s Daughter starts in India in 1905. Prior to the problems with her father’s plantation, I imagined her life being fairly similar to my mother’s and uncles’, who were brought up in India in the 1920s and 30s when my grandfather was a forester in the North of the country:
My uncles photographed with the gardener in India
Mum and her brothers in Lahore
Clarissa returned to Tyneside shortly after (at about the time Ringtons were making their first delivery) with dreams of opening her own tea room to be a safe haven for the locals amidst the grinding poverty of the time.
In Edwardian England everyone shopped in the high street, but many firms ran a home delivery service – something that’s still the cornerstone of Ringtons. When they started out it was horse-drawn vans:
Ringtons is still based on Algernon Road in Byker:
It was through a conversation with the man who in the 1940s drove the last of Ringtons horse-drawn vans in Blyth that I decided to write about the tea trade in the North East of England. As I got further into the research, I visited Ringtons and spoke to the current generation of the company’s founding family, the Smiths, who were very helpful in my research, telling me about the early history of the firm.
You can read more on the history of Ringtons on their site – do make sure you take the time to look at the images at the bottom of the page!
The Tea Planter’s Daughter begins the story with the idyllic childhood of Clarissa & Olive Belhaven on their father’s once-thriving Indian tea plantation.
The descriptions for this part of the book were inspired by my mother’s early life - my grandfather, Robert Gorrie was a forester in northern India:
I’m currently going through a stack of photos from their time in India, and over the next couple of weeks I’ll scan the best and post them here. In the meantime, here’s one to show you how hard the journey could be – this is how mum experienced perambulating through the Himalayan foothills:
Definitely a photo that’s a product of its time!