The Girl emerges from the Tea Garden!

Today is the publication day for my new India Tea Novel – THE GIRL FROM THE TEA GARDEN!

Set in India and Britain in the 1930s and 40s in turbulent times, my heroine Adela Robson – a tea planter’s daughter – has ambitions to become an actress.

Much of the novel is set in the old capital of the British Raj, Simla (now Shimla) which I visited two years ago and discovered places where my own mother and grandparents had lived …jan-at-christchurch-lodge

dscf1129

 

 

 

 

 

More information about the India Tea Series can be found on my website: INDIA TEA SERIES

 

 

Available as an ebook, paperback and audio: THE GIRL FROM THE TEA GARDEN

Advertisements

ANYONE FOR TIGERS AND TENNIS? – forgotten diaries of India in the 1920s

DSCF1002

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!DSCF1002 - Copy

 

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 …

DSCF1009 - Copy

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.

 

 

Tea And The Opium Wars

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:

Local Event – Come Along If You Can!

Just a quick update – If you subscribe to the New Writing North newsletter (“The Listening Post“), you probably noticed that I’m speaking at the Ryton Social Club on Thursday evening.

I’ll be there as one of Gateshead Libraries’ Local History Month events. The main thing I’m going to be talking about is researching historical places – I’ll be focusing on the North East locations that featured so prominently in the Jarrow and Durham Trilogies, and the six Tyneside Sagas.

Speaking of the Tyneside Sagas, I’m overwhelmed with how well the new Kindle edition of The Tea Planter’s Daughter is doing – currently at number 24 in Amazon.co.uk’s Kindle Bestsellers List.

Normally at events like this, I’d sign any copies of my books that you brought along with you. But I’m not sure how this works for Kindle books – maybe I can sign the back of your Kindle for you! 😉

The evening is just £3 on the door, and there’s lots of parking available as the social club is right next door to Ryton’s Summerfield store.

I hope to see you there!

Tea On Tyneside

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!

A Baby In India

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!