What does a writer get when they take two places and contrast them? A double-whammy of a setting and a great foundation for a story. In my novel THE GIANTS LOOK DOWN Jaya, a Hindu girl from Kashmir, wants to become a doctor much to the chagrin of her mother and the patriarchal society of 1960s. Halfway through the story a catastrophe befalls her and she is transplanted to Scotland.
With its rugged coastline, highlands, gentle mountains, lochs and the towering castle of Edinburgh, Scotland has always exerted a magnetic force on me. Often dismal and grey and surrounded by slatey sea, it is, however, always atmospheric. What might contrast suitably with this, I asked myself? Why, the Vale of Kashmir- a landlocked paradise on the other side of the globe bursting with colour and flowers overlooked by the highest mountains on this planet! Yet on closer inspection, the two proved not as different as I thought. Pictures of purple saffron-filled fields competed with the heather-swathed highlands and lochs were mirrored in the necklace of lakes that spans the vale.
My Kashmiri protagonist must have found Scotland initially grey and colourless, considering the weather, the different flora, the buildings and what people wore. As a vegetarian, she missed the exotic fruit and veg she found at the floating market in Srinagar or on the sweltering streets of Delhi. In place of the scent of lotus blossoms, she could smell sea air or heather. Scotland, often whipped by a bracing wind due to its coastline and a damp cold that defies all clothing and bores its way through to your bones, would be a shock to someone used to the dryness of more extreme winters and the protection of the majestic mountain ranges. Their soaring peaks lent my book the title: THE GIANTS LOOK DOWN.
At barely 16, Jaya would indeed experience a real culture shock. What would a Hindu, who worshipped thousands if not tens of thousands of colourful gods, make of a vicar talking of one God and damnation in a Church of Scotland founded on Calvinist and Presbyterian traditions? Yet in her homeland religion was also a knife used by Pakistan, India and China to cut up a veritable paradise on Earth. Kashmir, once an independent state, has had to bow to the British, the Indians and the Pakistanis. There have been two wars fought over it since Partition and the Vale is now part of India despite being predominantly Muslim. Jaya was used to curfews and a place scarred by warfare, whereas Scotland was peaceful albeit regular mumblings of referendums on independence.
Jaya’s reaction to the settings gives the readers an insight into her character and is a powerful motor for my story of displacement, determination and love. A girl who had never been alone in a room with a man apart from family members had to deal with the attentions of the handsome but older son of the family she is staying with. Was she ultimately able to navigate the rapids of love in a foreign culture and conquer the trauma of her own past? Did she have to give up love to fulfil her vision of becoming a doctor in Kashmir and building a clinic high up in the mountains? Well if you want to find out that, you’ll have to read the book!
I live in Somerset but am always hopping on and off planes because I teach English at Jena University in Germany. I studied at the University of East Anglia and completed a PhD in English Literature. I’m a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and my short stories have appeared in Stories For Homes, the Shelter Anthology of Short Stories and In these Tangles, Beauty Lies, an anthology in aid of the Beanstalk Trust for children with reading difficulties. My debut novel The Giants Look Down came out in 2016 and made me a finalist for the Joan Hessayon Award just like Heidi!
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