Author Archives: Sophie

This Book is Dedicated

I’ve always been fascinated by dedications in books. There’s the intriguing possibility that they are clues to something hidden. Probably private. Possibly intense. Potentially the whole reason for the book. Thrilling or what?

stuffed bookcase

This is the second time I’ve returned to the subject in this blog. First time round I wrote about a range of books, only some of which I knew really well. No, let’s be honest. One of which I detested.

This time I’m writing about one of my great loves. Twice, under pressure of space, I’ve cleared out copies from my bookshelf, believing that I wouldn’t need to read them again. Twice I’ve bought new copies.

Which Work?

Dedicated to Dorothy GanapathyThis is a dedication which intrigues me enormously. I was reminded of it by the recent sad news that  Tim Pigott-Smith has died. He played the ambiguous and haunting villain Merrick in the BBC’s epic series about the end of the Raj, The Jewel In the Crown. 

The series was based on Paul Scott’s mighty Raj Quartet. 

Paul Scott dedicatorDedicated by Whom?

In the 1950s Scott was a literary agent at Pearl, Pollinger and Hingham (which became David Higham Associates) and a middling sort of novelist. I fell over him by picking up The Chinese Love Pavilion in the library and finding a story that was equally alienating (I had never even imagined such people — well, men — existed and it took me a while to come to terms with that fact that they did) and compelling. In spite of the alienating gender, the novel held me spellbound in its drama, its feeling for landscape and climate, its sheer conviction.

Something about his style, too, fascinated me and I read more until at last I came to the Jewel in the Crown. No longer alienated, I couldn’t stop reading, until I had finished the last volume.

Origins of the Raj Quartet

In the early 60s, Scott began to plan what became the Raj Quartet. Professor Peter Green recalls in his touching and illuminating consideration of the quartet that it was originally meant to be one book. Then in the middle of The Day of the Scorpion, (book 2, published 1968) it became three, before coming to rest at four with The Towers of Silence (1971) and A Division of the Spoils (1975).

Dedicated to the RIASC?

Richard Dimbleby, with Royal Indian Army, Syria, 1942

Scott had been an air supply captain in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC) in India from 1942. So he had witnessed in situ the crucial period following the fall of Singapore, and the resulting military, social, racial and political crises of the faltering Raj. But — memory is not always reliable and, anyway, a junior rank soldier’s experience was not sufficient for his grand purpose in planning his epic on personal relationships, moral conflicts and identity crises of his huge cast.

Dedicated to Whom?

His publishers, Heinemann, arranged for him to go back to India for 6 weeks’ research in 1964. (Those were the days!) Dorothy Ganapathy, “the best of hostesses” , looked after him in Bombay. Scott dedicated Book 1, The Jewel in the Crown (1966) to her. No explanation, no specific thanks, just the name.

incl dedicated to Dorothy GanapathyPreliminary digging is tantalising. According to Zareer Masani in Indian Tales of the Raj, her father was Sir Hari Singh Gaur, Leader of the Opposition in the Central Legislative Assembly. In the 1930s she herself earned a degree from Durham University. She married a colonel in the Indian Medical Service. But neither of them was permitted to go into the Europeans-only Adyar Club in Madras, to her justified contempt. And she bitterly despised the under-educated memsahibs for patronising her own use of English, which was far superior to their own.

A Falling Out

Letter including Dedicated ToMost intriguing of all, though, is that, while Scott and Mrs Ganapathy clearly developed a close friendship during his time in India, they also had a mega falling out, as revealed in his own letters, edited in 2 volumes by Janis Haswell.

He reports that she suddenly gave him a “terrible slap in the face”. The cause? Scott had been considerate to her estranged sister. Mrs Ganapathy expected him to be 100% on her side in the dispute. In her view, he had let her down. She accused him of disloyalty, and labelled it typically British.

So maybe he dedicated the book to her for more than her great kindness to him in Bombay. Maybe it was a way of making amends, too.

There is clearly a good deal of further research to do here. I have not read Hilary Spurling’s biography, for instance, which I really want to do. Although first I want to re-read the whole Raj Quartet. Maybe this time I might even re-read the coda, which won the Booker Prize and I never really enjoyed: Staying On. 

Dedicated WHY?

Dedicated Ganapathy

But at this stage I am telling myself a story about the dedication. It’s not even a working hypothesis of a decent bit of research. It’s pure fictional What If. And I’m enjoying, so I will share.

For I, too, am writing a book which turned from one to two, maybe three, who knows … And in that process, people have touched my imagination in ways I never foresaw. And they send me off down new roads into the past.

They show me unsuspected aspects of my characters and even wholly new players in the story.

One Possible Story

So what if Mrs Ganapathy was one of those? She sounds as if she had the fire to do it. She and Scott were in India at the same time, moving in very different circles, but looking out from their circle to all those others. What if six weeks of her conversation drew the curtain on those other dimensions he had seen but not understood?

Zohra Segal, Lady Chatterjee in BBC’s Jewel in the Crown

I see her as inspiring the beautiful English of Hari Kumar, which inspires one of the saddest and most profound moments of the books. I see her and her sister with their pre-war memories, giving him Lady Chatterjee. She is opinionated, wise, and morally certain. She is equally sympathetic and terrifying. Yet even she is not wholly comfortable in her changing world.

Except for the innocents, like missionary teacher Barbie Batchelor, identity is a matter of constant compromise and negotiation.

Oh, and a bonus — the late and wondrous Zohra Segal who played Lady Chatterjee on television, had a life to rival anyone in Scott’s epic saga.

 

Crossing Cultures and an Author Panel

Author panel participants

Earlier this month a publisher invited me to chair an Author Panel. There were four of them, all just publishing that difficult second novel. We were to meet at Waterstone’s Piccadilly and they would discuss Love and Romance Across Cultures. Their own experience and writing gave them the basic material. It sounded a blast. But I havered… Continue reading

dedicated to the one I love

Dedicating to the One You Love – or Are You?

 

Trumpets dedicating

Dedicating a book to someone is powerful. It’s an announcement with trumpets.

We’ve all read the thanks that go on for several pages. They embrace everyone from the author’s family, agent and editor, to anyone who gave them help with research or did the typing.

Justified? Probably. Sincere? Mostly. But a dedication? No. Continue reading

Suspend disbelief? Unancounced ghost

Disbelief and Our Willingness to Suspend it

Coleridge author of Suspension of Disbelief It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he of Ancient Mariner fame, who coined the phrase “suspension of disbelief” in 1817 in his Biographia Literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions. He did so referring to his contribution, more than twenty years earlier, to  the Lyrical Ballads. Published in 1798, these are generally taken to mark the start of the romantic movement in English literature. William Wordsworth wrote most of them, of course.

Suspending Disbelief to Embrace Marvels

Continue reading

Buffy, Her Librarian, Fellow Feeling and a Little Love

Buffy's Librarian 20th AnniversaryOn the 20th anniversary of Buffy, I want to celebrate the character who really got to me from the series — Buffy’s Librarian.

I’ve been tripping over fans’ favourite moments, measured academic evaluations, quotations, issues, the sheer energy of the fantasy, in the most unlikely places. Continue reading

That Unique Moment – Making a Story Special

That unique moment — we all know what it is when we come across it in a book or a movie, an opera. We recognise it the moment we see it.

smell evokes memoryAlthough feel it would probably be a better word. And sometimes we don’t even realise what it was until we’re describing the story to someone else.

Lots of people try to analyse it. But essentially, it’s visceral. More like a fleeting scent or a snatch of music than anything we can explain. Continue reading

Be My Valentine? I Don’t Think So

old laptop with valentineWhen email was new and spam was something you found in school lunches, I once got a message on my hefty laptop headed “Be My Valentine?”

I deleted it, unopened.

With a shudder. And I’d never even heard of viruses then. I just didn’t want to go there. Continue reading

Celebrating the Remarkable, Against the Odds

remarkable Claire Lorrimer

This week I went to a celebration of the extraordinary life of Patricia Denise Clark, whom I knew as distinguished romantic novelist, Claire Lorrimer. It would have been her 96th birthday. It was unforgettable — a truly remarkable occasion. Continue reading

Imperfection for Writers: Good? Bad? Challenging?

 

imperfection in writing and discarded pages

Imperfection sounds bad. Yet I know all about the dangers of perfectionism. But somehow, when it comes to my writing, I never quite believe them.

It feels too easy, like part of that “everyone gets a prize” approach which I deeply mistrust. The sort of thing that makes teachers say, “Ermintrude is too easily satisfied.” Continue reading

Serendipitous Discovery — Just By Chance?

Horace Walpole coined serendipity and serendipitousLike serendipitous, serendipity is one of my favourite words, both for its sound and its meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

And, like Brexiteer, post-truth and quidditch, it was a coinage. On this occasion the person responsible was gossipy Horace Walpole — another of my favourites. He was extrapolating from the now largely forgotten Persian fairy tale of the Three Princes of Serendip.

A present from the Universe, in fact!

Serendipity and Discovery

You could say that Columbus’s discovery of America was serendipitous. He was looking for a western route to Japan, after all. Continue reading