When Soumi asked me for a guest post on why and how I started writing a book based in South Asia, my mind went a bit blank. To be honest, it kind of happened over a long period, and several rewrites. To say the story pulled me in that direction seems like a weak reason, but it also happens to be quite true.
It started with the Indus River Valley.
Actually, that’s not true. It started with a line from a book about Queen Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur, and one of England’s most enduring legends. It started with the book Memoirs of a Geshia, which I was reading at the time. And it started with my fascination with caste systems. Originally, I wanted to write a book with elements of both Japanese and Indian culture, but the story had other ideas.
I don’t remember why I started researching the Indus Valley civilization, (also called Harappan) although I think it has something to do with the idea of a lost city I was playing with at the time. For a long time, people thought there was some great mystery about the disappearance of the Indus civilization, but now many scholars think they moved south and dispersed.
But once I started looking, I became fascinated with it, with the brick cities and craftsmanship and the advances they had made. It was such a rich period in history, I read everything I could get my hands on about the Harappan culture. I could never find as much information as I wanted, and as far as novels went, I found very few books set in any kind of pre-colonization India.
I felt like that was a sad thing. And before I knew it, there were brick buildings and teak forests in the City of a Thousand Dolls and almost everything that had been purely East Asian in the worldbuilding disappeared.
The other thing that happened was that my husband went to India for a trip and visited several orphanages. He was struck by how many girls there were, far more than boys. The people running the orphanage told him that many of the girls were not orphans, but had been left there by their parents. There were a lot of reasons for that--often it was to protect the girl--but it made me think hard about what happens to girls all over the world when parents cannot afford or do not want them. And so the City of a Thousand Dolls became a safe place for girls.
Over and over again, the story led me back to India. I decided to put in a nomadic tribe of people based on Romani (gypsy) culture. And it was only after I had put them in, that I discovered that there’s evidence that the Romani people actually came from northern India.
So to answer Soumi’s question, I set the story in a South Asian based culture because the story wanted to be there. I aslo fell in love with the richness of pre-colonization India and thought there should be more stories set in that kind of world. I tried to do as much research as I could with lots of different sources. And I learned a lot about how to write a different culture respectfully. (I’m still learning.)
I know that there is more amazing complexity in South Asian culture than I will ever be able to do justice to, but it’s been a wonderful experience and I hope to explore more in further books.
About The Author : Miriam Forster learned to read at the age of five, wrote her first story at the age of seven and has been playing with words ever since. Her debut novel, CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS is being published by HarperCollins.
In her daily life, Miriam is a wife, a terrible housekeeper and a dealer of words at the local bookshop. In her internal life, she imagines fight scenes, obsesses about anthropology, nature shows and British television, and reads far too many books.
Miriam is represented by Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Agency