Friday, 26 April 2013

Is There a Novel in Your Family?

As everybody tells you ideas for novels can come from just about anywhere – news items, magazine articles, films, music, other books, conversations overheard – and crucially from families. A story from my own family gave me the inspiration for the novel I’m currently writing.

My parents met when my mother was sixteen and my father two years older. They both lived in London, my mother in Acton and my father next door in Ealing. They met at a local dance hall which was not unusual at the time. I suppose they must have known each other four years or so before my father, who had joined the Royal Artillery as a fifteen year old boy, was posted with his regiment to India. He was stationed on the plains at Allahabad. The two of them wrote to each other - I’m not sure how often - but over the next six years my dad gradually climbed the army ranks to become a sergeant at the age of twenty-eight. At last he could afford a wife and he asked my mum to come out to India and marry him.

To our 21st century minds, that sounds simple. But my mother was a highly nervous woman and had never travelled further from London than Southend or on anything more exciting than a train. The fact that she found her way to Southampton, boarded a troop ship there, and sailed the seas for three weeks to a country that could only have been a word to her, still amazes me. And don’t forget she hadn’t seen her new husband for six years! My father met her in Bombay/Mumbai and they were married on the 18th April, 1937, at St John’s Afghan Church in the leafy suburb of Colaba with two soldiers as witnesses. I have their marriage certificate in my desk drawer.


These are photographs of St John’s. The church fell into disrepair, I believe, after Indian independence but has now been restored to its former glory. It gave me a thrill to see how beautiful it was and to imagine my mum and dad walking down that aisle together. It was a story I couldn’t resist.

My heroine, Daisy Driscoll, is a working class girl – as my mother was. She embarks on the same journey to Bombay and she marries a soldier in the same church in 1938. But that’s when the similarities end. I can’t allow Daisy to enjoy the forty-seven years of happy marriage that my mother did - that wouldn’t make a good mystery/crime novel!