Guest Blog: Alison McQueen – Giveaway!

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Leave a comment for a chance to win a print copy of “Under the Jeweled Sky” (US and Canada only, please).

Under The Jewelled Sky unravels the fragile construct of a severely dysfunctional British family and watches its slow disintegration in the wake of World War II, the subsequent partition of India, and a terrible scandal.

The story is set in two locations, England and India, at two key points in history: in 1947 during the run up and aftermath of partition, and in 1957 in the lead up to the first visit to India by a serving British Prime Minister.

The tangle of politics and diplomacy during both periods seemed like a fitting backdrop to the disordered lives of the characters, with layers of deceit and half-truths and nothing being quite what it seems. In the early stages of the first draft, I somehow had it in my head that the research wouldn’t take too long, which was akin to a form of writerly denial. I should have known better; one never knows just how deep the rabbit hole will go.

The research took months, leading me inevitably to the British National Archives where I unearthed declassified documents from the 1957 Macmillan government which would have caused a great deal of diplomatic embarrassment should they have been leaked at the time.

The archives catalogue a mire of political corruption and inaction, naming names and pointing fingers of accusation. I had started out without too much idea of what I was actually looking for, only to stumble across all manner of declassified secrets, some of which ran to hundreds of pages. Very little of it ended up in the final manuscript, but still, it is an absolutely necessary part of the process, serving as a solid foundation.

I sometimes liken the research to the making of a sculptor’s maquette, or to a frame of scaffolding around a building. Ultimately you won’t see any of it, but it has to be there in the first place, otherwise nothing will hold together. The story’s environment has to feel totally authentic, and the only way to achieve that is to do the legwork and to be completely sure of the ground you are walking on.

The second timeframe, around India’s partition, took me back to a subject I have studied for years. Here in the west we all know about the holocaust, yet the business of the British hauling out of the jewel in its colonial crown was a heart-stopping moment in history too. Millions of people died, often in grotesquely brutal circumstances.

The 1947 part of the story is set partially in a maharaja’s palace. Although the fictional palace and its location are anonymous, I did have an inside track into life inside an Indian palace. In her twenties, my mother was hired as the private nurse to the Maharaja of Indore’s mother-in-law. She arrived there from Bombay and was shown to her quarters, an enormous suite in a grand building set across the grounds from the main palace.

A car was sent for her every morning, but she said that she preferred to walk. So off she would go, strolling through the grounds while the car followed along a few yards behind, driving at snail’s pace in case she should change her mind. Her breakfast would be served to her on a solid silver service, with a footman standing by should she want for anything.

From what she has told me, I am not sure that she handled it particularly well. She said that she didn’t want any fuss, which was quite the wrong way to go about things in a palace. There was also an incident when she was caught preparing her own boiled egg, which didn’t go down at all well. The cook was quite overcome with grief, and my mother never ventured to lift a finger again. I have to say, I rather like the thought of that.

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  1. Alison McQueen says:

    Thank you for the guest spot! It was a pleasure.

  2. Dawn Staniszeski says:

    I too, like the thought of that!! But then again, I am very independent so I am sure it wouldn’t last long!! Thanks for sharing today!!


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