Author Q&A: Janet Macleod Trotter
Get out the kettle and brew the perfect pot of tea while reading our interview with author Janet Macleod Trotter who chats about The Tea Planter’s Daughter, the first in her India Tea Series set in Britain and India.
Why did you chose India as your setting?
The Tea Planter’s Daughter is the first in a series about the British tea trade in the early 20th century, so I wanted to go right back to the source of its tea – India! I also had a personal reason for doing so; my grandparents lived and worked there from the 1920s to 1940s (my granddad was a forester) and my mother spent the first eight years of her life in India. I grew up on stories from my mother of her early childhood in the Punjab, such as her pacing out the entrails of a man-eating tiger shot by Granddad Bob because it had been terrorising a local village. The snarling tiger’s head used to hang in the hallway of my grandparents’ flat in Edinburgh and fascinate me and my brothers!
My grandmother, Sydney, was an adventurous, glamorous woman who left her home in Scotland and went out to India to marry a man she had had a whirlwind romance with a year previously. Sydney wrote long letters back to her parents in Edinburgh telling of hazardous treks into the foothills of the Himalayas as well as a social life of tennis and tea parties when back in the towns. Bob kept diaries and took cine films.
My heroine, Clarrie Belhaven, is also an attractive and courageous young woman who helps her beloved father run a small tea plantation in the foothills of Assam. But a lot of the action takes place in the northeast of England and the industrial city of Newcastle – an area I live in and know well.
What kind of research did you do to make the place and time period come alive?
While researching the novel, I came across my grandparents’ diaries and letters – the first person to read them in decades – and they inspired much of the background for the India Tea Series. They were a writer’s dream! Not only were they invaluable as source material but reading them brought me close to these larger than life characters who had died when I was a teenager. The icing on the cake was the black and white cine footage of their camping trips into the remote mountains. Amazingly, they took my mother too – even as a baby she went with them for months on jungle trips, hoist in a pram strung on poles!
The highlight of my research was a trip I did with my husband to stay on a real tea plantation in the Himalayan foothills. I will never forget the stunning views of Kanchenjunga in the early morning, the sight of the brightly-dressed tea pickers moving through the emerald tea bushes, making friends with some of the workers – and drinking gallons of delicious Darjeeling tea!
Gathering information on the Tyneside part of the novel was much easier. I am an enthusiastic historian of this area and the early 20th century. I was greatly helped by having access to the family archives of a local tea firm who still deliver door-to-door, just as the characters in my Edwardian novel do. Needless to say, I took the opportunity to visit traditional tea houses (such as the famous Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow) to drink a variety of teas – all in the cause of important research of course!
What tea recommendations would you make?
One of my favourite teas (and one that Clarrie would definitely serve in her tea room) would be the delicate and fragrant Darjeeling. I would recommend First Flush with its gorgeous peachy smell – and drink it without milk or lemon – the flavour should be savoured alone. For those who like their tea more robust (again Clarrie would have plenty of this for her customers) I would go for Assam breakfast tea; strong, tangy and with a dollop of milk!
Which other fictional characters would Clarrie love to host at her tea room?
This is such a fun question! First would be Scarlet O’Hara – an equally beautiful, headstrong, feisty plantation girl who has fallen on hard times. They both adored their fathers, knew how to enjoy life, though I think Clarrie was much more warm-hearted. They might share troubles of the heart and perhaps have advice for each other on how to handle handsome and demanding alpha males!
Kind-hearted Clarrie would have opened her doors to the migrant workers in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Her tea room was first and foremost for the workers of Tyneside to escape the drudgery of their everyday lives. In the same way, she would have pulled in Emily Brontë’s Heathcliffe – not the adult Heathcliffe but the young boy, who first appears in Brontë‘s novel abandoned and lonely on the streets of a northern city. She would have taken him under her wing and given him the love he so desperately needed. But then we wouldn’t have had that brilliant and tragic story, Wuthering Heights.
I also think Clarrie would have loved to entertain the Bennet sisters from Pride and Prejudice – what a lively chatter of gossip, teasing, family stories and clink of tea cups there would be!
British author Janet MacLeod Trotter has had 20 novels published, 13 of them historical family sagas set in the 20th Century. Her first, THE HUNGRY HILLS, was nominated for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, while THE TEA PLANTER’S DAUGHTER (the first in the INDIA TEA SERIES set in Britain and India) was long-listed for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year and was an Amazon top ten best seller. It has gone on to be a best-seller in Russian and French too.
Janet’s second novel in THE INDIA TEA SERIES, THE TEA PLANTER’S BRIDE (sequel to THE TEA PLANTER’S DAUGHTER) is set in 1920’s Scotland, North East England and India. It was inspired by diaries and letters that recently came to light, belonging to Janet’s grandparents who married in Lahore and lived and worked in the Punjab for nearly 30 years.
The third novel in the series, GIRL FROM THE TEA GARDEN, will be published at the end of 2016.
Find out more about Janet and her novels at www.janetmacleodtrotter.com
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