It’s difficult to convey how excited I am to welcome Dinah Jefferies, author of Before the Rains to Linda’s Book Bag today as part of the book’s launch celebrations. I love Dinah’s writing and you can read my review of The Tea Planter’s Wife here and of The Silk Merchant’s Daughter here. I’m still to read Before the Rains as I want to savour it when I have time to immerse myself completely.
Before the Rains will be published by Penguin on 23rd February 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book and hardback from all good booksellers as well as here.
Before the Rains
1930, Rajputana, India. Since her husband’s death, 28-year-old photojournalist Eliza’s only companion has been her camera. When the British Government send her to an Indian princely state to photograph the royal family, she’s determined to make a name for herself.
But when Eliza arrives at the palace she meets Jay, the Prince’s handsome, brooding brother. While Eliza awakens Jay to the poverty of his people, he awakens her to the injustices of British rule. Soon Jay and Eliza find they have more in common than they think. But their families – and society – think otherwise. Eventually they will have to make a choice between doing what’s expected, or following their hearts. . .
An Interview with Dinah Jefferies
Photographs kindly provided by the author
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Dinah. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your latest novel Before the Rains in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Well I live in Gloucestershire with my husband and our Norfolk Terrier, Teddy, and not far from family which is lovely. I’m very family oriented and love nothing more than going on holiday with everyone. Kids keep you young I reckon. I enjoy reading and I love to travel too.
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Before the Rains?
This book is an unashamed love story set in Rajasthan India, which is the most gloriously romantic place I’ve ever been – India’s hilltop forts and ornate palaces were magical and I hope to go back. But, as is usual with my books, there is an edge. When Eliza, a photojournalist, is sent to a Princely state to photograph the royal family she’s determined to make a name for herself. But when she arrives at the palace she meets, Jay, The Prince’s handsome brooding brother. She is enchanted by him and by India but can’t ignore the shocking poverty she sees around her, nor the plight of women. Gradually she awakens to the injustices of British rule too and must find her way in this alien world. The bond between Eliza and Jay is powerful and they have much in common, but their families and society have different ideas and she is left with heart-breaking choices.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
I find the first draft the hardest part and I enjoy the editing the most. Anything is better than staring at a blank page. Mind you the whole thing is a juggling act. By the time you’re doing the publicity for one book you’re already writing the next and it’s hard sometimes to remember where you are.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I write in the mornings in my lovely new garden room. I’ve only had it for a few months and it still feels such a luxury. In the afternoons I walk the dog, do any chores and see to emails and such like. I’ll edit a little and maybe plan the next chapters. I don’t work in the evenings as I run out of energy.
The tragic death of your son at an early age has been a catalyst for your writing. Is writing a cathartic experience for you?
It isn’t cathartic but I do think the loss does inform my writing. It’s a part of who I am, so it’s a part of my work, and there is usually some kind of loss lurking at the heart of my stories.
You were born in Malaya. How far has this impacted on your choice of settings for your books as I know it influenced The Separation?
It has hugely impacted on my choice of settings. It’s as if I keep going back to the East in search of something I lost when we moved to England. Now my publisher keeps suggesting even more far flung places. It’s very exciting.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
I read massively and I watch as many films and videos as I can. Youtube can be very useful. I try to build a picture of a time and place by making endless notes until I feel as if I had actually been there at the time in question. Going to the country helps so much with detail and atmosphere. For example who knew the palaces walls were once actually studded with rubies and the like, some as large as a child’s fist. Now it’s coloured glass of course.
When I see your research travels I’m always very jealous. Which comes first – the travel and then an idea for a book or the idea and then the travel to research it?
With The Tea Planter’s Wife I had already written the first draft when I went to Sri Lanka, so I knew exactly what I was looking for while I was there and that helped enormously. But I went to Vietnam before I’d even started The Silk Merchant’s Daughter so that was very different. I guess what I’m saying is that it can be either way. I had started Before The Rains before I went to India but going there helped clarify my ideas and gave form to the hazy imaginings in my mind.
What’s your essential author travel kit when you’re travelling and researching?
Lots of notebooks, pens and my camera. Most importantly I seek out books while I’m there that I’d never have found if I hadn’t visited the country. For Before the Rains I went to Rajasthan where I found an amazing book about Indian beauty regimes which inspired a chapter of the story when Eliza is taken in hand by the concubines.
All your books feature strong women. How important is it for you to give an historical voice to women?
I am fascinated by how much changed for women during the Twentieth Century and I do enjoy going back in time to give a voice to women at different times from our own. We have come a long way in terms of women’s rights but it wasn’t always the case. I value what the past can teach us.
How do you create your characters?
First I have an idea for a character and their story and then I jot down rough notes until I can actually see him or her in my mind. During the next stage of planning I write a character synopsis for each main character based on my jottings. Usually my characters develop even further as I’m writing the first draft and I learn more about who they are.
When I read your books (and I notice Before the Rains is no different) I always get a sense of social or political injustice exposed. Is this a deliberate or incidental feature of your writing?
It’s deliberate as I think it’s important to set my stories in a social and political context in order to anchor them firmly at a particular time. It helps to create the mood and mindsets of the period.
There’s often a theme of secrecy and identity in your books. Does this reflect your own search for identity or a more general view of how society functions?
I think it reflects my own search for identity. I spent my early childhood in Malaya, and it was home to me. I felt it was where I belonged so coming to England at the age of nine left me with a sense of not fitting in. Malaya had been so warm, colourful and seductive but Worcestershire in February couldn’t have been more different. It was cold and smelt of coal smoke.
In Before the Rains, the protagonist Eliza is a photojournalist. How far does this reflect one of your own passions?
Actually it’s one of my husband’s passions and so I picked his brain rather a lot on this.
So, if you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
Before I started writing I was a painter but I hurt my shoulder and couldn’t easily paint the large abstract landscapes I liked to make. Now I paint with words and love to create visual and sensory impact in that way.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
Well, for example, I’ve just finished The Essex Serpent which I loved and I do get sent quite a number of proofs to look at and quote for too. But I have wide ranging reading tastes and love to get lost in an engaging novel.
I adore all the covers for your books. How has that style come about?
I’m happy to say that the style of the covers is entirely down to Penguin’s design team. They came up with the look and continue to develop it. I get asked for feedback but so far I’ve been delighted by what they’ve done.
If you could choose to be a character from Before the Rains, who would you be and why?
I would be Eliza because I would love to have seen Rajasthan back in the day before tourism. And also I think Jay is gorgeous and exactly my cup of tea!
And finally, Dinah, if you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Before the Rains should be their next read, what would you say?
Sink into a complex love story set in the vast deserts and fabulous palaces of Rajasthan. Sorry Linda it’s 16!
As I love your writing, I’ll let you off! Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions Dinah.
About Dinah Jefferies
Dinah was born in Malaya and moved to England at the age of nine. In 1985, the sudden death of her fourteen year old son changed the course of her life, and deeply influenced her writing. Dinah drew on that experience, and on her own childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s to write her debut novel, The Separation.
Now living in Gloucestershire with her husband and their Norfolk terrier, she spends her days writing, with time off with her grandchildren.
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