Welcome to today's interview with Alison McQueen.
1. Tell me about yourself.
I was born in London during the swinging sixties when mixed marriages were still a rarity. My mother was born in Assam in 1928. She came to England thirty years later, never meaning to stay, and met my father, a strapping great Viking of a man. He was a wonderful jazz musician.
I knew that I had a grandfather and that he had a farm in Africa, but I never met him. He existed only as a single photograph in my mother’s album. My father was an effectively an orphan, having been dumped on the steps of a Barnardo’s home at the age of five. With so little information about who I was and where my family came from, it’s little wonder I became a writer.
2. And what your new book, Under a Jeweled sky is about?
Under The Jewelled Sky is a tragic tale of love and loss set in the dying embers of the British Raj. The story 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 scandal with terrible consequences.
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.
Under the Jeweled Sky explores the inevitability of lost innocence, the urgent connection in our stars, and how far we'll go to pursue our destiny.
3. What was the inspiration behind this book?
Under The Jewelled Sky was inspired by memories of my mother’s friends; the women I would eavesdrop on, the hushed voices and grave expressions passed over teacups. My mother’s friends had grown up (many of them in India) in the days before such things were openly spoken of, but it was all there: domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies, addiction, ruin, and occasional salvation.
Bad marriages were commonplace, but divorce was unthinkable, and the brittle veneers of fake harmony were part of the everyday landscape. Morals and ethics were knotted up with religious doctrine and stiff upper lip. Respectable people did not wash their laundry in public, nor did they question what went on behind the closed doors of their neighbours’ houses.
Part of the story is set 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.
4. What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on another novel set partially in India and touching upon a subject that remains one of the last taboos. The draft is still at an early stage which means that my house is awash with scraps of paper and cryptic messages that I will have no hope of understanding when they eventually surface. Creating a first draft is utter torture.
5. What are some of your own personal favorite books?
There are so many wonderful books out there and if I lived to be a hundred years old there still wouldn’t be enough time to even scratch the surface. I have a habit of returning to the classics; Daphne’s du Maurier’s wonderful Rebecca, The tragic Great Gatsby, Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales. When I read I really want to feel something. There is nothing to beat a great story beautifully written.
1 copy of Under a Jeweled Sky
1. US only
2. Ends Feb 8
3. Just enter
PS.1 new rules: If your profile leads to google+ you have to put your email or twitter name in the comments (cos I will not spend hours tracking someone down on google+. Also please do check that your profile doesn't lead to an empty page. How would I ever find you? it has happened)
PS.2. I will have the review up on Tuesday and as Alison said, it was a tragic tale, and I sure enjoyed it too. So you all will have to wait for that.
Where to find Alison:
Website & blog: