Thursday, January 03, 2013

Setting the Scene with...Louise Allen

Award winning Harlequin Historical Author Louise Allen gives a behind the scenes glimpse at where her latest historical takes place Kolkata (Calcutta) India!


Thank you so much for inviting me to come and set the scene for my India novels.

I grew up in a home full of reminders of my father’s days in the army in India and with a smattering of Urdu words and phrases that have stuck to this day – I am still likely to mutter, ‘Jaldi, jaldi,’ when I want someone to hurry up! – and somehow I always knew I was going to write a book set in India.

The first came from wondering how a disaster would effect a group of people caught up in it.  I imagined a shipwreck and that led me to think of the East India Company’s ships plying back and forth between India and Britain – the setting for my Danger and Desire trilogy. The first, Ravished by the Rake opens in Calcutta (modern-day Kolkata) in the days before the passengers board the doomed ship.

The reality of the heat and crowds and vibrant colour of Kolkata is incredible – I thought I knew what to expect and found it almost overwhelming. And addictive.

Modern Kolkata retains many traces of the past, but none as evocative for me as South Park Street Cemetery, the British burial ground from the very earliest days of the settlement in the seventeenth century, up to the end of the nineteenth.

It is shady and filled with the sound of birdsong and the chitter of ground squirrels. Ferns and creepers scramble over memorials that would seem at home in an English churchyard and the names on the tombs tell stories of achievement, love and, very often, tragedy.

I began to write the opening chapters on the deck of a small boat sailing down the Brahmaputra as it wound slowly between wide sandbanks with children waving as they watered the cattle on the shore and the occasional white river dolphin breaking the surface.

My second India-set book dates to 1788 in Rajasthan, which meant a fabulous research trip around the great princely palaces. Many of them are hotels now and our bedroom would be bigger than the whole ground floor of our English house. I wanted to set a book at a time when the British in India were integrating into the local culture, fascinated by the arts and religions of the country.

Until about the 1820s, when missionaries and English wives arrived in force, the East India Company encouraged its officers to intermarry into noble families ad tolerated the significant number of conversions to Hinduism and Islam. The children of these marriages, and of less regular unions, were accepted and frequently educated in Britain. Gradually prejudice crept in. Sons with Indian blood were unable to take up posts with the Company, the culture and religion of the country became increasingly alien to the British and the lack of understanding between army officers and their men led at last to the complete breakdown of the Indian Rebellion – the ‘Mutiny’ – of 1857.

Forbidden Jewel of India has as its heroine Anusha, the daughter of an English merchant and an Indian princess and its hero, Nick Herriard, is an officer-diplomat with the East India Company. I spent hours with the photographs we took on our trip studying everything from the elephant stables in palaces to what a mongoose looks like when it is angry, and I write into the story some of the people we met, including this elderly village headman who greeted us, in the tradition of his tribe, with (very!) dilute opium to drink.

The sequel to Forbidden Jewel is Tarnished Amongst the Ton. The Herriards return to England with their son and daughter and that gave me the opportunity to write a love story for Ashe Herriard as he discovers a ‘home’ that is utterly strange.

I hope if you read any of these books you will catch a glimpse of the India I saw, and perhaps be tempted to visit there yourself if you do not already know and love it.

To learn more about Louise Allen and her fabulous Regency set historicals  visit her website



  1. What a fascinating glimpse into Colonial India.

    1. Thank you, Kaylee! i certainly ifnd it an exciting place and period to write about it

  2. Just found FJOI at the store and i bought it. I know there is one book to follow. Any more in the works?

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