This morning it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Julia Gregson, author of East of The Sun, a historical fiction novel talking about English women that traveled to India in the ’20’s to find husbands that were known as “The Fishing Fleet”.
1. In the time between the 1920’s and present day, what changes do you see that were positive or negative for women living and working in India?
When I interviewed a woman of ninety who had been in India in the 1920’s, she gave me a marvelously succinct answer to this interesting question:
She said:’ in those days, we had no keys: no keys to a house, or a husband, or a career or a car- most of our futures entirely depended on finding a husband. It was either that or live at home with Mummy and Daddy. Compare that to the keys my neighbor’s daughter owns. She’s 25, has her own car, is about to graduate as a doctor, has her own bank account, and as part of her course has been encouraged to spend three months working in a clinic in Darjeeling. At the moment she’s backpacking around Southern India with three other female university friends. I’ve just received an ecstatic e-mail- The Memsahibs would have been horrified!! But how much more fun. I do think we sometimes take our freedoms for granted
2. In the book, you mentioned that women who didn’t manage to get married were called “Returned Empty”, when they returned to England what happened to them? Were they ostracized because they came back unmarried or did they overcome their labeling?
It would depend what happened to them: some would go on to marry in England; some would remain spinsters and have to go back to living with their, often reluctant families. Those in the latter category might think back wistfully to their time in India, and wonder whether they’d chosen well when they’d refused that dance with that ancient Colonel in Shimla. But that opens up a whole new can of worms: better to be an unhappy wife or an unfulfilled daughter ?
3. What prompted you to be a writer whether it was writing for a magazine / paper or writing a book? (question from my son).
I tried lots of different jobs before I became a writer: I looked after horses in Australia; worked as a shearer’s cook, a nanny, a secretary, a receptionist, but when I started writing, it was like all the lights coming on. I’d found what I wanted to do, mostly, I think because I knew I would never get bored.
4. What is your next project? When can we expect it?
I’m working on a book set in 1942 -3, which takes place in Cairo, Beirut and Turkey. It’s called, ‘Jasmine Nights’ I’ve been working on it today.
5. Do you still do freelance work?
The occasional article, but not much. At the moment- I’m working on my new book.
6. If you could write about anything at all, what would it be?
I enjoyed the variety my life as a journalist, but the very best thing about being a novelist, is that you can choose what you write about.
7. What made you want to write about that particular period of time in East of the Sun? What has changed since that time?
I thought it was such an interesting time in India’s history. Gandhi, had (in 1922) taken over the leadership of the Indian National Congress. It was a time of great change: Throughout the twenties he campaigned tirelessly to ease poverty, increase economic self reliance; to end the unjustness of the caste system, but, above all, he wanted to achieve Swaraj- the independence of India from foreign domination. Some of the English understood all too well that the writing was on the wall, others were in complete denial.
8. Were the women that were part of the “Fishing Fleet” surprised when they arrived in India in regards to the country and way of life that was there compared to life in England?
Servants, bigger houses, travel, adventures: some aspects of life in India were so seductive. It was, for many a far freer life and more luxurious than life in England. But for some women, the price of being in India was high: they got homesick, they got stuck in remote places with husbands often working hard and far away; their children got sick and died, or they had to be sent home, often as young as four or five, to be educated in England. Others had a whale of a time there. One woman I knew well, got this dreamy expression on her face when she spoke of her time there. ‘I can still smell it,’ she told me, ‘that mixture of dust and perfume and cow dung. I know I’ ll miss India for the rest of my life.’
Thank you Julia for answering the questions!! It certainly has changed since those times so long ago, but it gives us pause to see where we have come from, to where we are now.
I’ll post the winners of the East of The Sun Giveaway later on as well as my review.