I’m so delighted today to be joining the blog tour for The Orphan of India by Sharon Maas, recently published by Bookouture in paperback and for kindle. Sharon’s books have long been on the edge of my radar – you’ll find all her titles on her Amazon author page, as well as on her website – and I’m really rather kicking myself that it’s taken me far longer than it should have done to discover her wonderful writing.
A lost child. A childless couple. Can they save each other?
Living on the streets of Bombay, Jyothi has no-one to turn to after her mother is involved in a tragic accident.
Monika and Jack Kingsley are desperate for a child of their own. On a trip to India, they fall in love with Jyothi and decide to adopt the orphan child.
The new family return to England, but Jyothi finds it difficult to adapt. As Monika and Jack’s relationship fractures, Jyothi is more alone than ever and music becomes her solace. But even when her extraordinary musical talent transforms into a promising career, Jyothi still doesn’t feel like she belongs.
Then a turbulent love affair causes her to question everything. And Jyothi realises that before she can embrace her future, she must confront her past…
The Orphan of India is an utterly evocative and heart-wrenching novel that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Perfect for fans of Dinah Jefferies, Santa Montefiore and Diane Chamberlain.
Now, I’m not always a fan of comparisons, but I’d really like to add another favourite to that list. Many will already know that I’m a massive fan of Lucinda Riley (I even spent my 60th birthday in Rio because I was so enchanted by The Seven Sisters… ). For those times when Lucinda might not be writing quickly enough – well, I’ve definitely discovered an author in Sharon Maas who impressed me for all the same reasons, and I’m really looking forward to reading more from her.
My review of The Orphan of India follows below. But first, I’m thrilled to welcome Sharon as my guest on Being Anne, to tell us more about old wine in new bottles and rewriting her backlist…
If you’re anything like me, you’re never satisfied with your writing. It’s like this: I’m good at storytelling. I can sit down and write a story straight out of my head, without notes and without an outline. The story is there, and I like it and believe in it. But then, years later, I reread what I’ve written and cringe. I know: this story needs work. It needs a new twist, a new perspective, new attire.
The good news is: in some cases, it’s not too late. I’m talking about the supposedly dead backlist: books that were published before the digital age, and have gone out of print. I had two such books, published by HarperCollins at the turn of the century, which have since faded into oblivion. And guess what: they weren’t dead at all! They could be rescued, with some skilled scalpel work, and me as the doctor.
The twenty-first century brought with it digital publishing; this, combined with the needed doctoring, helped being those two books back to life, and this year both have been sent out into the world in new and better forms. The same story, yet entirely new.
Like – I hope – all writers, I’m working on my writing skills all the time. In the fifteen-plus years since writing those books I’ve grown as a writer, better able to diagnose problems and operate on them. Rereading those old books I saw problems I had not seen before; problems that, perhaps, not even my then editor had seen.
In the case of Peacocks Dancing, my HarperColllins editor at the time of writing had seen a problem. Peacocks Dancing was my second book, published in 2001. I had published Of Marriageable Age a year before, a book many in the publishing world adored, and I was under pressure to live up to that book’s promise. My editor, I think, was disappointed with Peacocks Dancing, and so was I: it was rushed through, along with a serious flaw. The problem, as she identified it when it was too late to go back, was that it had a “broken back”. A “broken back” means that the book has two distinctive parts which don’t really fit together. In the case of Peacocks Dancing, the broken back was this: the story began in Guyana, with a main character, Rita, living her life there and having her own distinct personality. So far, so good. It works pretty well. And so does the second part, when Rita travels to India and starts looking for a young girl, Asha, sold into the sex trade. Somehow, I had to knit these two parts together, and rereading it I knew the graft just didn’t work. Something was wrong.
So when my new digital publisher, Bookouture, asked me for a book set in India, I jumped at the chance to breathe new life into Peacocks Dancing: I stripped away the Guyana part, and instead created a first half of the book that fitted the second half, so as to set the story entirely in India. The book needed a thorough gutting, though it wasn’t as hard as it sounds: all I had to do was delete Rita altogether, let one character live who had died (Caroline), kill off one character who had lived (Sundari), create a whole new main character (Janiki) and—er—well, write a whole new first half of the book!
But that wasn’t all. When it came to the second half, I encountered some more problems. The way Rita went about finding Asha just didn’t work any more. Rita had by now morphed into Janiki; I gave Janiki some detective skills, and—yippee!—they worked! Girl found, case solved. I’m my own book doctor!
As for the discarded first half of the book, set in Guyana—that is brewing on my hard drive. One day, it will emerge in its own right, as a novella, Rita and all.
My third HarperCollins book, The Speech of Angels, was my next Bookouture rewrite. This time, I felt the change didn’t have to be so radical. It’s a story of a Western couple who adopt an Indian girl; at the time of first writing it I was living in Germany, and I made the couple German and gave them a German setting. But in the intervening time I had lived ten years in the UK myself, so I knew a little bit more about what life there would be like. And so Monika and Jack Keller became Monika and Jack Kingsley: an English couple living in Brighton. I think this brings them closer to home, that is, to the UK readers who are my primary market.
They say you can’t put old wine in new bottles. The good thing about books, though, is their main ingredient: words. Words are not wine. Words are flexible. Words tell stories. Words can be improved on, and so can stories. Both books, I feel, have been reborn in new clothes, and I’m delighted that they are out there for a whole new generation of readers.
So if you have any old books slumbering on your hard drive, whether published and out of print, or never published: why not give them another look after a few years? You never know: a bit of doctoring, or even just a thorough polish, might work wonders. After all, you’re a better writer and, and you might bring it just that much nearer to perfection!
What a fascinating insight, Sharon! And talking about perfection… let me share my review of The Orphan of India…
I’ve often said that for a good book to become a book I love, it needs to capture my heart – and that’s exactly what happened with this thoroughly gorgeous book. But not only my heart – all my other senses too.
The writing is just beautiful – descriptions of India replete with smells, tastes, colours and sounds, and the music flowing through the story so perfectly described that, at times, the reader can almost hear it and feel all the emotions associated with it. And what a story – Jyothi had a place in my heart from the moment she danced amid the squalor, and I ached for her as she struggled to cope after the death of her mother. Rescued from the slums of Bombay, she’s then transplanted to England as the much-wanted child of a less than perfectly matched couple: Monika and Jack, both imperfect in their different ways, were superbly drawn, and I loved watching their relationships with Jyothi develop. The love story that builds at the book’s centre – childhood infatuation developing into adult passion – is totally and utterly convincing, beautiful but heartbreaking. And Jyothi’s quest for identity quite consumed me – her adoption of a stronger persona, when inside she remains a frightened little girl. And the music… just perfect.
This isn’t really a review, is it? I’m just telling you how much I loved it – and, I hope, some of the reasons why. When I read the final pages, leaving it was a real wrench. But if, like me, you like your reading to be an escape – a few blissful hours when you can forget everything else and immerse yourself in a totally different world – don’t miss this one, whatever you do.
My thanks to Bookouture and netgalley for my advance reading e-copy – and to Kim Nash for including me in the blog tour. You will follow the other stops, won’t you?
About the author
Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1951, and spent many childhood hours either curled up behind a novel or writing her own adventure stories. Sometimes she had adventures of her own, and found fifteen minutes of Guyanese fame for salvaging an old horse-drawn coach from a funeral parlor, fixing it up, painting it bright blue, and tearing around Georgetown with all her teenage friends. The coach ended up in a ditch, but thankfully neither teens nor horse were injured.
Boarding school in England tamed her somewhat; but after a few years as a reporter with the Guyana Graphic in Georgetown she plunged off to discover South America by the seat of her pants. She ended up in a Colombian jail, and that’s a story for another day…
Sharon has lived in an Ashram in India and as a German Hausfrau – the latter giving her the time and the motivation to finally start writing seriously. Her first novel, Of Marriageable Age, was published by HarperCollins, London, in 1999 and reprinted as a digital edition in 2014. After working as a social worker in a German hospital she finally retired and now has time for her favourite pastimes: reading, writing, and travelling.