My guest on Being Anne today is author Ravinder Randhawa: her latest novel, The Coral Strand, was published by Troubadour earlier this year, and is available for kindle and in paperback. It’s a story of English winters and Indian summers, moving from the cold streets of modern Britain to the glamorous, turbulent and impassioned world of 1940’s Mumbai. So when looking for a subject for a guest post, I suggested looking at settings. Over to Ravinder…
‘Mordor. Mordor.’ The name literally drips evil and darkness. Mordor is the stronghold of Sauron, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It’s no surprise that Sauron is also known as the Dark Lord of Mordor. Setting and character dramatising each other.
Settings can be as meaningful, mysterious or fantastical as the characters in a story: a dynamic combination, where each acts upon the other. As well as a partnership where each reflects the other. Wuthering Heights would be nothing without the Yorkshire Moors or Harry Potter without Hogwarts.
I doubt anything’s ever been written (though happy to be proved wrong) which doesn’t have a setting, a time period or some kind of location – even Dr. Who has the Tardis. The Twilight Saga has the prosaic sounding Forks, Washington; The Hunger Games has the depersonalising, district 13; the novels of Charles Dickens have grim Victorian England; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has the mythical land of Narnia, and Game of Thrones raises the stakes with a multiplicity of kingdoms and their settings.
Settings have two important functions: as anchors and alchemists. Anchoring, grounds the story, whether it’s one, two or more settings. Through descriptions and events, the reader becomes familiar with them and emotionally engaged. The ‘alchemy’ is the ‘chemical’ reaction between setting and character, and becomes one of the drives which propels the story. In Macbeth, when King Duncan comes to stay at Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth sees it as the perfect opportunity for her husband to capture the Kingship, and incites Macbeth into murdering him. Poor King Duncan. Murdered by the alchemy of setting and ambition.
Those beloved Chalet School stories (definitely loved by the diehards amongst us), are a prime example of stories having to move their settings, because of the political events occurring in their period. The stories start off in Austria, but with the rise of the Nazi party, move to Guernsey; from there to ‘Plas Howell’, a house on the border of England and Wales, then to St. Briavels, another house near the border, and finally to mountainous Switzerland. When I think of the Chalet School stories I always imagine snowy mountains and rugged terrains, as if the dangers of plots and rivalries within the school, were echoed in the surroundings.
Settings are often the catalyst for a story – as in my first novel, A Wicked Old Woman, in which Britain and London become forces acting on the characters. The setting generates the story as much as the characters themselves, providing challenges, questions and dilemmas.
One of my other novels, The Coral Strand, is set partly during the British Raj in India. The Raj is often seen as romantic, exotic and rather harmless, when in fact, all empires exist by the use of brutality, force and oppression: subjugating the citizens and appropriating the country’s wealth. Just look at Star Wars or The Hunger Games trilogy. The women protagonists in The Coral Strand, both Indian and English, have to struggle for survival in a setting that’s merciless and vengeful.
Settings can spark a story, or influence it with history, injustice, or secrets; provide contrast or beauty. Who can forget Middle-earth in The Hobbit, or Elizabeth Bennet walking through the grand rooms of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, and that unexpected, dramatic meeting with Mr. Darcy.
Each year, Sita makes a mysterious journey to the Mausoleum, the place of dark memories and warped beginnings. She goes to spy on Emily and Champa, the strange ‘guardians’ she once escaped, and on whom she had taken a daring revenge. This year proves to be fatefully different… This year, the terrible secrets of the past are starting to emerge; secrets that inexorably link the three women to each other, to the grey-eyed stranger Kala, and to an altogether different world – the glittering, violent and passionate world of 1940’s Mumbai.
Ravinder Randhawa’s women, caught in a desperate fight for survival, cross taboos and forbidden lines in this richly plotted novel, imbued with fascinating historical detail, and the beauties of place and period. Readers of modern and historical novels alike will enjoy Randhawa’s evocative portrait of the compelling relationship between Britain and India, which continues to enthrall and engage us.
About the author
Ravinder Randhawa is an acclaimed author and blogger. She was born in India, grew up in leafy Warwickshire, now lives in London; agrees with the old saying from Samuel Johnson (in a non-gender way of course) “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Loves a really good cup of coffee and is currently into Scandi noir.
Ravinder is the author of A Wicked Old Woman, the young adult novel Beauty and the Beast and the highly praised The Coral Strand, the short story collection Dynamite and is currently working on her next novel.
She is also the founder of The Asian Women Writers Workshop (later known as the Asian Women Writer’s Collective), which published two major collections: Right of Way (1989) and Flaming Spirit (1994). The Collective’s work has been archived by South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive (SADAA) here.