I returned from an amazing trip to India all the more excited about possible future projects not just because my ‘on the ground’ research was more fruitful than I expected, but because I’d been able to experience that critical connection to history that will (I hope) provide the window I need to reimagine the past. I’d felt this connection once before, in Venezuela, and it provided me the impetus for writing my first Ursula Marlow mystery, Consequences of Sin.
For a historical mystery writer, I need to feel a connection to the history I’m writing about. I want to convey the sensory experience of what it would have been like to live in another era and for that I need some means of accessing the past on a personal level to enable the true ‘reimagining’ process to begin. This is easy for me in a place like England where family ties already establish that connection, but much harder when I consider other places and eras to which I have little in the way of understanding or connection.
I wasn’t sure what I’d find on my trip to India (apart from obviously some very beautiful places – see the photo of the Taj Mahal above – which is awe-inspiring – and the sharp contrast between poverty and luxury – also evident in Agra just streets away from the Taj Mahal). I certainly wasn’t sure what my reaction would be to the place or its history.
As it turned out, I was surprised how easily I felt an affinity to those Europeans who arrived in India during the late 18th and early 19th centuries (the period that I had, not surprisingly, been researching with a future novel in mind). Although many historical places were difficult to isolate against the noise, traffic and bustle of modern life in India, I had no trouble reimagining what it must have once been like. I also found that I was beginning to inhabit the mind and imagination of some of the characters I had begun to sketch out in my head before my trip, and so much of what I saw, smelled, and heard could be accessed through the prism of their thoughts and background, not just my own.
One of the most surprisingly things to come out of my research was that the place I had originally believed would be the initial setting for my story (Hyderabad) was totally displaced by my experiences in another city (Udaipur – photo to the right) and I saw quite clearly my characters inhabiting this landscape and not the one I had previously envisaged (only downside, a whole new set of history books to read!).
One of the best things about travel is that it rarely provides the experience you expect – and it’s in the unexpected that I find the greatest inspiration.
So now I’m back, I just need to get down to the business of actually writing. In the meantime, I’d love to hear some TKZers’ unexpected travel and research experiences – how have they inspired your writing?