Varanasi: holy city of the Ganges.
In this land of ancient temples, incense and snake charmers…
Where the monsters and heroes of the past come to life…
One slightly geeky boy from our time…
IS GOING TO KICK SOME DEMON ASS.
Ash Mistry hates India. Which is a problem since his uncle has brought him and his annoying younger sister Lucky there to take up a dream job with the mysterious Lord Savage. But Ash immediately suspects something is very wrong with the eccentric millionaire. Soon, Ash finds himself in a desperate battle to stop Savage's masterplan – the opening of the Iron Gates that have kept Ravana, the demon king, at bay for four millennia…
Research and the truth about your writing
I love researching for a new story. I love reading history books and visiting places and talking with people as I’m growing an idea for a new book. In fact, the actual book is almost just an excuse to do the above.
A friend of mine will spend months and months absorbing the minutiae of a medieval farmer’s existence before writing a single word. But by the time he starts he came describe what the man had for breakfast and the date of a dozen saints’ days and how to build a reed boat. That works for him and the books are totally immersive.
As long as I’ve got the dates roughly right and the right people in the right place, that’s me good to go.
It takes about six months to get all the bits falling into place. With Ash Mistry it took a lot longer because I went way too far. Research is not story and you don’t win prizes for showing off how much you know. You win them for a great story and that, my friends, takes a huge chunk of making things up. Fiction, in other words.
I knew the story, a British-born Asian boy goes on holiday to India and fights a whole bunch of demons. The research was broken down into the following rough chunks:
Setting. Okay, we’ve got India, but where? It’s a big place. Fortunately I was able to rely on the ‘write what you know’ and I knew Varanasi, India’s holiest city. It was exotic, ancient. The old city was a labyrinth of narrow alleys and hidden temples. The river was lined by the burning ghats and, most importantly, there was this amazing maharajah’s palace down river. But setting is more than just geography and a few buildings. It’s the atmosphere. It’s the feel of the place. You want the reader to breathe the spices and dust and feel the heat and crowds. That meant a visit out there (no real hardship) and getting down feet first on the streets I wanted to write about. I found out who gets cremated and who doesn’t. I found out what crocodiles inhabit the reeds on the river bank. I re-visited the old, dilapidated maharajah’s palace with a writer’s eye, looking at where events in the book might happen and how far the river was from the battlements and what other buildings lay nearby. How far was it from the city? I was there a week, just walking and chatting and making notes. I took the train and watched the porters sleeping under their thin shawls on the platforms and the vendors delivering curry as the train rolled in at 4am. Not all of it went in (some I’m saving for book 2). Maybe 30%? But it gave me the confidence to write what I wanted to write and, if there were gaps (and there always is) how best to cover them with something that felt right.
|The goddess Kali|
Gaah! Now I'm watching over my shoulder for Ravana and Kali - thanks, Sarwat. Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress is out now from all good bookshops and online. But also, Sarwat has worked hard with his publisher and they've put together such a fab new website for Ash. Do check it out - the artwork I have linked in the blog is from there. The photos for Varnassi and Harappa I've sourced from tourist sites online.