Synopsis - fresh new fiction
Sonia's life has disintegrated. It’s over before she has experienced any real challenges, or appreciation. Two ancestors have connections in the subcontinent and she's desperate enough to try something uncharacteristically adventurous. She wants to see what her ancestors have seen. She travels to an unspoilt village in the Gangetic Plains of West Nepal, close to Lucknow and Kanpur, fleeing the drizzle of late autumn in England to arrive in the deliciously luxuriant post-monsoon ‘spring.’ She has been assured she will enter a truly caring community where it is possible to survive and even love life without retail therapy and with few material possessions. Naive Sonia nevertheless is shocked to find there is no electricity, water has to be pulled from the earth with a handpump and the loo is a hole in the ground.
Illiterate downtrodden Guliya, mother of many children, is Sonia's hostess. The two women seem different at first, but thirty-something Sonia slowly realises that there are parallels in the two women's lives. Under the guidance of Guliya and the dashing young Mr Rekraj Dickshit, Sonia gets involved with the small community, a community in flux. Castes are at odds with each other – as ever. Slavery had been abolished only a couple of years before and the villagers are still struggling to find roles that will ensure a full belly throughout the year. Rekraj sees ill-omens, there are earth-tremors and he understands that Lord Shiva is angry.
Guliya’s teenage daughter, Moti, takes Sonia on a small pilgrimage into the mountains and the English woman is moved by the Nepali’s faith and spirituality. The idyll is shattered though and the trip turns into more of an adventure than Sonia bargained for.
The 93,000-word narrative is told from the points of view of Sonia and also of the Nepalis she lives with. We see the idiocy and pointless anxiety of Westerners as described by the Nepalis, contrasted with the Brit’s initially patronising view of the primitiveness, lack of sophistication and undemonstrativeness in the villagers. The imagery and detail of the lives of people of different castes comes from the author’s six-year stay in Nepal. It is a life-affirming read and forms a fictional sequel to A Glimpse of Eternal Snows.
Feedback from readers
"I loved the atmospheric writing and the characters. It’s really evocative and completely sensuous - love the smells of the woodsmoke and the cumin in the first chapter. And it is brilliant how you describe Sonia's appearance through Rekraj's eyes. Gives us a picture of her that shows what he values as well as what she looks like. A very economical and subtle solution to the problem of description, shown, not told." Margaret Spence
“The characters are delightful, especially the way the Nepalese see things so, so differently . . .” Sally Radnor, Cambridge Writers.
"there is much to recommend this atmospheric first novel"
"enjoyed and quickly drawn in to the emotion of the journey... intrigued... " Jane Bailey
Opening of Snowfed Waters
I was wrenched awake, at the tail-end of a stifled scream. I fought my way up from a deep dark dream. ‘Who’s there?!’
Heart thumping, mouth open, I strained to catch the tiniest sound. Nothing was there. The scream had been mine. I felt for the reassuring swirls of the amulet at my neck.
Fidgeting allowed me to feel the reassuring softness of the muslins against my sweat-dampened face. I caught my breath. Remembered - finally - where I was. My hand went to the reassuring swirls of the amulet at my neck. At first I could hear nothing but my heartbeat. Then the silence was punctuated by little scratchings and ferrettings.
I didn't want to move from the safety of the covers but I had to go. No choice. My bladder was full to bursting. That was what had woken me. I must've slept for quite a while. I cursed my own timidity. I’d been too scared to use that hole-in-the-ground toilet before I’d settled for the night. Should've gone then. Stupid not to have.
Imagining the awful things my hand might meet in the dark, I reached out for the hurricane lamp and felt cold metal and disgusting oiliness. I groped for matches. I struck one and the room unfolded as it flared. I was transfixed by the miracle of being able to see again. I checked the shadowy corners of the cell-like room. Nothing.
The match burned my fingers and I dropped it. Darkness again. Unidentifiable noises again. Small feet were scampering over the floor. I smelled phosphorus and burnt skin. I sat up. I swung my legs around so I was perched on the edge of my strange string bed. I bent down again for the matches; struck another; turned up the wick; raised the lamp-glass; lit the lamp. There. I was really quite competent. I could do this. I held the light high so that I could see my way to the silent, deserted outside. The area where the women had been cooking was clean and tidy. All the hens were under baskets. Everyone was asleep. I wouldn’t need to use the lean-to. I could just pee in the vegetable patch.
Carefully I picked my way between big leaves that sprouted from the ground. I found a gap, I set down the lamp and squatted. Relief at last. But then as my stream slowed, I registered sounds coming from the verandah. Something was moving over there. It sounded large. Maybe several nocturnal creatures were hunting - hunting me?
The reality was worse.
I’d assumed this was the middle of the night and that everyone would be asleep. But they’d seen. They were giggling. They’d tell everyone that the clumsy foreigner had peed on their vegetables. I pulled up my pyjamas. Wet running down my legs made them stick. I scuttled inside, not daring to look towards the verandah. Back in bed, safe under the soft cosy covers like a small child, I hid from my shame. I was disgusted with myself. They’d be disgusted with me too.
Other painful and embarrassing scenes crowed into my head now: my blooded face in the mirror; the hearing; the accusations; that bitter child; the cat; the hospital. Then that was all pushed aside by a memory of the airport.
Everything had seemed so strange – and smelly – that I’d almost tried to get back to the plane. I’d wanted to return to the safety of bland grey old England. I’d had plenty of time to vacillate. The luggage had taken a long, long time to populate the ancient conveyor belt, but then celebratory whooping and cheering alerted me to the first rucksacks bursting through those flappy transparent doors into the arrivals hall. A group of colourful Americans triumphantly swung rucksacks onto their backs and transformed into huge high-spirited hippified tortoises.
Tiny Nepalese cowered as the Americans shouted, ‘Comin through!’ and ploughed towards the exit. They felled a little girl in a lacy pink skirt. Families pulled their children and frail elderly close so that a channel opened up. A small boy made a daring lunge between their big mountain boots to recover an empty chewing gum box. When a dangling waterbottle hit his head it made an interesting ringing sound that made me laugh. I started laughing again now, but it was a mad hysterical laugh. I hoped my host family didn’t hear me.
Noises started again. A nasty rasping could have been a snake. There were definitely creatures moving in the thatch. Bits of straw fell down on me. There were scuttlings that sounded like mice or scorpions on the floor. Or, worse, rats. I shuddered at the thought of things climbing into bed with me or falling on me from the ceiling.
My hand went for comfort to the object I prized most in the world, the talisman at my neck. I wondered again about its origins. I felt the familiar and reassuring intricacies of its design.
Our family lore was that it came from the foothills of the Himalayas, and here I was staying in a traditional house only 30 kilometres from where those mountains rise sheer out of the Plains. Perhaps it was that realisation that reminded me of the foreign phrase, cutty budgie hay. It was something my great-grandfather used to say, and it had been adopted into our family vocabulary. He’d been in North India during the war and said that the words had kept him safe. He seemed to believe that they were connected to some kind of mysterious force. They would keep me safe too. Maybe somehow I could use them to help me to get my life back.
I thought about gentle monks and holy men. I recalled a naked ascetic I’d seen from the bus. I drifted into sleep trying not to think about his flaccid ash-covered genitals.
Next time I woke, daylight was stabbing through tiny oval openings that served as windows. In the sleepy fog of coming back into the real world, the acrid smell of cow dung rising from the mud floor penetrated my consciousness. I’d expected that the thatch would make the inside of the house smell of fresh hay but it was musty and stale. It seemed unhygienic, as well as stark. A few dusty wilted flowers had been stuffed in an old oil can – as decoration, I suppose; these were plonked on the battered wooden crate that was my bedside table. There was no chair. There wasn’t even a peg to hang my jacket on. Someone had used rusty nails to secure a picture of a woman with blue skin; it looked as if it had been torn out of a magazine. I’d had a good sleep though. The string bed was surprisingly comfortable, and cotton-stuffed quilt and soft muslin cover were cosier than I’d expected.
I realised what had woken me this time. Some predator or vermin was clawing at the fabric of the house, as if scratching to get in through my bedroom door. But there was no door. I tensed as I heard it again. Then, ‘Bad tea memsahib!’
‘I am bringing bad tea memsahib!’
‘What’s wrong with it?’
‘Why is it bad tea?’
She wore a puzzled frown. ‘I am bringing tea for you to drink in your bad – bad tea.’
‘Exactly so memsahib!’ She left before I thought to thank her.
The bad tea was thick syrupy and deliciously spicy. I used it to wash down my Well Woman vitamin pills. I’d only been in the country a week and I was getting used to the sweetness already. Actually this was a perfect start to the day. In fact that morning, things felt better; better than they had in a very long time. I’d slept all right – eventually – and woken feeling really quite good.
Unique Selling Points
• Author lived in Nepal for six years and worked as a doctor there so has an intimate knowledge of the Rajapur Island community. She had first hand experience of the aftermath of floods and other disasters through her development work
• The narrative is set in a region where slavery was only outlawed few years before
• The uplifting story is set against the towering backdrop of the Himalayas with its wealth of wonderful wildlife
• The narrative has been crafted and rewritten with the help of the thriving Cambridge Writers group
• It is a fictional sequel to a successful memoir.