How Darjeeling Inspired The Tea Gardens by Fiona McIntosh

How Darjeeling Inspired The Tea Gardens by Fiona McIntosh

Word || Fiona McIntosh

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Next to the research for The French Promise, which required me to confront the realities of the Nazi concentration camps of the 1940s, the research for The Tea Gardens has been the most daunting. I say this because of the difficult geography I knew I would have to cover once I started the location research in India. But the story begins in London and Brighton, both familiar stomping grounds for my stories, and yet each book requires its individual slant.

So, for The Tea Gardens I focused on the neighbourhood of Kensington Gardens that fringes its palace and the glorious mansions that are today’s international embassies.

For Brighton, I went back to a childhood haunt that in the era of this story was known as Palace Pier and its nearby environs of North Street and the lovely Brunswick Terrace on the promenade of Brighton and Hove beaches. Vivid childhood memories fuelled the fun of the pier scenes especially in the hall of mirrors that I am sure as a youngster I wet myself laughing uncontrollably when confronted by the hilarious versions of our family.

I did my time in the British Library, learning everything I could about obstetrics of the late 20s/30s – because my main character, Isla, is an obstetrician. This was not rare in 1930 but it was hardly common and so she is still pushing against society’s norms. But while Isla, unlike some of my leads, is looking forward to marriage and accepting of the inevitable constraints, she has a promise to keep to practice medicine in India.

I realised learning about obstetrics of the time was all well and good but Isla would not be working in a bubble; she would be exposed to all sorts of diseases that would have been rife and so the task expanded into learning as much as I could about tropical medicine of the time.

Finally, I had to go to Calcutta as I have a creed that I won’t write about somewhere I haven’t personally explored for the reader – how else can I build the world of the story if I haven’t experienced it?

I arrived into the day of Holi Festival, and the city was preparing to go bonkers with multi coloured powder bombs. I didn’t have time to get lost in that – I needed to find my way to the main train station to understand Isla’s arrival and then to find the quarters where she would live and of course to get into the hospital where she worked. I had to visit the hotels and western clubs that she does in the story and get a sense of their layout of the thirties and how those places ticked along in that era.

I also had to get a handle on the lifestyle of the British in Calcutta plus learning about the locals and their culture and in the hospital about the Anglo Indians who made up the nursing/midwifery teams. This was a huge task but the biggest one awaited and that was to travel into the foothills of the Himalaya to find Darjeeling and then a tea plantation nearby.

My gosh, what a journey it was.

Nothing easy about it but worth every grind and groan including a ride on the world’s highest train; I was not prepared to be struck speechless by the majesty of the region and I hope my awe comes through Isla when she is first confronted by Mt Kanchenjunga, the second highest peak. I lived on the tea plantation for a week and learned about tea; the growing, plucking, harvesting, withering, toasting, rolling, sorting and ultimately tasting. I have a new respect for master tea blenders and for the price of superb tea that can surpass gold in certain harvests.

About the author 

Fiona McIntosh is an internationally bestselling author of novels for adults and children. She co-founded an award-winning travel magazine with her husband, which they ran for fifteen years while raising their twin sons before she became a full-time author. Fiona roams the world researching and drawing inspiration for her novels, and runs a series of highly respected fiction masterclasses. She calls South Australia home.

Grab a copy of The Tea Gardens here

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              Publisher details

              The Tea Gardens
              Author
              Fiona McIntosh
              Publisher
              Penguin
              Genre
              Australian Fiction
              Released
              30 October, 2017
              ISBN
              9780143797289

              Synopsis

              Spirited doctor Isla Fenwick is determined to work at the coalface of medicine in India before committing to life as a dutiful wife. With hopes of making a difference in the world, she sails to Calcutta to set up a midwifery clinic. There she will be forced to question her beliefs, her professionalism and her romantic loyalties.On a desperate rescue mission to save the one person who needs her the most, she travels into the foothills of the Himalayas to a tea plantation outside Darjeeling. At the roof of the world, where heaven and earth collide, Isla will be asked to pay the ultimate price for her passions.From England’s seaside town of Brighton to India’s slums of Calcutta and the breathtaking Himalayan mountains, this is a wildly exciting novel of heroism, heartache and healing, by the bestselling author of The Chocolate Tin.
              Fiona McIntosh
              About the author

              Fiona McIntosh

              Fiona McIntosh is an internationally bestselling author of novels for adults and children. She co-founded an award-winning travel magazine with her husband, which they ran for fifteen years while raising their twin sons before she became a full-time author. Fiona roams the world researching and drawing inspiration for her novels, and runs a series of highly respected fiction masterclasses. She calls South Australia home.

              Books by Fiona McIntosh

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