Inspiration for The Separation

Although my books are set in the 20th Century, I feel that the themes, challenges and heartbreak my characters go through are still relevant today.

The inspiration for The Separation came from a childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s. I was born exactly two months after the first rubber planters were shot dead by Chinese communists arriving on bicycles. The country was at war, in a so-called ‘Emergency’ fought by the British Administration against the mainly Chinese MNLA in the jungle, seen by the British as terrorists.

Malaya to me was guns piled up in the hall when the rubber planters came into town, and my dad going out each day with two armed guards. Despite the guns, I had an idyllic childhood with holidays spent on deserted tropical islands, where we swam in turquoise seas and played on white sand. I felt at home in Chinatown where my Chinese amah took me and loved the houses on stilts and the lizards who left their tails behind.

For my character Lydia, I drew on my experience of losing my teenage son. In a way a child’s death becomes a bitter-sweet part of you, and my books are infused with that quality. The Separation is about love and loss – and what it does to you when you believe you have lost what is most precious. And it is about the ways in which war affects families, and in particular women and children. The Separation will be followed in 2015 by Book Two – The Tea Planter’s Wife – set in 1920s and 1930s Ceylon, which, of course, is now the wonderful country of Sri Lanka.