WORDS: Laura Jones
What sparked the idea for your book?
Several years ago, I became interested in the story of my maternal great- grandmother who had left India in the late 1800s to take up indenture in the Colony of Natal. What little I discovered made me wonder what would have prompted such a young woman to break societal norms by leaving India to seek out a new life on an entirely different continent – and so Children of Sugarcane was born.
What was your creative process?
I usually read for a length of time and wrote in intermittent bursts, locking myself away for weeks, writing for between five and ten hours a day and doing almost nothing else. This went on for many years. (Thank heavens for my patient husband and child). One must always write with an audience in mind. The consciousness that a reader may one day consume it shapes the book in many ways.
The inner voice of a writer is different from that of a broadcast journalist
… True. In news broadcasting, you keep it factual. But a switch has to be flicked when you write creatively. And then you click into the side of you that contemplates all the subjects you aren’t able to speak about on air, and you unleash those thoughts on the page. There’s a wonderful freedom in that.
How did you bring this tale to life?
The book required extensive research and reading about the history, politics, geography, religion and culture of
the time in India and South Africa. I immersed myself in textbooks by a number of renowned South African and international academics who have written widely about colonisation, gender, critical race theory and other facets of the indenture story.
Challenges and highlights merging fiction with fact?
There’s so much intriguing history to include and you’re tempted to cram it all in. But you remind yourself this is fiction and the protagonist’s narrative must drive the story, with the history gently nestled within its folds. Once you’ve made peace with that, the writing becomes so much easier.