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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book of the Month - September 2012

This month - can it be September already, what happened to summer - I am delighted to feature Liz Harris's debut novel The Road Back as my Book of the Month.

Liz was happy to chat to me about her novel and her writing life in general, and this is what she said:

"Recently, I returned from Wyoming where I’ve been researching the novel that is to be published by Choc Lit in 2013 - and holidaying a bit, too, of course.

There can be no more exciting way to research a novel than walking on the ground that your characters walked. In the case of my characters, it was the Savery area in South Wyoming which lies in the shadow of the Sierra Madre Mountains. There can be few things more thrilling than to breathe the same air my characters used to breathe. Admittedly, they breathed it in 1887 and it might have been recycled a few times since then, but that’s a small point.

Yes, hands-on research is fantastic. But unfortunately, it’s not always possible.

The Road Back, available on Kindle and coming out in paperback this week, is partly set in Belsize Park, London. Happily, I had no research problems there - I was born and brought up there, and still have family in the area. But it's also set in Ladakh, north of the Himalayas, and that was a different matter. Since going to Ladakh wasn’t an option, I had to research the novel in the only way that I could, namely through books and the internet.

The starting point of my research was an album compiled by my late uncle after he’d visited Ladakh in the 1940s whilst stationed in North India. It was reading his album that gave me the idea of writing The Road Back, and it was with his words and photos that I began to learn about the country.

By the time I’d finished reading the album, I could see clearly the village in which my hero, Kalden, lived. I turned then to more books and the internet, which proved to be excellent resources for learning about a very beautiful high-altitude country in which its people are faced daily with the problems posed by living with a lack of rain.

We have only to think for one moment to realise how much we take having water for granted – to drink; for showers/baths; to wash our clothes and our dishes; for cooking; to flush our loos, and so on. It’s easy to see how difficult it would be if there were no rain to keep on filling our reservoirs and rain barrels.

My research showed me the way in which the Ladakhi solved their problems, an interesting solution which struck at the very core of their lives.

But of course, a novel is much more than just a geographical background and a revelation of how people lived in their environment – it is a story.

I love reading books that have strong stories and which feature characters who display the complexity of human behaviour, and I hope very much that I’ve captured real people in The Road Back, people whose story makes the reader want to keep on turning the pages to find out what happens next."

Good luck with the The Road Back, Liz - and with the next book, too!


  1. Thanks, Margaret for a great book of the month, and good luck Liz with your launch!

  2. It's a great story, Jean, starring a very unusual hero - I recommend it!

  3. Having just finished 'The Road Back',I can say that Liz uses her research with a very deft touch. The Ladakh scenes not only provide an unusual and exotic location but really serve to highlight the contrasts between Kalden and Patricia. I had to keep reading to discover how these two young people could overcome the very real obstacles between them.

  4. I loved Patricia, hated her horrible father - a baddy of a daddy if ever there was one.

  5. Jean - thank you very much for your good wishes. I have to say, I feel quite petrified. I keep imagining how I'd feel if no one turned up, and I was left there with Colin Dexter, the Manager of Waterstones and my DH. And a lot of wine, of course. I'd certainly be comatose the next day!!

  6. Many thanks for your lovely comment, Chris.

    I have a degree of sympathy with the father, Margaret. He was a product of his regimental background and of his social environment, and I believe that he genuinely thought that he was doing the best thing for for Patricia.

    It's so interesting the different way in which we look at the same characters.

  7. How strange, Margaret. I wrote a couple of comments yesterday, but they have not appeared here.

    Thank you very much, Jean, Chris and you, Margaret, for your lovely comments. I'm glad that you enjoyed the book.

    Major George Carstairs a baddy, Margaret? I wonder. I don't really see him like that - I see him as a product of his social environment, the period in which he was born abd his regimental background. I feel that he's a complex man, who genuinely believes that he's doing his best by his daughter.

    It's intersting how differently we all interpret the same characters!

    Liz X

  8. I think that's what makes reading and writing fiction so interesting, Liz - what we make of these children of the writer's imagination. Let's not go into what makes a good and bad father - I could drone on forever on that subject!

  9. Well, they're certainly published now!

    Liz X