First up I'm delighted to welcome bestselling author Rosanna Ley to talk about her new book Return to Mandalay which is published next month.
Rosanna Ley has worked as a creative tutor for over twelve years, leading workshops in the UK and abroad, and has completed an MA in creative writing. Her writing holidays and retreats take place in stunning locations in Italy and Spain. Rosanna has written numerous articles and stories for national magazines. When she is not travelling, Rosanna lives in West Dorset by the sea.
As a child, Eva was entranced by her grandfather’s stories of his life in Burma, working with elephants, sending timber down the River Irrawaddy, and fighting in the Burmese jungle during World War II. And she senses that his heart still remains there - but he will not tell her why. When Eva's job as an antique dealer requires her to go to Mandalay, Lawrence breaks his silence and asks her to return a mysterious artefact he has in his possession - a decoratively carved wooden chinthe - to its rightful owner. But when Eva arrives in Burma, her mission proves dangerously complicated and the treasure she is guarding becomes the centre of a conspiracy dating from the final Burmese dynasty. Unsure who she can trust, Eva is caught between love, loyalty and integrity, but she is determined to find the truth about her grandfather's past, her own family origins, and the red-eyed chinthe itself – enigmatic symbol of the riches of Mandalay.
Where did the inspiration come from to set this story in Burma?
The inspiration came from my late father in law’s story. He too worked in the timber industry in Burma in the 1930s and 1940s and fought in the Chindits during the Second World War. My husband and his brothers still have links to family in Burma and theirs is a fascinating real life story – though I don’t want to say too much! My story is only loose-based on theirs; but it certainly provided the original inspiration... I also felt that the political history, culture and landscape of Burma would make a fascinating backdrop for a story about families and human emotions.
So far your stories have taken us to Sicily, Spain and now Burma, where are you taking readers to next?
Yes, I like to get around! The next novel will be set in Morocco – in the 1970s and in present day, in Marrakech and Essaouira. A wonderfully sensuous landscape...
Out of the three stories you’ve written so far, which character did you have the most fun creating?
I loved writing the fiery Sicilian Flavia from ‘The Villa’ – she was great fun. I am listening to the novel on audio at the moment and Anna Bentinck’s interpretation of her is wonderful!
I fell rather in love with Tonino from that novel and then again with Andres from ‘Bay of Secrets’ (I am so fickle...) In ‘Return to Mandalay’ I adore Lawrence but had the greatest
fun writing the Burmese vendors of antique furniture, especially with their dialogue! And I can assure you that my rendition is accurate...
Are you a plot planner or a start writing and see where it takes you writer?
I do quite a lot of planning beforehand. There are two main reasons. One is so that I won’t
spend ages going down blind alleys and the other is so that I know more or less where I am going and can develop characters and situations accordingly. I do a lot of thinking and walking around aimlessly (but not!) freewriting, reading and note-taking before I start, so that my ideas have had time to compost. And as I am writing I feel free to change anything I want! Nothing is set in stone.
If you could write a famous person into one of your stories, who would it be and why?
Interesting question! I think I would write in DH Lawrence because he seems to me to be my kind of person, though like most writers he’d probably be horrendous to live with – head in a cloud, always in a daydream, never comes to meals on time etc. I’d like to explore his viewpoint though and go to all the wonderful places he did in the name of research!
If it was a woman – which on reflection would probably be more interesting – I would write about someone who was a fighter and who changed the lives of women, like Emily
Pankhurst for example or another one of the Suffragettes. They achieved so much and are
not recognised enough.
When you’ve finished writing a book, do you treat yourself to a reward?
What a lovely idea; I’m going to give this one some serious thought for the future. At the moment - not really. Most holidays end up writing trips/ research trips and I very rarely simply relax! I also never know when a novel is ‘finished’. After the writing there’s editing, then more editing, copy editing, proof reading... ‘The End’ is definitely a misnomer.
If you could go away anywhere to write, where would it be?
Italy. Cinque Terre, Tellaro, Lunighiana. Somewhere on the west coast with a sea view and tranquillity.
What’s the last book you’ve read that has made you cry?
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I came to this late; I only read it a month
ago. One of the best novels I’ve ever read.
Do you have a favourite book that you read time and time again?
Not one that I read time and time again because there are so many excellent books coming
out all the time now and I prefer to read those. But two that I have read more than once in my life and which are partially responsible for my love of reading and writing novels are Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (like most of the world!) and DH Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’.
Thank you so much!
RETURN TO MANDALAY is published by Quercus in May, paperback, £7.99