This week at the Little Book Café we caught up with Jenny Ashcroft to celebrate the publication of her new novel, Meet Me In Bombay.
Give us your elevator pitch for Meet Me in Bombay.
The English Patient for World War One, and India. An injured soldier must find his way back to the woman he loves, piecing together the secrets kept by his own broken memory.
What inspired you to write this book?
Some of my all-time favourite books are based in India, it’s a country I love, and I’ve always dreamed of setting my own story there. I’ve also longed to write a World War One novel – again, some of my most loved books come from this time, and it’s a period I specialised in at university. The Indian Army were heavily involved in the fighting – given no choice by the British – and I wanted, very much, to try and tell some of their stories, and of their incredible bravery and sacrifice. So, the setting and period came first for me, and after that I set to dreaming up the story and characters.
Honestly, I don’t know what inspired Maddy and Luke’s tale. But the more journals and letters and first-hand accounts of the time I read, a scene started to spring to life in my mind: a woman standing in a 1920’s gown on the lawns of a grand, colonial bungalow, looking up, in shock, at a man on the veranda. That scene – that was originally the preface – now occurs a good way into the book, but the rest of the story span from there.
If your book was a film who would you cast as your leading characters?
I love questions like this, but am so useless at casting my own characters! I will have a go… Lily James, I think for Maddy. Then perhaps James McAvoy for Luke. And Michelle Pfeiffer for Alice. Bill Nighy would do a great Richard, but oooh, I don’t know. Maybe Colin Firth? I’m always fascinated to hear what readers think!
Where do you write? – do you have an aesthetic workspace, a cramped kitchen table, a cosy bed base?
Before lockdown, I had an office which doubled up as a playroom at the weekends. That has now been entirely requisitioned by my children, and the kitchen is a no-go too (because every time my children catch me in there, they request food), so when it’s my writing time, I lock myself away in the bedroom and try to resist the urge to nap 😊
Tell us about your writing journey – have you always known you wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
I’ve absolutely always wanted to be a writer – even before I could spell, I made up stories by drawing pictures – but for a very long time it felt like an unreachable dream rather than something I would ever manage to do. I used to find myself writing odd snippets of dialogue on my commute to work, and came up with so many beginnings to books I never finished, but then, when our second child was a few months old, I managed to get beyond a handful of paragraphs, and finished an actual book. I was still working fulltime, we had a toddler and a baby, and I did it all through late nights and early starts. Whilst that book didn’t get published in the UK, it did get a deal in Germany, and helped me believe I could do it again – which I did, the following year, writing Beneath A Burning Sky. To all aspiring novelists, I really want to say, keep going, keep writing – it can feel so hard at times, but it’s worth it.
Do you have a favourite book? If so, what is it? If not, is there a genre or style you prefer?
I do. It’s The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, only that I love it more every time I do. I first discovered it when I was doing my A-levels. I had the most incredible teacher, Mrs Reid, and looked forward to her lessons all through the week. In terms of genre, I of course love historical fiction, but also enjoy contemporary books packed with emotion and compelling, complex characters. A recent one I’ve fallen for is The Sight of You by Holly Miller. I devoured it, and it made me sob in the best possible way.
Here at the Little Book Café we love pets! If you have a pet we’d love you to share a picture and a line about them.
My children wish we had a pet. Sadly, we don’t – yet. Watch this space! But I had a gorgeous tabby growing up, named Tigger for my little brother, who was a huge Winnie the Pooh fan. I used to drive my parents mad by letting her sleep on my bed. The carpet outside my room was ruined from where she used to scratch it so that I’d open my door and let her in. Unfortunately, I can’t find a picture of her anywhere. She was pre-digital – I’m sure there’s a box full of kodak prints somewhere.