June 08, 2015

Florence Ratwatte's The Doppelganger - Guest Post

When I first had this urge to write a novel, the only thing I was sure of was its location. While quite young and impressionable, I spent a long vacation on a mist-hung tea plantation, surrounded by mountain chains, nearly 2,000 m. above sea level, in Sri Lanka’s central highlands. It was an incredibly beautiful place of tropical sunshine and frosty nights and I knew I’d have to stretch all the creativity I had with the plot and characters, to match the setting. 

As I wanted to publish in Britain, I thought a novel with a tea plantation backdrop set in the British colonial period (mine is a late 1930s – mid 1940s time-warp ), would appeal in this nation of dedicated Ceylon tea drinkers. And of course, Ceylon tea which became the undisputed global quality brand very quickly, was purely and very creditably, a British achievement. (The tea industry still uses Sri Lanka’s colonial name, Ceylon, as its world-renowned brand name.)

I had of course to build my story on hard facts, because make no mistake, despite the stunning enchantment of its production location, tea production is hard commerce. It has been so, come 2017, for 150 years, its superlative quality achieved with sweat and toil and relentless commitment. Under the gift-wrapping of beautiful scenery and gracious life-style of the tea planters, is the hard, round-the year routine of tea production. Growing and harvesting the tea leaf, then processing and packing it, goes on round the year, often round the clock in Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, to achieve the impeccable quality of Ceylon tea. Manned by driven men the Ceylon tea industry rose within 50 years, on the ashes of its coffee plantations devastated by a plant pest, to become the main supplier of premium teas to the world’s leading tea market, London’s Mincing Lane. 

Writing a novel with a Ceylon tea background, I had therefore to supplement my early experience of tea plantation life, with first-hand research and reading. My free-lance writing assignments sometimes took me to the tea country, and while working at the Sri Lanka Tourist Board I also had opportunities to visit tea estates (as tea plantations are always called in Sri Lanka), to get insights into a unique British country life transplanted in a sub-tropical location. I am also indebted to D.M. Forrest’s excellent ‘A Hundred Years of Ceylon Tea – 1867 – 1967’ (Chatto & Windus, London), commissioned by the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board, to mark the centenary of the first commercial planting of tea in Ceylon on Loolecandura Estate , Hewaheta, in 1867.

Writing The Doppelganger was thus not merely fulfilling but also enlightening and enjoyable and at every turn, new and delightful experiences rewarded my labour, which I hope I share with my readers.

About the book
On the borders of the misty High Forest tea plantation in Ceylon, Rachel Varuni, the daughter of a Scottish tea planter and a Ceylonese village girl, lives alone with her mother. Simple, frugal and hard, their life has a quality of unspoilt happiness, even if Rachel is sometimes haunted by her mixed parentage. She sees herself as a doppelgänger, belonging nowhere, and to no one.

Her dream of re-claiming her Scottish identity comes true when a letter from a lawyers' firm informs her of a bequest from an unnamed benefactor for Rachel to be educated at Ceylon's most exclusive boarding school.

Whilst the expensive education transforms Rachel unrecognisably, terror, the crushing hurdles of racism, spite and colonial injustice threaten to overwhelm her new life.

About the author
A sociology major of the University of Ceylon, Florence Ratwatte worked in the Sri Lanka Tourist Board until she took up free-lance writing. She lives deep in the beautiful ‘Ceylon tea' country, the backdrop of her first novel, The Doppelganger.

Publisher’s Website: www.austinmacauley.com  
Sales pages and book preview on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1849633584

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