Currency $ USD
Published
Publication date: June 2017
105% funded
158 backers
Cover of The Pagoda Tree

An epic novel set in eighteenth-century India about love, loss and exile, and the fate of individuals when two cultures collide

Tanjore, 1765. Maya plays among the towering granite temples of this ancient city in the heart of southern India. Like her mother before her, she is destined to become a devadasi, a dancer for the temple. It is expected she will be chosen as a courtesan for the prince himself. But as Maya comes of age, India is on the cusp of change and British dominance has risen to new heights. The prince is losing his power and the city is sliding into war. Maya is forced to flee her ancestral home, and heads to the bustling port city of Madras, where East and West collide.

Far from home the East India Company is acting like a country in its own right and the British troops are more of a rabble than the King’s army.

Into this world steps Maya who captivates all who watch her dance. Thomas Pearce, an ambitious young Englishman who has travelled to India to make his fortune is entranced from the moment he first sees her.

But their love is forbidden, and comes at enormous cost.

'A novel to be savoured … Its layering, the unravelling of the story, the subtext of the fortunes made and lost on cotton and silk, the evocative descriptions of saris themselves are all part of [its] tapestry.' Candida Baker in the Sydney Morning Herald

‘Women’s stories are rarely told in history, nor particularly honoured. The Pagoda Tree offers a powerful, sensual perspective on a time of great transformation in India.’ Sarah Macdonald, author of Holy Cow

‘Claire Scobie’s seductive prose and immaculate layering of period detail capture India at her most exotic.’ Susan Kurosawa, The Australian travel editor & author of Coronation Talkies

'A rich and enthralling story handled with great skill by someone with a profound understanding of her material.' David Roach, screenwriter and film director, Beneath Hill 60 & Red Obsession

'[The Pagoda Tree] offers new ways of seeing the past.' Canberra Times

'A story told with great panache.' Country Style

The Pagoda Tree was briefly available in Australia, where it was well received. You can no longer buy a copy in the shops. Through Unbound, this could change and the novel now has a chance to reach a new audience in the UK and around the world.

N.B Shipping to Australia costs £20

Claire Scobie is an award-winning British journalist and author who has lived and worked in the UK, India and now Sydney. Her travel memoir Last Seen in Lhasa (Random House) won the 2007 Dolman Best Travel Book Award. Her novel, The Pagoda Tree, was first published by Penguin Australia and chosen by Good Reading magazine as one of their Best Fiction Reads 2013.

Claire runs creative writing workshops at the Faber Academy in London and across Australia; mentors writers one-on-one and hosts a literary tour to India to the Jaipur Literature Festival with Abercrombie & Kent. She writes for numerous publications, including London’s Daily Telegraph, Destinasian and contributes to the Sydney Morning Herald. Through her business Wordstruck, Claire advises companies and leaders on how to harness the power of storytelling as a strategic business tool. She is a regular guest at international writers’ festivals, a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and in 2013, completed a Doctorate of Creative Arts at the University of Western Sydney.

http://clairescobie.com
http://wordstruck.com.au



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1

Maya stopped when she saw the splashes of blood around the well. They were fresh. Ants were already gathering around one drop, vivid red against the grey paving stones in the courtyard. Forgetting what she'd come for, she followed the trail through the kitchen and into the bedroom. In the shadows, her aunt Sita was crouching in a sari, knees pulled to her chest. When she saw Maya, she raised her hand.

'Leave me. Go and check on Leela.'

'Shall I get word to Amma?'

Sita shook her head, her eyes dull.

'Some water?'

She nodded.

Maya turned and ran. Reaching up on tiptoe, her fingers searched for the clay cup on the ledge. Carefully she filled it from the pitcher of water. Her aunt was sitting up when Maya returned with the cup. Sweat beaded her upper lip and Maya saw a dark stain on the front of the sari. A sweet metallic smell rose up, turning Maya's stomach.

'You're a good girl,' said her aunt. 'Now take your cousin outside.'

Maya hesitated. She wanted to ask what was wrong but feared the answer. Leela's shrill cry rang out from down the passageway. Maya turned to go to her before her wails woke the neighbours.

And then it was another day, and Maya was sitting in the corner of the courtyard, poking a stick between the cracks of the stones to see if she could unearth any beetles.

'She's nine years old. She's ready.' Her mother was sitting on a low stool with a grinding stone in front of her.

'We should wait until next year,' said Sita, sifting through a basket of snake beans.

'I can't wait that long,' Lakshmi said.

'Sister, akka. You know what was said at the child's birth.'

'You worry about your Leela and I'll make the decisions for Maya.'

'You talk as if I've never had a say in her upbringing.' Sita snapped a bean in half.

'Maya, you want to start dancing lessons, don't you?' Lakshmi called out.

Maya walked over to the two women. Sometimes she wondered if it wouldn't be better to have a mother and father. But her mother, her amma, always said husbands weren't worth bothering with. She stared down at her palms. 'I do want to dance.'

Lakshmi nodded approvingly.

'It's not the dancing that's the issue.' Sita patted the ground next to her and Maya sat down. 'It's everything that comes with it.'

Maya watched the muscles of her mother's jaw tighten. From the temple she heard the beating of drums, calling the women to prayer.

'Rao thinks she's ready. Uma too.'

Sita frowned. 'You've been to see him?'

'I told Rao I don't want to let the flesh wither on the branch before it has blossomed in the hand.'

Maya stretched out her skinny legs. Her knees were bony and one had a scab where she'd tripped over. She started to pick at the dry crusty edge.

'He agreed,' Lakshmi lied, throwing a handful of rice on the grinder. 'He said he'd check his Panchangam for an auspicious date for the initiation.'

Beneath the outer layer, the wound was pink and raw. Maya pressed it to see if it still stung. Not much. Not nearly as much as the fire-iron the priests would use during the ceremony. Some girls fainted before it touched their skin. A few soiled their clothes. Not Mother, though. She'd been strong during her initiation. Just like I will be, Maya thought, pressing the scab harder. I won't cry.

***

The sisters never let Maya out of their sight. The furthest she could go alone was to the banyan tree opposite their house on West Main Road. It was huge and shady with low branches and tangled roots hanging down like a curtain. Halfway up the main trunk was an old man's face in the burl and Maya felt safe there when she played. Their house was one of those owned by the Big Temple for the devadasis, the women married to the temple gods, whose duty it was to serve, care and dance for them. Inside were two living rooms that doubled as bedrooms, a small shrine room, and along the passageway from the koodam – the pillared hall – a simple kitchen. This led into a walled courtyard at the back. Maya liked the house when it was filled with the rustle of saris and tinkling anklets, the crackling of conversation and full-bellied laughter of women. When Sita and Leela were away, and it was just her amma, her mother, and her, the silence and dark walls pressed down.

In the season of Karttikai, in November, the weather was starting to cool. There were no festivals at the Big Temple so the women had only to perform their daily duties. Lakshmi was there at dawn to wash and dress the statue of Shiva, and offer the kumbarti, the sacred lamp.

After Maya finished her prayers, she was left to roam the enclosed temple grounds. It was there, parading up and down the shady corridors, practising the dance moves Amma had taught her, that her dreams took flight. She imagined she was leading a royal procession. The dancing girls carved in the walls were her attendants; the warrior kings were her suitors. The fantastical animals – half-men, half-beasts – were her private army, and she was queen of them all.

***

Most days Maya liked nothing better than to sit in the courtyard at home, staring up at the scaly branches of the frangipani tree and at the stripy palm squirrel as it edged along the wall. Her lime-green blouse and long cotton skirt hung limp in the afternoon heat. From inside she heard humming. Finding a shady spot, she waited.

Sita came out, Leela asleep against her chest. Carefully, she laid her in a cloth sling hanging from a branch. Maya stood up and stared down at Leela's small round face. They had the same square nose and wide brow. Sita began to rock her, cooing softly under her breath.

'Is that what you used to do when I was little?' Maya asked, peeling herself a small banana.

'Yes, and sing lullabies.'

'Did Amma sing too?'

'Yes.' She reached across and cupped Maya's face. 'Don't look so anxious.'

On the wall opposite, the squirrel sat on its haunches and gave a high-pitched trill.

'How much does it hurt?' Maya asked.

For a moment Sita looked confused. Then she said, 'The branding, you mean?'

Maya nodded, squishing the last bit of banana between her fingers.

'I won't lie to you. It is painful. Have you ever put your finger too close to a flame? It's worse than that.'

Maya's eyes flared.

'You have to see it as a great honour. You are offering your body to Shiva.' She lowered her voice, gesturing with her thumb to the neighbour's wall behind. 'Think of her. A common householder married for life to a husband like that.'

'Snake man, you mean?'

Sita rocked back on her heels, her mouth cracking open. 'Is that what you call him?'

'Yes.' Maya began to giggle. 'He looks like one, don't you think?'

Sita was covering her mouth now, as if embarrassed by the wideness of her luminous smile. 'Ssssh. She might hear.'

'She probably calls him that herself.'

'Or worse.' Her aunt looked thoughtful. 'I think your mother's right. By having the initiation now, you'll be able to start training.'

'Then why did you say I should wait?'

'It's a feeling I had, that's all. These rites of passage are so important.' Bending down, she picked up a fallen frangipani blossom. 'It's like this flower. The tree doesn't need to be told when its flowers are ready to fall, they just do. That's why we do everything according to the planets and cycles of the moon. Why we check the almanac to ensure the day is auspicious.' Sita twirled the flower between her thumb and forefinger. 'Everything has its time.'

'When I think about it, I feel scared.'

'Don't think about it then.' She squeezed Maya's hand. 'I've always believed in you.'

Maya felt herself expand inside. She wanted to be gathered up in Auntie's tight embrace – more fierce, more caring than her own mother's. Then the moment passed, and Sita rose to her feet, leaving Maya to play.

***

Read more...

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Monday, 16 October 2017

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Since The Pagoda Tree was published I’ve been making a real effort to focus on finishing my new novel. I’m excited to say it’s going well. Here’s how I’ve been able to stay on track. 

 

Stories that Matter

Friday, 29 September 2017

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Lots of people said nice things to me at my London book launch but the nicest thing had nothing to do with my book.

Jane Smith, a librarian from Concordia Lutheran College in Toowoomba, Australia, happened to be in London that night so I asked her to come along. I’d met Jane back in May when I went to Concordia as part of a team with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) to create a book with…

The Pagoda Tree Goes Travelling!

Friday, 15 September 2017

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You know when a book has legs, when it pops up in unexpected places.

Here’s where The Pagoda Tree has landed so far.

Please comment with a photo of you with your copy — the more exotic the locale the better! 

 

X Claire

Why creatives need to recommit to their creativity

Friday, 1 September 2017

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I can’t just rest on my laurels with The Pagoda Tree.

But I have to admit, promoting one book can feel like a big distraction from the real stuff… writing! I’m a great believer in immersion in a writing project to really make headway with it – especially when you’ve lost your way.

Here’s how a month in Switzerland helped me get re-inspired. 

 

 

Another lens to view British-India relations on Indian Independence Day

Friday, 18 August 2017

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This week, as India celebrated 70 years of independence from the British, I've written a piece suggesting there's an alternative lens to view the history of the two nations. A history not solely defined by the Raj, but one that evolved during a window in the mid-eighteenth century before British rule became entrenched. I’d even argue that to fully understand 1947, you…

Two months since the UK Launch!

Friday, 11 August 2017

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I can’t believe it’s been two months since the launch. How time flies! Since then I’ve been doing all I can to promote the book. I’ve also put together a little Facebook album from launch night. Head here to relive those amazing moments when the violinist Nandini Muthuswamy’s notes soared high, filling Daunt’s with — probably it’s first ever — experience of south Indian Carnatic music.

I’ve…

The Pagoda Tree has landed!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

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So, here it is, the big reveal! The book that you all funded and helped made real now exists, it’s real, it’s gorgeous and the rich red-wine cover invites you in. Thank you so much for your patience and support.

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Only 1 week to The Pagoda Tree Launch - 07 June at Daunt Books

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Facebook tpt launch

I'm getting very excited ahead of the UK launch of The Pagoda Tree. In fact, I bought my launch frock today – so now I'm officially ready. 

Just in case any of you don't still know, it's going to be at:

Daunt Books

83 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QW

From: 6.30 – 8.00 p.m. Wednesday, 7 June

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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

In The Pagoda Tree my main character Maya is born into the world of higher caste Indian courtesans. Little did I know that in the early 19th century they were trailblazers in the new world of cinema. Read on to learn more...

 

 

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Thursday, 9 March 2017

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Why fear stops us writing

Saturday, 10 December 2016

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Final deadline to pledge: 21 November. Please share with friends!

Monday, 14 November 2016

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Thursday, 3 November 2016

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Here the great doyenne of writing speaketh. Need I say more.

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Friday, 21 October 2016

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Friday, 14 October 2016

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Hello lovely Unbounders! Exciting news. The Pagoda Tree is now in pre-production. This means the team is working on new artwork for the novel and I’m currently re-reading it. Normally I never re-read the books I write. I know some authors do. The travel writer Walter Mason (Destination Saigon) told me he likes re-reading his books and still laughs at his own jokes! David Malouf on the other hand says…

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Sunday, 3 July 2016

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Ssssshhhh...

Friday, 10 June 2016

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The end is in sight...

Thursday, 9 June 2016

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Fame at last!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

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Wednesday, 1 June 2016

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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

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Monday, 2 May 2016

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Friday, 29 April 2016

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While researching my novel, ‘The Pagoda Tree’, I made four research trips to India, starting with a visit to Thanjavur in the south. On the exterior walls of the 11th Century ‘Big temple’, the names and addresses of 400 devadasis (temple dancers) are inscribed – the novel’s main character, Maya, is one of these dancers. My guide, Mr Rajah – a slight man with grey hair, his buckteeth blackened from…

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Friday, 22 April 2016

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Monday, 18 April 2016

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Even 10 years ago, it was enough to write a good book and the publisher would then sell, distribute and market that book. Today, you need to be prepared to ‘package’ what you do, and become an expert in your chosen area. Recently, a Sydney-based publisher told me, ‘It’s not enough for authors to write a book and expect us to promote it. They need to do everything they can to make sure it sells. We…

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Monday, 11 April 2016

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People often ask me why I wrote my novel ‘The Pagoda Tree’. After writing my first book, ‘Last Seen in Lhasa’ about my seven journeys to Tibet, I had that classic second book syndrome – I couldn’t repeat the incredible experiences that lead to that first book, a travel memoir, but I had always been fascinated by India, where I used to live and work as a journalist. Then I read a story in ‘The Sydney…

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Tuesday, 5 April 2016

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It's the journey that counts

Thursday, 10 March 2016

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What it takes to write and get a book published

Saturday, 5 March 2016

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A big thank you to all who have pledged so far to get ‘The Pagoda Tree’ published in the UK. A dear friend of mine told me that crowdfunding can be a rollercoaster. I wasn't sure what to expect but I definitely believe her. Last night, I was amazed at how emotional I felt when I saw more names of supporters on the site. Dear friends, old friends, loving family (thanks Mum!), writers who I’ve mentored…

Why authors need to be good sleuths

Thursday, 3 March 2016

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In my novel 'The Pagoda Tree', the main character, Maya, is a temple dancer in India. While these temple dancers, or ‘devadasis’, have been compared to the geishas of Japan, it is their connection to the temples that make them unique. I was fascinated by their role in 18th Century Indian society, when my novel is set. They seemed to operate between the worlds of sacredness, culture and sensuality…

Keep Calm and Put the Kettle On

Monday, 29 February 2016

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It feels very auspicious that today is Lucky Leap Year day and it's the launch of my Unbound campaign to get my first novel, 'The Pagoda Tree', published in the UK. I’m excited and nervous as it’s new territory for me. But thank you so much to everyone who has already supported me. That makes the butterflies in my tummy slightly calmer... It…

Jane Walker
Jane Walker asked:

hi Claire

I am wondering about your ancestry - are you Indian or have any Indian ancestry by any chance?

Claire Scobie
Claire Scobie replied:

Hi Jane
Thanks for your question. No, I don't, or at least not that I am aware of. I always heard stories about India from my 'little Grandma', my Mum's Mum. Her parents, so my great grandparents, lived in northern India in the late 1800s and my little grandma always wished she'd been born there as it sounded more exotic. I've still got some of the brassware that my great-grandparents brought back with them. Perhaps her stories planted the seed...
Namaste Claire :)

Nigel Tisdall
Nigel Tisdall asked:

Hi Claire,

Do you have a date for your London workshop?

Claire Scobie
Claire Scobie replied:

Hi Nigel
Not yet, no. At the moment I've only got one other person subscribed so once I've got a few more on the list, then I will find a date mutually convenient. Let me know when would suit you! Warmest, Claire.

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