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.
Initially, I planned to write a non-fiction book about these women, but with so few sources available – and a secret desire to write a novel – I decided to take the leap to fiction. This lush portrait of a woman, Dancing Girl with a Hookah in Faizabad 1772, is by the English artist Tilly Kettle. In researching my novel I often turned to paintings by both English and Indian artists, as well as carvings and fragments of poetry, as a way to understand my characters. I reckon all authors need to be good sleuths (and not just those who write crime) to find out what really makes their characters tick.
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