I am delighted to welcome Dianne Noble to my blog. Her second novel, ‘A Hundred Hands’ is out on the 2nd November and I was really interested in knowing what made Dianne write about India.
What made me write about India
Imagine your shirt sticking to your back as you edge round a goat, swat at flies and cough as smoke from pavement cooking fires catches in your throat. After four hours of threadbare sleep you’re trying to find the group of street children you’ve come to Kolkata, India to teach English to as a volunteer.
Your ears hurt with the noise – shouting, blaring horns, a backfiring bus. A cow stands in the middle of the road, munching impassively on an old newspaper, as traffic edges round it. This animal is holy and if a driver were to run into it, he would be dragged from his car by an angry crowd and beaten up.
Heat beats on your head like a hammer as you search among blackened buildings whose stonework crumbles like stale cake. There is a smell of spices and sewage, urine evaporating in hot sun.
When you see the small group it takes you an age to cross the road, weaving between rickshaws, yellow taxis, tuk tuks festooned with dusty tinsel. The children are so tiny – malnourished – with bare feet, cropped hair and laddered ribs, but they shriek with laughter when you try to speak to them in Hindi. They stroke the pale skin of your arms and clamber on to your knees as you sit, cross-legged and crampy, on the bare earth floor. They are a joy, desperate to learn English, desperate to improve their position at the bottom of the luck ladder.
When you get back to your small room that evening your feet are gritty and blistered, your chest is raw with exhaust fumes and you are unbelievably filthy. Sweat makes white rivulets down the dirt on your face and you feel, and doubtless smell, rank.
By the end of the first week you will be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the poverty, despairing at the smallness of your contribution. How can you possibly do this for three whole months? Whatever were you been thinking of when you signed up?
Maybe, like me, you’ll start a journal and at the end of every day, no matter how tired you feel, you’ll write down every detail of your day – how the children are progressing, who made you laugh, who can now write their names, how much their poor chests rattle, who has the worst sores. It’s a sort of de-briefing you might find cathartic.
Despite having nothing, the children giggle and fool around, laugh and sing, hang on to you, desperate for cuddles, Everywhere you go in this dreadful place Bengali men and women will get used to seeing you, wave and call out ‘Hello, Aunty’ (a term of respect for women of a certain age!) At the wayside shrine even jolly, elephant-headed Ganesh will be wearing a broad grin.
My diary covered three months and formed the basis for A Hundred Hands, which tells the story of Polly who saw the plight of the children living on the streets and stayed to help. Since then I have been back to India many times. Despite its horrors the country is mesmeric and its people a joy.
About Dianne Noble
I was born into a service family and at the tender age of seven found myself on the Dunera, a troopship, sailing for a three year posting to Singapore. So began a lifetime of wandering – and fifteen different schools. Teen years living in Cyprus, before partition, when the country was swarming with handsome UN soldiers, and then marriage to a Civil Engineer who whisked me away to the Arabian Gulf.
Most of the following years were spent as a single parent with an employment history which ranged from the British Embassy in Bahrain to a goods picker, complete with steel toe-capped boots, in an Argos warehouse. In between I earned my keep as a cashier in Barclays, a radio presenter and a café proprietor on the sea front in Penzance.
My travels have taken me to China, Egypt, Israel, Guatemala, Russia, Morocco, Belize and my favourite place, India. I keep copious notes and constantly dip into them to ensure my writing is atmospheric.
My debut novel, Outcast, also set in India, was published by Tirgearr March 2016. I had 32 rejections before I got a foot in the door!
Buy Links for A Hundred Hands which is priced at 99p/99c pre-order until Nov 2nd 2016