Saturday, 17 November 2012

Cawnpore: what happened next (and for 150 years after that)

I've just been watching a short video on the history of Cawnpore and how it has changed into modern Kanpur. I was interested to see film of the decline of the cotton mills.

I was brought up in the North West of England, where cotton used to be a huge industry. (According to the video, Kanpur was called 'the Manchester of India', a reference to the cotton mills of Manchester in England.) When I was a child, the cotton mills began to close. Whole communities that relied on this industry were decimated and the economic damage inflicted still leaves its mark on the region today.

Many people blamed the decline of the UK cotton industry on the development of industry in India, where Kanpur was building cotton mills that, despite UK tariff barriers, were undercutting UK cotton manufacturers and destroying their markets.

Looking at the video, the scenes of the derelict mills in Kanpur echo the sights I saw in the villages of Lancashire. The industry has moved on, I'm guessing to China, where wages are lower and there are more profits to be made. The result has been a flood of cheap Chinese cotton goods into the UK. I imagine it's been the same elsewhere, but I know the UK from personal experience. A friend who works in the fashion industry says that they have shifted all their manufacturing to China and increasingly the design work is based there too.

People like the cheap clothes and China benefits from economic growth. But I wonder how long it will be before China sees derelict plants as manufacturers move on to the next country to provide even cheaper labour.

Global capitalism brings huge benefits, but there is a downside too. Watching what happened in Lancashire repeated in Kanpur highlighted this.

I have no answers. But one of the useful things about looking at history is that it can raise interesting questions.

Hill walking -- on a horse.

Burke in the Land of Silver is a historical novel set around the Napoleonic wars. It's based on the life of a soldier who spied for the British, working in what is now Argentina. I love Argentina and have visited there quite often, so the idea of basing a book in the country appealed to me. And back at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Spanish America was an exciting place to be. The story has wars and princesses and romance and death, all reasonably faithfully based on the goings on at the time.

One of my hero's exploits was a trip across the Andes so that he could examine Spanish defences in Chile. In the book, he makes the crossing around April, in the southern autumn. The crossing at that time of year is considered dangerous because of the intense cold at altitude. When I was writing about it, I found it very difficult to visualise, so, in the interests of research, I went to the Andes and tried to ride across. We did it in October, so conditions shouldn't have been that different, except that we had to face the winter snows that had yet to thaw. Eventually the snow got too deep for the horses and we had to give up. It was an amazing experience, though, and I'm looking forward to incorporating it when I rewrite that part of the book. I may well post some of the descriptions here but, for now, I'll just post a few photographs that give you a flavour of what it was like.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


US readers may not know it, but Amazon isn't exactly flavour of the month in the UK at the moment, as it turns out that they feel that multi-national companies shouldn't pay tax like the rest of us. There is talk of a boycott.

There's no doubt that Amazon is a great deal from the customer's point of view. Most places selling my books will charge you more than Amazon. The Book Depository often offers better prices, but they are owned by Amazon as well.

UK purchasers will find e-book versions of The White Rajah and Cawnpore cheaper on Google Books. This is useful if you're trying to save money, but not a lot of help as a political protest because Google has been known to dodge the odd tax bill as well.

Of course, you can always buy either of my books through an old-fashioned bookshop. People in London could try Foyles, who may have it in stock. Branches of Waterstones should have it on their system, so they should be able to order it easily. Other booksellers should also be able to order it in for you. Bookshops do still serve an important role in publicising books and getting people to read and they do seem to pay their taxes.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Royalty free fiction

One fun thing that happened while I was away was that my book was featured on 'Royalty Free Fiction'. It's a blog about books about historical figures that weren't kings and queens. As it says on the Home Page, "History is full of ordinary people with extraordinary stories." James Brooke definitely qualifies. He was the son of an East India Company official whose main achievement in his youth was running away from his English boarding school. He could so easily have become just another dodgy merchant, doing a bit of smuggling here and a dubious deal there, but history took him to Sarawak at a vital moment and the rest really is history.

The blog is unusual in that it doesn't invite writers to tell people anything specific about their book. Instead it asks why people were moved to write about particular historical figures. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know why I chose to write my first novel about James Brooke. If you haven't, then why not check out And, while you're at it, have a look at some of the other titles. There's some interesting stuff out there.