Authors reveal the images that inspired 100,000 words
About the author...
Elaine Spires is a novelist, playwright and actress. Extensive travelling and a background in education and tourism perfected Elaine's keen eye for the quirky characteristics of people, captivating the humorous observations she now affectionately shares with the readers of her seven novels, two novelas and two selections of short stories. She has written numerous plays and sketches, including What's Eating Me, her one-woman show that she performed on the London and Edinburgh Fringes and which later became her first novel. She also adapted her book Singles' Holiday for the stage and wrote the serial drama Paradise View which was filmed and extensively broadcast throughout the Caribbean. Elaine is a keen armchair tennis fan and she spends her time between her homes in Essex and Five Islands, Antigua (W.I.).
I am going to share two photos with you - two very different photos, but both of them triggered very different books.
You don't have to be a World Traveller to recognise where I'm sitting in the first one. Yes, that's me, on "Diana's Bench" in front of the Taj Mahal. Like most people, I had seen umpteen photos of it during the course of my lifetime but none of them ever really did the building justice. When I went there during my second visit to India I really did stand with my mouth wide open at its jaw-dropping beauty. Our guide had said we would be going just after dawn as it was best appreciated in the early-morning light. And he wasn't wrong. The Taj Mahal shimmered and glistened and gleamed as the sun's rays spread over it turning the facade into a rich, jewel-encrusted brocade. Staring at it, the shivers ran up and down my spine and tears sprang into my eyes. It was beyond breath-taking.
But what affected me as much as the physical beauty of the building was the story behind it. The white marble mausoleum was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his third and favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to their thirteenth child. Theirs was a real love story; she accompanied him wherever he went, including on military campaigns, in spite of her many pregnancies and after her death he aged overnight and it is reported that he was never the same man again. The Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore has described the Taj Mahal as "Shah Jahan's teardrop on the cheek of time."
The memory of the Taj Mahal stayed with me long after I'd left India and I'd find myself constantly looking at my photos - not to see myself, but to just sit and stare at the building. Now, I have to rewind a little bit here and say that I'd written my first Singles' book, Singles' Holiday, which was intended to be my only Singles' book. But, a lot of readers kept on asking me "What happened to Eve?" And, "Aren't you going to write another Singles' book?" So, I decided to write a follow up to Singles' Holiday and set it in India and I called it Singles and Spice. Of course, my group of intrepid Singles are touring around India's Golden Triangle, led by their Tour Manager Extraordinaire, Eve and they visit the Taj Mahal - where something rather magical happens!
I have since written two more books in the series, both featuring Eve, both with some old and new faces: Single All The Way, which is set in an English country hotel during a snowy Twixmas period and Singles At Sea, on board the Viking Queen as she sails to Amsterdam and then through the Norwegian Fjords. Like a mother, I love all my children. But Singles and Spice has a special place in my heart because the sheer beauty of the Taj Mahal prompted me to write it and turn one book into a series of four - with a fifth book planned for next year.
The second photo shows the row of houses where I grew up, in Dagenham. I have always been extremely proud of being a Dagenham Girl. In spite of the dreadful press, bigoted stick and abuse the town got for being the largest Council Estate in the country - possibly Europe? - it was a fabulous place to grow up. It was a close, working-class community where people minded their business but looked out for each other. We lived on the Heath Park Estate which having been built in the early 1950s was the "New" Estate. There were green spaces where we rode our bikes and raced up and down on our skates and argued over whether we'd been LBWed or not at cricket and fought over marbles. But we were all mates. The grownups were either called Auntie and Uncle - if our parents were close friends with them - or Mr and Mrs Whoever. A lack of respect to anyone earned you a clip round the ear. People were hard-working, kind, generous, house-proud, loyal and extremely grateful to be living in modern houses with central heating after the austerity of WWII.
I had wanted to write about that childhood - one which I wouldn't have swapped for anywhere else - and finally a year ago I published The Banjo. For those who aren't from Dagenham I have to explain that a banjo is a cul-de-sac, of which there are many in the town. And my book (the first of a trilogy - I'm "supposed" to be working on Book Two but life keeps getting in the way!) is set in a fictional banjo, Cromwell Crescent, which I had placed on one of the green spaces opposite where we lived. While I was writing the book, Barking and Dagenham Council actually built houses on the green, so it is no more. I hope I've done credit to the place and have managed to reconstruct
an era, that for all its shortcomings, was still to me, a child growing up there, a rather magical place.
A huge THANK YOU to the wonderful Barbara Copperthwaite for inviting me to take part and share my photos with you.