Discovery of Desire is set in a very unique location for a Victorian romance, what inspired you to set the book outside of England?
Originally posted on RAMBLINGS FROM THIS CHICK, 2 September, 2016
The beginning of Discovery of Desire is set in Bombay, and the second half returns my hero and his heroine to London, and parts north of London, in Derbyshire. I needed to send my explorer-hero, Seth Mayhew, away from England as he’s on a quest to find his lost sister. The search for Georgiana Mayhew, and an orphaned child, is at the center of a mystery that runs through the first three London Explorer books.
Seth, the burly, good-natured, handsome explorer for the East India Company, has just disembarked from a steamship from England and set foot on Bombay soil after a three-month sail—but he hasn’t sailed alone. The ship’s other passengers include nearly four-dozen “Venture Girls,” who are potential brides for the hundreds of Englishmen living and working in India. Among these hopeful women is Wilhelmina Adams, a woman from a neighboring village to Seth’s. The two had failed to meet both in England, though they were both in the same county, and during the sail, as passengers in steerage class (such as Seth) were strictly forbidden from entering the first class passenger’s areas (where Wilhelmina and the other Venture Girls spent their days and nights).
I could have sent Seth to China, Tibet, or Burma in search of his sister—I could have sent him nearly anywhere in Asia. But when I learned of the existence of these Venture Girls in the 18th and 19th century—these brave, perhaps desperate, women casting their fortunes to the wind and sailing east to marry—I had to put Seth on a boat to Bombay.
I’m sure a great deal of my interest in these women stems from the fact that I’m a product of two cultures: Okinawan and American. Having lived several years in both countries, and witnessing each of my parent’s experiences and struggles in a foreign culture, I feel a certain poignancy in imagining the lives of the Venture Girls, and all that they left behind. Only by the fortune of fate did I find myself a child of two stable, civilized and free countries. I can fly to Okinawa in around 15 hours, I can skype with my cousins, I can see pictures of their children on facebook.
But these women in 1850, leaving their home, sailing for three months over a dangerous sea, sailing into even a dangerous harbor, would have faced so much uncertainty. I had so many questions, wondering about the many reasons a woman would have found a new world more tenable than their existing one. Did they regret setting foot on that ship? What did they fear most? How did they change in dealing with their culture shock? Who was able to acclimate happily and kindly? Who grew bitter and hateful towards everything around them? What did they regret all their lives? Did they die wondering how much better or worse their lives would have been had they stayed in the country of their birth?
I tore Wilhelmina away from her home, her sisters, and the landscapes she loved. I made her afraid, but resolute. I made her strong in her love for her sister and for Seth, and put her on a course of sacrifice to serve the people she cared about. And then I gave her the happiest of endings, which not every Venture Girl had.
If you’d like to learn more about the lives of these women, I encourage you to read Anne de Courcy’s book, The Fishing Fleet.