An Interview with Priyadarshini Narendra, author of Two Chalet School Girls in India

Interview conducted by Helen Aveling, June 2006

Colour photograph of PriyaPriyadarshini Narendra is 36 and lives in New Delhi, India with her husband and two small children. Asked about her family, Priya says:

I'm from the south of India, he is from the north. He is Muslim and I'm Hindu, which is an unusual combination in India. We are both advertising professionals and worked together for several years before we got married. We are both bibliophiles and revel in reading, writing and collecting books. Luckily our three-year-old son Aman seems to be headed the same way, and we hope our newborn daughter Alena will follow suit. I guess they can't help it, given the house is packed with books.

Ali and I are also rat-packers when it comes to movies and music, but our tastes are diverse – I love the classics, old movies, romance and my husband likes to stay au courant so between us we cover all the bases! Our son Aman is a skilled communicator for his age and chatters away fluently in three languages. I plan to teach him spoken French as well, as soon as my crowded schedule gives me the opportunity. Alena is just about two weeks old and as well adjusted as can be for her age!

My hobbies include watching movies, reading, cooking, travel. I love water sports whenever I get the chance to indulge.

I asked Priya about reading the Chalet School books and their appeal for her.

I started reading the Chalet School books when I was about six years old. My cousin had a copy of Princess from a second-hand bookshop. It hooked me but it was quite difficult to find more titles.

I had no idea how extensive the series was until I was about 14 and in Singapore. I came across a second-hand Armada book which listed all the titles, including the ones Armada had not published. From then I haunted all the second-hand and first-hand bookshops in Singapore until I had amassed most titles. One of the most thrilling moments was when I came across The Chalet School in Exile, discovering the romance between Jo and Dr. Jack and the whole WWII bit.

The first one I read was The Princess of the Chalet School. The last would have to be the from among the add-ons to the series, but from the original set, probably Summer Term.

I was an keen Chalet School collector until I completed my collection, and I have all the books though many are second-hand and most are Armada paperbacks. Both my sister and sister-in-law are avid fans of the Chalet School books and were the first two readers of the first chapter I wrote.

On being asked whether she read them openly Priya gave me an emphatic yes, and said her favourite period in the series was the Tirol phase, ending with Exile.

I then asked what other authors does she enjoy reading? She replied:

Amongst children's books, mostly long gone authors like Noel Streatfeild, Edith Nesbit, C.S.Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M.Montgomery, Maud Hart Lovelace etc.

Other authors include Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer, Wodehouse, Mary Higgins Clark, Dorothy Sayers, William Dalrymple, Christian Jacq, to name but a few...

I asked about her the appeal in reading books in India about a boarding school in a British culture that is long gone.

The characters are still relevant and very alive. One can relate to them as girls growing up regardless of the exact time and place setting. Plus in many ways, school life in India is – or was, when I was in school, run along very British lines.

I relate well to the simpler, more innocent times in which the series is set, despite its move forward into the 1960s. School life and our growing up years in India were like that and I suppose it is both nostalgic for me and easier as an era as opposed to the fast-paced, highly competitive and aware world in which my kids are going to have to grow up. Moreover, the characters, and in particular Joey, have a lot of appeal. Like most avid readers who also dream secretly of becoming authors, I love stories about people who want to grow up to be authors.

I asked her when, and why, did she first think about writing a fill-in Chalet School book?

I discovered the Chalet fill-ins about seven years ago on Amazon, but it never occurred to me to write one myself. Then about two years ago one of my friends wrote a book - about working and romance in India - and she had never been someone into writing. That gave me the much-needed boost to start trying my hand at writing since I had always dreamt of becoming an author. I made two or three beginnings but the one that seemed to flow the most easily, with a life of its own was the Chalet School one.

What made you pick this gap in the series, and why did you pick the title Two Chalet School Girls in India?

From the time I read Summer Term, I had always wondered what adventures Joey had had in India. The hints of what she did in The Coming of Age were also tantalizing. And given that I'm Indian and from somewhere near Coorg by origin, it just seemed logical.

How hard was it to write the book, and how long did it take?

The bulk of the book flowed fairly easily whenever I did sit down to write. The difficulty was in finding the time to write, since I work and had a one-and-a-half-year-old waiting for my attention at home. Most of the writing was done in the "wee small hours", as a result. What was also difficult was to resist the urge to rewrite or edit what was already written rather than writing the new chapters. It finally took close to a year, from sending my first chapter and outline to Ju in November 2004 to sending her the complete book in 2005 October or so.

How much research did you have to do for the Indian part of the book and how much research was needed to pick up threads and E.B-D 'facts' in terms of consistency with Elinor Brent-Dyer's own books?

Quite a bit of reseach went into the Indian section, since I wanted to get all the details right. I am grateful to the many British women who came to India during the Raj and wrote their memoirs. I bought a whole shelf full of books of Raj anecdotes and stories. I also did lots of research on the Net to find things like names of ships that sailed to India and makes of aircraft and cars that were available at the time. I also checked on things like the length of the train journey from Mumbai to Bangalore, life and places to see in Coorg etc.

I have read and re-read the series so many times that most of the facts were in place. Of course, there were details mentioned in other E.B-D books like The School by the River which I had not read, so I got that from you, Helen. Strangely, during the process of writing this book, I found myself reluctant to read any of the Chalet School books, though now I can enjoy them again.

How did you find Bettany Press and what was Ju's reaction to your manuscript?

I had bought a copy of the reprinted Jean of Storms from where I found out about Bettany Press. I Googled "Bettany Press" when I was ready to send in my first chapter and got the email address. Ju was very positive from the beginning and I was on a high from getting a green light so early into the book's writing.

Finally, are there any plans to write another fill-in Chalet School book?

Not at the moment, though you can never tell when inspiration will strike.

Two Chalet School Girls in India will be published by Bettany Press in autumn 2006, price £14.99 including p&p in the UK. Click here to pre-order your copy via email; you will be invoiced on delivery. See the Ordering page for details of postage outside the UK.

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