The Road Back By Liz Harris

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

In October, 2011, a dream came true when I learnt that the award-winning publisher Choc Lit was going to publish THE ROAD BACK in September 2012. It was an unbelievable moment, and I’m still pinching myself to make sure that I really am awake.

My novel has been described as ‘a sumptuous tale of love and adventure in the sweeping and little-known backdrop of Ladakh, north of the Himalayas … which throws together two people from radically different cultures with explosive results.’

Until three years ago, however, I’d never even heard of Ladakh. Three years ago, my cousin, who now lives in Australia, phoned me and asked for help in finding a home for an album that her father, my late uncle, had compiled after a visit he made to Ladakh in the mid 1940s.

I ran to the atlas and saw that Ladakh was an independent province of India, lying north of the Himalayas and west of Tibet. It’s a high mountain plateau with virtually no rain.

Apparently, when my uncle had been stationed with the army in North India, he’d managed to get one of the few authorised passes to visit Ladakh. On his return to England, he'd assembled his photos and notes into an album, which he had later passed on to his daughter.

The ink had begun to fade, and my cousin was anxious to find a place for the album where it would be preserved.

The album is now in the Indian Room of the British Library, in London. It was brought over to England by friends of my cousin. I collected it from their hotel, and in the two weeks that I had it before I handed it over to the British Library, I read it from cover to cover and fell in love with the place. From that moment on, I knew I had to set a novel there and I began to research the country in depth.

But THE ROAD BACK is first and foremost a very romantic love story, and as well as researching the country, I needed to discover the two characters who were going to meet and fall deeply in love. I knew that one of them would be English, and the other would be born and brought up in Ladakh.

It’s funny how you have characters in your head who are just waiting to be called upon. Patricia was one such character. From the very start, I knew that my heroine, Patricia, was born in the 1950s and brought up in Belsize Park, in the north west of London, which is an area I know well. I saw her as a lonely child whose parents who were weighted down by grief over something that had happened to the family during the war years. She was desperate for her father to notice her, but he was too absorbed in his sorrow and regret over her sick older brother to do so.

However, I couldn’t ‘see’ my hero, beyond the fact that he was born and brought up in a Ladakhi village in the Buddhist part of the country. But I did know that his name was Kalden. The Ladakhi tend to have a first name only. Knowing his name was a start, and whilst I waited to ‘see’ Kalden more clearly, I continued to learn more and more about the country.

And then one day, I read a very interesting fact about life in Ladakh, and about the way in which the families organised themselves in order to survive in a country with minimal rain. It was a Eureka moment, and I felt a powerful surge of excitement when I read that …

… but perhaps I shouldn’t tell you what I read. No, I won’t! I’d like you to read the novel and find out for yourself.

I shall say only that Kalden was destined by circumstances beyond his control to become a monk. I now had my characters and I had their story. When Patricia accompanies her father, Major George Carstairs, on a trip to Ladakh in the early 1960s, she sees it as a chance to finally win his love. What she never could have foreseen is that she’d meet Kalden, the man who was fated to be the love of her life. Despite her father’s fury, Patricia and Kalden are determined to stay together, but can their forbidden love survive?

And what about you? In my case, a chance phone call set me on a journey that ended in a novel. Has a chance comment/remark/message/question started something for any of you that you’d never have predicted?

Two lucky readers who comment on this, or on any other aspect of my blog, will be randomly selected to win an ebook copy of THE ROAD BACK. Good luck!