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Q&A with author Harriet Steel – books set in Sri Lanka

7th October 2017

Harriet Steel is the author of the Inspector de Silva mysteries, set in 1930s Ceylon. The first book in this engaging series was Trouble in Nuala, the second Dark Clouds Over Nuala and the third – Offstage in Nuala – will be published in November. 

#TFBookClub readers will be excited to hear that they can soon meet Inspector de Silva as Trouble in Nuala will be a Book Club read towards the end of the year. Harriet is busy getting together a fun Giveaway bundle that you will have the chance to win, so keep an eye out on the TripFiction website and on social media.

Harriet Steel

Offering of Flowers at a wayside shrine

Back in June this year, Harriet chatted with TripFiction about her love of Sri Lanka and how she knew immediately that the tea-growing hill country area – in the southern central part of this large bean-shaped island – would be the setting for her mystery series.

TripFiction caught up with Harriet again to chat about her writing career, Sri Lanka, and Inspector de Silva….

TF: Your earlier career was in the legal profession. How did you make the big leap to writing?

HS: I started writing short stories, and then I heard about the BBC’s End of Story competition. Amateur writers had to finish, in 1,200 words, stories started by six famous published authors. I chose Joanne Harris, was short-listed and this great experience allowed me to spend time with Joanne and learn some valuable insights to help move forward with my own writing.

Harriet Steel

Made in Birmingham, the signal box at Kandy Station

TF: History is another of your passions. How easy was it to transition from writing short stories to historical-themed novels?

HS: My husband and I were on holiday in Bavaria, visiting castles and soaking up the area’s rich history. I was captivated by the story of Lola Montez, the stage name of a courtesan and mistress of King Ludwig I, ruler of Bavaria in the first half of the 19th century. Lola’s real name was Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, she had been an Irish dancer and actress but she was elevated by King Ludwig to the heady title of Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld. She was an adventuress, becoming the most famous woman in the world after Queen Victoria, and inspired me to write Becoming Lola, a dramatised biography of her rather incredible life. 

Sunset over Yala Game Park

TF: Your lovely #TalkingLocationWith blog post for TripFiction earlier this year mentioned how you had been planning to write a detective series for a while. Did you always intend it to be based in Sri Lanka, or was it the location that was the catalyst for you to breathe life into Inspector de Silva?

HS: The latter! As soon as I visited Sri Lanka, and especially when I found Nuwara Eliya in the central hill country, the community which became my fictional Nuala, I was on my way. The charming people, Sri Lanka’s wildlife and natural beauty, and the country’s spectacular cuisine – no fast food here! – all helped me move the plot and characterisation forward. And the gentle humour and profound inquisitiveness of Inspector de Silva came partly from a lovely guide who showed us around this magical island.

Time for lunch

TF: How many more times do you anticipate Inspector de Silva might appear in this series?

HS: I think I can justify a 4th, and perhaps even a 5th, book before I need to start thinking about his well-earned retirement

TF: And has anywhere else on your travels inspired you in the same way as Sri Lanka, and which your readers might hope to be used as a location for future novels or series?

HS: I’ve always loved the Lake District. I think that’s potentially a good location in which to base new fiction. It’s not quite as exotic or colourful as Sri Lanka, so the writing would probably reflect the naturally darker and more brooding atmosphere of the Lakes. And possibly Yorkshire, although many other novels have already been written about God’s own country, of course.

TF: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with TripFiction again, Harriet. Good luck with the publication of Offstage in Nuala in November, we’re sure #TFBookClub readers will love reading Trouble in Nuala and will be keen to follow Inspector de Silva in Dark Clouds Over Nuala and the upcoming Offstage in Nuala.

A big thank you to Harriet for her insightful answers to our questions!

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

*Trouble in Nuala

*Dark Clouds Over Nuala

*other books on TripFiction set in Sri Lanka

*books on TripFiction set in the Lake District 

*books on TripFiction set in Yorkshire

You can follow Harriet on Twitter and via her blog

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