Mary Margaret ‘Mollie’ Kaye (1908–2004) has been one of my favourite writers since I read her worldwide best-seller The Far Pavilions in the early 1980s. She has been an inspiration to me in my writing, because, like me, she was a traveller at heart and she wrote wonderfully descriptive stories set in exotic locations that really transport you to far-off lands.
She was born in Simla, India, where she set The Far Pavilions, and was then sent to boarding school in Britain to be Anglicised. When she married her husband, who was in the British Army, she followed him to Kenya, Zanzibar, Egypt, Cyprus and Germany. Her obituary in the Guardian outlines what life was like abroad for her then:
Removed to a small hill station, she bore a daughter, unaided by a drunk medical orderly. It was a five-day labour; a tiger ate a water buffalo under her verandah; the medic shot the tiger; Kaye caught malaria from mosquitoes in the watertank. “It could only happen in India.”
She wrote several books, of which The Far Pavilions is the most famous. It has been called an Indian Gone With the Wind and her daughter said ‘The Far Pavilions was my mother’s love letter to India’. The book was made into a television drama and a musical for the stage that played at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, in 2005. Sadly, MM Kaye had died the year before and never saw this adaptation.
When I came across this quote from MM Kaye in her children’s book, The Ordinary Princess, I knew I had found a soulmate:
This story was written many moons ago under an apple tree in an orchard in Kent, which is one of England’s prettiest counties . . . I had read at least twenty of the [fairy tales] when I noticed something that had never struck me before – I suppose because I had always taken it for granted. All the princesses, apart from such rare exceptions as Snow White, were blond, blue-eyed, and beautiful, with lovely figures and complexions and extravagantly long hair. This struck me as most unfair, and suddenly I began to wonder just how many handsome young princes would have asked a king for the hand of his daughter if that daughter had happened to be gawky, snub-nosed, and freckled, with shortish mouse-colored hair? None, I suspected. They would all have been of chasing after some lissome Royal Highness with large blue eyes and yards of golden hair and probably nothing whatever between her ears! It was in that moment that a story about a princess who turned out to be ordinary jumped into my mind, and the very next morning I took my pencil box and a large rough-notebook down to the orchard and, having settled myself under an apple tree in full bloom, began to write . . . the day was warm and windless and without a cloud in the sky. A perfect day and a perfect place to write a fairy story.
How this reminds me of myself, writing love stories in my own Kentish orchard!
On MM Kaye’s website at www.mmkaye.com you can find out more about this great writer. I very much enjoyed her advice to authors, honest and straightforward:
No one can advise you how to write a book. You either can or you can’t, and the only way is to find out. And the only way you can do that is, in my opinion, to acquire the necessary tools (typewriter, pen, pencil, or whatever you prefer to use; paper, a dictionary if you can’t spell – I can’t! – and so on) and then, sit down and start writing. There is no other way. Too many would-be writers seem to think one must wait for inspiration. But if I had, I’d never have written a line. You get it all right; but not all that often, and only while you are pegging away at a book or a short story or whatever. It comes as you are writing – not sitting waiting for it. Or at least, that has been my experience.
Such a fascinating and inspirational lady. I do recommend her books to you if you like classic, epic stories and to learn of other cultures and settings.