I began writing Sugar, Sugar Bitter-sweet Tales of Indian Migrant Workers in September 2016. I had given myself four months to research and write the first draft. The plan was to deliver the manuscript to my publisher in January the following year so that we could meet the publication date of May 2017. I didn’t realise it then but I had set myself an almost impossible challenge. When the first week of January arrived I made a difficult call to my publisher, Rosemarie Hudson of HopeRoad Publishing. I explained that I needed more time and when I asked for three more weeks she gave me six. By mid March I handed the manuscript in. I am not too proud to say that those six months or so were the most gruelling and at times the most soul destroying moments of my professional life. But there are a couple of things you need to know about me as I share this journey with you - I don’t give up easily, second, I love a challenge and I had a lot of support.
Sugar, Sugar is a collection of short stories based on historical archive based at the British Library and the memories of the descendents of indentured Indians who live in London. Their ancestors, my own included left the Indian sub-continent between 1838 and 1917 to work on sugar plantations in British colonies around the world. Their labour was needed by British plantation owners in colonies such as British Guiana, Fiji, South Africa (Natal) Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago. They were contracted to work for five years on the sugar plantations.
I chose to write historical fiction because of the lack of first-person narrative in the archives and so with the help of the Caribbean historian, Clem Seecharan and other members of this almost invisible community I set about creating fictional stories about their experiences. I had already presented a two-part series on my own family history for BBC Radio 4, Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas but now I wanted to extend the story to other communities who share this fascinating history.
But I’m jumping the gun. Let me go back to January 2016 when I first met Eva Lewin, Writer Development Manager from Spread the Word. I had approached her to help me get the much needed funding to write the collection. From her busy offices in South East London she recalls her first impressions of the project I put before her.