Reply to comment

Feature: Rosie Thomas talks about the inspirations for her novels

Rosie Thomas

Published: 22 March, 2012

Author Rosie Thomas spent much of her childhood in North Wales waiting for the mobile library van to arrive and devouring the books it had just delivered.

Fittingly, she has spent much of her adult life merrily filling the nation’s bookshelves and libraries with her own works.

The 64-year-old Islington-based novelist has produced 23 of them in three decades and her latest paperback, The Kashmir Shawl, is probably as good as any in the Thomas canon.

Switching between contemporary and 1940s Kashmir and Ladakh, the book follows one woman’s quest to uncover a family mystery by travelling in her missionary grandparents’ footsteps in India.

What makes it stand out from its contemporaries though, is the way Thomas effortlessly evokes a sense of place, culture and tradition without ever appearing hackneyed or off-key.

Part of the credit for that surely goes to the steps she took to nail down her research, such as a long trek in the remote provinces of Ladakh and a two-day Jeep ride across the Himalayas to study the shawl trade first-hand.

“I met all the dyers, spinners and embroiderers and came back with more than enough to begin writing a novel,” she says.

Ten months later, the book was finished.

Since then she has visited Antarctica and now has her sights set on climbing in the Alps and a visit to Bhutan in South Asia.

Only Thomas knows if these adventures will work their way into her books, but in recent years trips to Everest, Cairo, Bali and the Antarctic have provided novelistic fodder, while a thrilling drive in the Peking to Paris car rally saw her journey into the realms of non-fiction, too.

“The first books were about young women’s lives and I ran out of that in the mid-period,” she laughs. “So I had to start travelling and having adventures to find something else to write about.”

It is an exhilarating attitude from a woman who first made her name writing stories of love and loss while bringing up her family in Kentish Town in the 1980s.

“I started writing the year my son was born,” she says.

“We were hard up and I needed to do something so I sat down and started writing when the baby was asleep.”

Having worked in women’s magazines and with her then husband acting as a literary agent, Thomas was no stranger to the publishing world.

But her future as an author was far from assured until her first book, Celebration, written under the pseudonym Rosie Thomas, was accepted.

“I knew I could write and at some level I knew I would write,” she says. “Once it was under way I never really considered stopping.”

Established writers cannot stand still either, though, and on the eve of her 49th birthday Thomas left behind a somewhat sedentary literary life and headed off to Everest base camp.

“I felt very anxious about my work,” she says. “I went on the trip and felt so freed up and happy to be in the mountains and I came back feeling that was what I wanted to go on doing, so I did.”


By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.