1 June 2021

Special Guest Post by Kate Abley, Author of Hausa Blue

 Available at Amazon UK and Amazon US

From the contaminated capital to moth-eaten Bengal, a multi-racial British Empire is getting round to revolution. Will the Queen’s imposter be released from the Tower of London? Who can she be now?

Thank you so much for inviting to your guest post today, it is wonderful that you provide this platform for authors and resource for readers. I have enjoyed having to work out why I wrote Hausa Blue. I usually ponder a few ideas until a story forms vaguely in my mind. Then, I start writing and only stop when it takes me to a place where I need to do a bit more research. So, writing about my motivation has been a challenge. Here goes.

I love historical novels but I also wanted to write something that reflects the cultural makeup of the UK now. To do that I had to invent a slightly different British history. The story in Hausa Blue may appear quite unusual, but the research behind it is traditionally of the same sort as any historical fiction. I spent a great deal of time reading and taking notes about the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain, Africa and India, as well as long hours in the British Museum examining artifacts.

The research is the environment for a story. The characters and their actions lead the drama. Dipa, the young dress-makers daughter, paces up and down her cell in the Tower of London as former queens are wont to do. She doesn’t know why the charge of treason has been dropped, why the guards are not beating her any more, or why they have changed their uniforms. All she knows is that there is a New Management in the British Empire that she ruled over before she was found out.

If she is going to be released, she must reveal how a good girl like her washed her face and hands before she went to meet the woman who would embroil her in a life of lies and very well-dressed debauchery.

As Dipa confesses of the extravagance and decadence of the Aristoi class she was so willing to join, we learn about the Lady Aditi Egremont-Cooch-Bahar, rich, beautiful and from one of the most influential families in the Empire who is undisputed queen of the Yangans, the ‘it-girls’ of this world.

Aditi is clever too, but has played one too many japes She has escaped to the other side of the world and the land of some of her forefathers. Brewing in her mind is a sort of plan to turn the tide back in her favour, all she needs is the right equipment.

I was motivated because a subject that has interested me since my teens, British Colonial history, began to become part of the news. The distortions that this topic has suffered from, both past and present, are a source of great frustration.

I am a Londoner, born and bred, and was brought up in Notting Hill Gate, where many of the first and second generations of black people from the Caribbean were my friends and neighbours. I was lucky enough to be one of the first generations that considers migration and immigration to be not just normal, but beneficial to the capital and our United Kingdom.

I was also fortunate that my parents, both Londoners themselves, took the time to take me, my brother and sister on a myriad of trips and visits. We explored the well-known destinations like the Tower of London, and less well-known parts of London, including the slippery cobbles of Covent Garden when it was a vegetable market, the East End Docks looming in all their grimy dereliction, the bustle of Fleet Street when it was alive with newspaper and magazine employees and bagel shops in Whitechapel as well as many other places that are now entirely different. Through these journeys, I learned that London has had ties with the rest of the world for centuries, some good and some bad, through trade, commerce, culture and banking. I wanted my story to reflect this; the good and bad in our past.

When I grew up I became a nursery and reception teacher and worked for many years in the East End of London. By that time the Bangla Town we know and love had come into being and again I learned. This time it was about the rich and majestic history of Bengal, arguably the true birth place of the British Empire, which became both a part of India and also what is now Bangladesh.

It was these experiences, that led me to want to question the current idea of Cultural Appropriation. The idea that people of one race, particularly the white ones, should not take narratives, visual or musical tropes from other, mainly black and brown, cultures. White writers have been criticised for writing black characters, celebrities have been admonished for ‘appropriating’ black hair styles and many people who have shown appreciation for a culture into which they were not born are told to ‘stay in their lane’.

But I had grown up with an understanding that all the cultures should belong to everyone. I believe it is not a crime, but a duty to learn and love as many diverse ways of seeing and being as one can.

I will never inhabit a black skin, I have never been to Bengal nor 1814 for that matter. I have never made a dress, fought in a war or pretended to be a member of the Royal Family. Luckily, I am a human being and can imagine these things, and, hopefully, use words to enable the reader to do the same thing.

I understand that that accusations of Cultural Appropriation come from the entirely justifiable anger and grief caused by the actual appropriation, by mainly white people, of the land, the resources and worst of all the people, who are black or brown, not just in history but into the present. But when I take an idea, which after all can be owned by as many minds as hold it, from someone, we are both richer.

If we do not share culture we are all the poorer for it. In addition, there is an argument that says it is when two cultures come up to each other that both are renewed and develop. Anyone who has enjoyed Hamlet and his entourage sharing the Wakanda salute, as I did in an RSC production with a mainly black cast a few years ago, will agree with me.

It was these experiences and ideas that led me to create an alternative, multi-racial, British Empire.

So how could such a thing plausibly come into being? In my opinion, the late 17th and early 18th centuries were probably the only times where such an eventuality could have occurred. These were times of immense social and economic change, the first when more than the odd exceptional individual of low birth could achieve great wealth and power, and the first when the ideas of equality and justice for all were widespread. Thus, I invented ‘The Discord of 1814’, where a Hanoverian king George overcame prejudices of various kinds to make an African princess his queen. This means that the royal family in my story, as well as most upper-class families are multi-racial.

You might recognise the cover image on the cover of Hausa Blue. I am fascinated with the woman who this 17th pectoral mask represents.

The beauty and craftsmanship are gorgeous but I think knowing a little about who the mask represents adds to its wonder. She is thought to be Queen Idia of the kingdom of Benin, in what is now Nigeria. She was a great warrior who is said to have led many battles against the enemies her son the Ibo, or king.

The mask forms part of the collection known as the Benin Bronzes, which were ‘appropriated’ in 1896 and many of which now reside in the British Museum.

Next time you’re in London, you might enjoy a trip to see the exquisite metal, wood and ivory work of the Benin Bronzes, which date from the 1600s. I go to the British Museum quite often, to look at the beautiful Queen Idia, as well as many other favourites. So you never know, we may bump into each other.

Kate Abley

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About the author

Kate Abley was accidentally born and now intentionally lives in London, England, where, amongst other things she has been an awful front woman in a psychobilly band, good dish-washer, bad shop assistant, officially outstanding Early Years teacher, nice charitable fund-giver and failed political activist. Last century, she wrote the non-fiction book, ‘Swings and Roundabouts: The Dangers of Outdoor Play Safety’ (1999). Nowadays, she is a respectable and happily married woman with two children who have grown-up pretty well and she has turned her hand to killing plants and writing stories. She published her first novel, Changing the Subject, in 2019.  Find out more at Kate Abley‘s website: kateabley.com and follow her on  Facebook and Twitter @AbleyKate

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