London to Bombay 1939
A True Story in Novel Form
By Faye Sharpe
Neil kindly asked me to write for the Dark Angels’ blog to introduce my book and to explain why I wrote it, what the process meant to me and why I wanted to gift the book to people.
London to Bombay 1939 is the true story of a man, his wife and two daughters who, in the summer of 1939, in a fourth-hand Ford, drove from London to Bombay. They raced to cross borders before they closed. They raced for home in increasingly unfamiliar and disconcerting times.
That’s the blurb on the back cover, if it had one.
The man was my grandfather Hugo; his wife, my grandmother Queenie; his two daughters, my mother Barbara and aunt Joan.
I started writing the book because it is a cracking yarn, one that I wanted to save from oblivion. It was a story I thought I knew well.
When our father died, my sister and I had the job of dealing with the family relics which, for over four generations, had been faithfully collected and transported from house to house, home to home, country to country. Amongst the personal and sentimental ephemera, there was a cardboard box on which my father had written a title with a felt-tipped pen – London to Bombay 1939. It was a cache of evidence – photographs, maps, a travel guide, an itinerary, a diary, bills, receipts, observational notes, correspondence and a camera. The very one. Here was the story waiting to be told.
During 14 years of research into places, people and times, the story revealed astonishing things, matters of great consequence, some greater than even they could have known or imagined. During 3 years of daily writing, the story realised recurring themes, the complexities of identity, the transience of status and the innate, fragile nature of belonging.
I wrote London to Bombay 1939 in novel form, an historical novel, to give the characters their voices, as well as I had known them and to give them their context, which framed much of their later lives and those of that generation. I wrote it for my three nieces and my nephew. I wrote it for my Mum. I wrote it, most of all, for me.
Neil reminded me of what Carol Ann Duffy said recently: ‘We need the voice of poetry in times of change and world-grief. A poem only seeks to add to the world and now seems the time to give.’
Now seems the time to give.
I wrote a story that took hold of me – a story that now seems to want to leave me, to take flight, to take on a life of its own so that it may add to the world in its own unique and unknowable way.
It is apt for London to Bombay 1939 to fly out to all Dark Angels. It was something said to me at Merton College which provoked me into writing the story in the way that I have.
I am grateful to John and Neil, to Elen and Gillian, for making London to Bombay 1939 accessible to all Dark Angels, as a gift from me to you. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. Please feel free to pass it on, with my love.
Download and read London to Bombay.
“It was a 1934, bull-nosed, Ford saloon. Four doors. V8 engine. Flip up windscreen for ventilation. An ordinary family saloon fitted out for inter-continental travel.”
“Hugo had run the car into a hole in which the back wheel was suspended over a culvert. The girls looked on in dismay. Queenie leant against the car, defeated. Hugo lit a cigarette.”
“The soldier flipped the pages of their passports and seeing the numerous visas, stamped their passports Ein-Ausgereist, ‘A Foreigner’.”
“The convoy, Nairn’s colossal Pullman and the family’s little Ford, was gathered in Nairn’s yard.” Crossing the Syrian Desert – Damascus to Baghdad.