I am very interested in family history and was initially drawn to the project because my 5 x great uncle was a Major General in the East India Company Army. I also have family connections to Whitechapel, Custom House and the Mercers’ Company dating back as far as the 1740s.
I was attracted by the writing aspect of the project as I have always enjoyed writing but never had the benefit of professional guidance.
The activities organised by the project have been fantastic and I have thoroughly enjoyed all the walks, trips to museums and archives, and the writing and illustrating stories sessions.
Through my research in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at the British Library I found out about many aspects of military life during the 19th Century. I researched subjects such as orphan schools in India, the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and the side effects of mercury poisoning. I also discovered that too much research can get in the way of good storytelling…
I learnt a great deal from Rajeev Balasubramanyam during the writing sessions. He encouraged us to play around with different tenses and viewpoints to see how it would alter our stories, and also to redraft our stories, which was hard work but rewarding.
My story tells of shocking events which happened in the EIC army during the 1810s. It is a mixture of true and imagined events. All the characters are based on real people, including my ancestors; the names have been changed but biographical details such as their lives before, during and after their time in the EIC army are based on fact.
I did not intend to write about the military but whilst researching my 5 x great uncle I came across intriguing personnel records and minutes which I then developed into a story. I sometimes struggled with writing from a military man’s point of view and writing as though I knew what it was like to live in India in a military compound during the 19th century and, on occasion, I regretted my choice of subject.
‘The majority of the garrison had long been abed, female company being in short supply in those days, and it was eerie to hear human sounds outside at such a late hour. I was slow to react, having dined well and engaged in pleasant company, and there was frantic banging at the door before I had reached it.
“Chadwick has run mad”, burst out the officer as I opened the door.
It took some time for our search party to find him, and when we did the poor beast was in a hideous, drunken, gibbering state and had to be carried to hospital ’
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