STEEPSTER BOOK CLUB: For All the Tea in China, AUTHOR DISCUSSION with SARAH ROSE!!
Changes between the US and UK — the books are essentially the same except for the ending. The US ending is much more restrained. I like them both and understand each editor’s preferences for his choices.
My next project….this is a subject of much anxiety! I know what my next heavy research book will be, but honestly, it was so hard to do this one, so much work and so frustrating on the business side, that I’ve really enjoyed NOT writing a book for the past year. I’ve done a lot of travel and food writing for magazines. I’m doing some TV work that I hope will promote For All the Tea — finding readers is my greatest challenge. (As soon as I can talk about this, I will) At some point I’ll buckle down and propose the next book project — more colonial history, more Victorian swashbuckling. Hearing from readers is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever known — and motivating enough to go out and get brutalized by a book again….almost.
It’s a really good question – how did the Chinese perceive his pilfering? His servants didn’t leave written records and he’s not mentioned in the local gazetteers. So it’s not something we can know for sure. Fortune makes some suppositions and I tried to reconstruct from other sources how it might have been perceived based on the economic and social factors at play.
Fortune attracted a great deal of attention in certain parts – mostly on the trade routes where there was a lot of intercourse with the coastal trade and on the coast. But inland, he was given more of a pass. I tried to highlight at least some of the instances where these interactions came up.
And on Dent’s grounds – effectively, when he’s working in the gardens Dent & Co in the British Concession of Shanghai, he’s working in Britain. The laws of Britain were at play in the Treaty Ports, not the laws of China. Policing and enforcement was all British. So yes, he was given free reign in those gardens to do as he wished.
And I agree with the recommendation, everyone who might have an interest in modern China should read Peter Hessler. There is no one better.
Hello Ms. Rose, thanks for taking the time to join us here. Enjoyed your book.
I was curious about Mrs. Fortune. Just from what little we learned of her, she seemed an interesting character. Did you learn anything more about her as you were researching than what appears in the book?
Morgana, we have very little information on her beyond the parish records. There is the occasional mention in his business papers that survive – but she’s really very much in the shadows historically. We know that she gave birth to more children than survived, she was the one who managed his affairs while he was abroad, and she raised the family virtually alone. When the time came, she destroyed Fortune’s papers.
So again, I tried to fill her out to the best of my ability with what was going on in England at the time – there were an awful lot of colonial widows, increasing freedoms, and a female monarch.
I haven’t finished your book yet, so I don’t really have any questions. I just want to say thank you from everyone in the tea industry and who loves tea. This book is something we all can enjoy! Props for writing such an excellent book! :) It was much needed!
“wow, 4 years, how many years in before you had your first draft?”
My first draft was completed in 2 years – that included all the traveling.
But honestly, it was longer — from the day I began the proposal to the day it was published in the UK was 5 years, and in the US that makes 6.
And the best part is right now, having readers. I’ve enjoyed your message board so much.
Sarah – I wanted to thank you for coming to Steepster to converse with us, and answer our questions!! We truly loved your book, and learned so much. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts – and teacups!!!
Oh, goodness! The pleasure was really all mine.
Thank you all for sharing your thoughts online as you read – I feel very lucky.
You constructed ever character as such an individual, you could practically hear and guess their reactions, thank you for making them so human, even if they were frustrating humans at times.
Did you find that the personalities formed for you during the beginning of your research and stayed steady, or did the personalities you planned for the characters evolve over the years of research?
AmazonV – Fortune really evolved for me most, since I was most immersed in his works. Frequently I would learn something new in research – say about opium usage – and then reread his stories and see him in a whole new light.
But I also got to know many of the East India Company functionaries through their letters. I came to admire Falconer and Wallich so much, just by reading them.
I once had an agent ask “Does it have to be true?” He wanted to know if I could change the ending. “But it is true…” was my feeble response. I really like that all this happened. It makes the story and characters that much more exciting, to my mind.