Secrets of The Ash Museum with Rebecca Smith
Visit the Ash Museum with Rebecca Smith
Secrets of The Ash Museum with Rebecca Smith -Sometimes settings in books can be so unusual and interesting, you just have to find out if they are real or if they are inspired by somewhere in particular. The Ash Museum is one of those places. What IS an Ash Museum and what kind of things can you expect to see there?
The Ash Museum is one of memories and artefacts of the Ash family – where you are guided through each ‘room’, each chapter to see a different artefact. These objects are linked to the history of the family and their family tree.
Rebecca Smith is your guide and the Museum’s curator. Hope you are ready for a personal tour of this most fascinating of places…..
Secrets of The Ash Museum with Rebecca Smith …..
There is a real Ash Museum. I discovered this after I finished my novel. The trustees of that Ash Museum kindly agreed to me using the title – I would have hated to do anything “anti-museum” as my novel grew from my love of small museums. You can visit that Ash Museum – . I hope you will visit my imaginary Ash Museum too.
I wanted to write a novel that spanned five generations inspired by things that happened on my father’s side of the family. Ideas of home and searching for home interest me a great deal. When I started the novel, I was the writer in residence at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton. That inspired the structure and gave me the idea of telling a complex story through objects and creating an imaginary museum of my characters.
I loved being at Jane Austen’s House. I thought a lot about the way that people are drawn to particular places. The fact that I was in the exact place so important to my family. My five times Great Aunts Cassandra and Jane had lived here and my four times Great Grandfather, Frank Austen, had often stayed when he wasn’t away at sea. I wondered if people have a homing instinct that draws them back to places their ancestors were from. It often seems so.
The characters in my novel travel all over the world. It’s a story of migration and the impact of colonialism and war on a family and how that echoes down the generations….
Many of the journeys in The Ash Museum were only possible in my imagination; I couldn’t go to the Saskatchewan of homesteaders in 1912, the tea plantations of Assam in the 1930s, or The Battle of Kohima in India in 1944. I hope I got those locations right. I’m always interested in the flora and fauna of places. Some ancestors shot tigers and leopards and went foxhunting and beagling. Does that mean that those animals were harmed in the making of this book?
I also tried to depict the London of my parents in the 1950s and ’60s and drew on my own childhood in Surrey in the 1970s and ’80s.
Otterham, the village where Emmie Ash (one of my central characters) grows up was based on the beautiful village of Brockham in Surrey. The secondary school Emmie goes to is based on the one I went to in Dorking. My childhood was happy, but we were the only mixed-race family in the village, and I wanted to capture aspects of what that was like. I don’t like the term “mixed race”, but I can’t say dual heritage either as I’m Indian, Scottish, and English.
There’s lots of Hampshire in the novel too. Romsey Abbey and The Water Meadows in Winchester are some of my favourite places on Earth. I used to love visiting my great aunts who lived in St Cross and going for walks with them. My characters Margaret and Lucinda are based on them. My great aunts did go on a W.I. trip to Romsey Abbey, but the one that happens in the novel is much more dramatic.
My father came to England in the 1950s. The English side of the family adopted both his and his siblings. The Ash Museum is fiction, but I used family stories and pored over old photos and letters for inspiration. I was keen to get the details right!
At the centre of the story is Josmi who is based on what I imagined about my Indian grandmother. My father remembers very little of her as she died when he was so young. I’ve always wished I knew her and wondered what it was like to be her, to have four children with an English tea planter who was killed in the Second World War. She was left in a terrible position, particularly after Partition. Her children were sent away to a school on the other side of India. I tried to answer my questions about what her life must have been like.
The Ash Museum closes in Britain in the twenty-first century. Some things go full circle. It was important to capture how things had changed here. Most of all, The Ash Museum is about the search for home.
Wow thank you so much Rebecca. What a fascinating story behind the novel!
BookTrail Boarding Pass: The Ash Museum