I have a bright red hand-written postcard on my desk. It reads: “Dear Merryn, How lovely to write, write, write! Everything is online at the moment, which is so fantastically useful, of course, and also rather dull! I was so amazed at the wonderful three way coincidence that Askival created. What a lovely thing. Wishing you a happy day. Speak soon, Love, Kat”
The coincidence was one of those joyous, surprising gifts that arrive just when you need a boost. It began when Kat, a perfect stranger, ordered A House Called Askival via Amazon. I sent the book, enclosing a personal note, and was delighted to get a message of thanks and a request for another copy for her friend, Dave, who had connections with Nepal and Scotland. I sent it to her, inscribed to him, and Kat and I struck up an email exchange about life in lockdown with two sons. Mine are home from Uni and entertaining themselves making music and mess in equal measure, while hers are still primary age. I admired her cheerfulness and creativity with home-schooling and how she makes time for reading in the midst of extra-busy motherhood. I shared with her the anthology Stay at Home! Poems and Prose for Children in Lockdown and was chuffed when her boys’ Head Teacher used it in her Google classroom to inspire creative writing.
It turns out that Kat’s book group in the south of England are reading Askival. It was suggested by a member of the group who is the mother of the partner of a former colleague of mine from Kingussie High School! Word does get around. That in itself was a happy coincidence and plans are afoot for me to meet the group via video when they’ve finished it. (I’ve already met with a US book group via Facebook Messenger video, and it was easy and fun. Do get in touch if you’d like me to meet with yours. Lots of platforms and formats possible and completely free!)
A few days later, I dropped an email about a Society of Authors question to a writer contact whom I’ve only met online and got an immediate reply: “How strange that you should write today! Last night a friend gave me a signed copy of Askival inscribed ‘For Dave, enjoy this journey to India’. I don’t think she knows I know you. I can’t wait to read it.” As I said in my reply to him, what a weird and wonderful circle; what a small and beautiful world.
It still gives me a thrill every time a new reader discovers A House Called Askival. Eight years in the making, it was originally published in hardback in 2014 by Freight Books with the paperback coming out the following year. I have so many happy memories of those two years and the book events which started at the Cup Tea Lounge in Glasgow, which had once been the Bank of India – how fitting! And to celebrate the paperback launch in 2015, we climbed Askival on the island of Rum, left a copy on top registered with BookCrossing and enjoyed what happened next:
Then in July of 2015 I had a two-week, Do-it-Yourself book tour of North America, sparked by an invitation to speak at my Indian high school’s reunion in Minnesota. Arriving in Boston on US Independence Day, I went on to Chicago, St Paul and Toronto, re-connecting with dear friends from many eras of my life and making so many new ones. You can read the story of that very special time here.
Even better than a new reader is when they tell me what the book has meant to them. Here’s a message from a teenager right after launch:
I just finished reading Askival.Yes, it’s 12:30, I stayed up to finish it because I couldn’t put it down… I don’t think I have an adequate vocabulary to describe how I feel about it, I just love it a whole lot. I just needed to tell you that I hate you for making me so sad but also congratulations because it’s a beautiful kind of sadness.
And here’s another from last month, from a man in his 60s:
Dear Merryn, it’s midnight, my wife is asleep, I’ve just reached the end of Askival and I’m lying here howling—well, not out loud, but certainly requiring a large handkerchief. So, so beautiful, I can almost feel that dawn breaking. Thank you.
And there have been many in between. I treasure every single response, keep as many as possible and reply to everyone who writes to me. There are also a goodly stack of reviews online including from India, such as the blogger BookstopCorner: “This heart-touching story provides a stunning outlook as well as the most remarkable view on my very own country and it’s enriching history.” Amazon and Goodreads give a wide range of reaction and if you haven’t already, adding yours there is a huge help to me. Even a short sentence makes a big difference.
This feels like a good time to celebrate A House Called Askival. It’s fifteen years since the summer I started writing it, seven years since I signed that first exciting book contract and five years since the paperback tours. More significantly, September 5th marks 100 years since Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in his first campaign to move India towards self-governance. The struggle took 27 years but at midnight on August 14th & 15th 1947, the newly-formed Pakistan and India gained independence. These events are a key thread in Askival, which explores issues of religious conflict on political, family and individual levels and draws from the stories that eye-witnesses shared with me. Following three generations of an American family and their close Indian ties, the book is ultimately about reconciliation.
To mark Independence celebrations, and South Asian Heritage Month in the UK, I’m making the e-book available on Kindle from 9th to 15th of August at the discount price of 99p UK / 99c US (and equivalent in other locations). For anyone who still prefers a paper copy, I have almost run out of Freight’s original edition, which I bought when the company went under, but I am setting up an account with a printer who supplies online retailers, bookstores and libraries. You can get a personally signed copy from me and any orders received by 15th August will get the special discount rate of £6.99 + postage – while stocks last! Drop me a note if you’re keen.
Till then, thank you again to everyone who has bought or borrowed A House Called Askival, read, recommended, reviewed and written to me about it. And if you haven’t already, I would love for you to discover it. A story only exists in the telling, and for that there must be a listener. I am honoured each time a new listener lends me their ear, and even more when they tell me something of their story in return. Do join in.
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