Official Harlequin Cover Reveal of “Teatime for the Firefly”

The gorgeous book cover  designed by the talented art team at Harlequin/Mira
The gorgeous book cover designed by the talented art team at Harlequin/Mira

The big day is here!

Today Harlequin did a “Cover Reveal” on their Official Facebook Page. Many of you are familiar with the cover of my book Teatime for the Firefly but they were from the ARC (Advance Readers Copy: the unproofed version). This is the final cover. Yay, yay, yay! The finish and creative detailing of the book is jaw-dropping gorgeous and I am pleased as punch! People I show this book to say “I would buy this book, just because of the cover,” and that makes me really happy! And folks, even if I had not written this book myself, this cover would have called out to me in a bookstore and I would have picked it up in a heartbeat. Seriously.

Lovely theme-capture in the inside detailing. This beautiful henna motif appears on every chapter of "Teatime for the Firefly".
Lovely theme-capture in the inside detailing. This beautiful henna motif appears on every chapter of “Teatime for the Firefly”.

The art team at Mira Books really captured the essence in the cover of Teatime for the Firefly. We have the bone china English tea-cup alongside the Indian henna patterning and it gives the cover of  a cross-cultural feel which is what the story is all about. I have a lovely endorsement from Shilpa Somaya Gowda (NY Bestselling author of The Secret Daughter) that has been exquisitely laid out along the curve of the saucer (so as not to clash with the layered script background). The thoughtfulness and care in putting this book together is the result of a massive team effort at Harlequin/Mira. Writing a book is the simple part: getting the book ready and to market is the bulk of the business. The process is involved, complicated and by and large goes unseen. All the public really sees is the finished book and the writer and not all the munchkins doing the grunt work. It is humbling and I feel lucky to be a part of it all.

Teatime mugs designed by me. Perfect for that cup of strong, malty Assam Tea.
Teatime mugs designed by me. Perfect for that cup of strong, malty Assam Tea.

There are several events and appearances in the pipeline leading up to the official launch of October 1st. I will be updating the Events tab (above) from time to time. I hope to see you all in person. Connecting with you is the most exciting part. I am always curious to know about you. What do you read? What do you drink? Did I hear you say COFEEE? Eeesh! I will probably try to convince every die-hard coffee drinker to try Assam Tea, failing which, you will still be my friend, simply because you love something so passionately. I admire that over and above my need to win you over.

And thanks for staying with me on this journey – for all your support, kind thoughts, memories and all the funny things you share with me. No, no, no, I am not riding off into the sunset – although I sound like I am, with all the talk of “thanks”, “journey” etc. This is just an important milestone in Teatime for the Firefly and I am  happy to share it with you.

So here’s to tea and friendship. And I’ll see you around the corner, soon – yes?

Cheers!:)

Shona

Elephants in Tea

A herd of wild elephants stray into a tea plantation and cause irreparable damage. Photo courtesy: Ambereen Yousuf. Here is an interesting tidbit from veteran tea planter Davey Lamont: “In the early years , tea bushes were planted in triangular patches, creating a zigzag path instead of rows. This allowed tea pluckers to escape from elephants!”

Assam is prime elephant country. It’s a land of big rivers, dense bamboo groves, rain forests with long, drooping moss and startling orchids. In the jungle clearings, elephant grass shoots up to over 10-feet to shelter a teeming wildlife. Assam Tea–the finest tea on earth– chooses to grow in this wild terrain and nowhere else. Not surprisingly “elephant trouble” a frequent complaint in the tea plantations.

Tea garden elephant with company logo

Every tea planter has a plethora of elephant stories and I have a few of my own. When I seven, a semi-domesticated elephant grabbed me by the ankle and almost got me but luckily I was yanked back by a nearby adult. I still have bad dreams about that one! Another time a baby elephant came floating down the flooded Koilapani River. For two weeks he lived in the taro patch behind our bungalow and played peek-a-boo with a hen before he was shunted off to Calcutta zoo, much to our heartbreak.

Elephant pulling car out of monsoon mire (1920’s). Photo courtesy: Fettes Falconer

Along with owning their tractors, trucks and trailers, most tea gardens own an elephant or two. Domesticated elephants are invaluable to the tea industry.  They are trained by special elephant trainers called mahouts. Elephants render a multitude of services that range from forest logging to rescue missions for tea garden residents stranded in the flood. Assam is the wettest place on earth. The monsoons hit with a fury each year; rivers overflow, bridges collapse and tea plantations are marooned for weeks without power or supplies. Elephants are called to the rescue when river currents get too strong for a boat.  My favorite story is about my Aunt Baruna who dropped her high-heeled slipper in the  floodwaters when she crossing on elephant back to get to the gala at the Planter’s Club. All evening she hobbled  on one shoe while standing tiptoe on the other foot and nobody could tell anything was amiss under her long saree!

Tea garden kids get a joy ride outside their bungalow. Historical photo: source – koihai.com

Tea garden kids are the envy of their friends. Town kids have puppies and kittens but guess what we had as pets? Monkeys, elephants and the occasional leopard cub! On birthdays and special occasions the garden elephant made a grand appearance to give us  kiddies fun rides. Old Jumbo also showed up all tinsel-decked at the Club Christmas party with (an often slightly inebriated) Santa perched on top.

Elephants help to rebuild the Mariani Planters Club after it was destroyed by the fire of 1960. Historical photo courtesy: Alan Leonard. Alan says although the club burnt down the original teak wood floor which was “tongued and grooved” was still intact. It was lifted very carefully, nail by nail, refitted and relaid in the new building. Amazingly it was as good as new.”
Logging elephant in tea garden. Courtesy Davey Lamont.

Elephants are useful during shikar (hunting) to track down game, mostly man-eating leopards and tigers that prowl the tea plantations to prey on humans.

Elephants in herds are usually harmless but they can create plenty of damage. A herd of elephants  often invaded the sugarcane patch behind our bungalow and  had to be chased out with lighted torches and the beating of tin cans. I still remember the sound of their wild trumpeting in the night: it is the most eerie, bone-rattling sound on earth!

A bull elephant in “musth” is a very dangerous animal and can sometimes attack without provocation.

Encountering a rogue elephant in the wild is very bad news. Rogue elephants can destroy everything in their path with mindless fury. There is the horrific incident of a local postman who was cycling through the jungle road to a tea garden when he came face-to-face with a rogue. The elephant picked him by the feet and smashed him into a tree and (this is really gross) the poor man had to picked off the bark like putty. That is the fury of a rogue.

With increasing deforestation in Assam, elephant problems in the tea gardens continue to be on the rise. Here is a National Geographic article about Elephant problems in Assam. Please share your elephant story, if you have one. Thanks and cheers!

Other related articles: The Story of the Elephant Boy of Tea

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Teatime for the Firefly is Shona Patel’s debut novel. It is a love story set in a remote tea plantation in Assam, India. You can read the SYNOPSIS and the FIRST CHAPTER by clicking on the red links. Shona Patel is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.

The soul-connect of books

Pressed leaf in a page of my book
My Empire Falls that got left out in the rain!

A paper book is not a dead tree: it’s a living thing. Each page whispers as it turns. Books absorb smells. The Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth I bought in India still smells of the mango pickle that came in the same suitcase. The Bhagawad Gita I picked up at the ashram smells of incense. Book have long memories. A dog-earned page will open willingly to your touch. Set a book open on its belly and the page will remember your forgetfulness. My copy of Empire Falls still chides me with its curled up pages from the time I left it out in the rain.

Found objects inside used books. Imagine my joy (followed by crashing disappointment!) when I found this fake million dollar bill!

I love used books. They carry the territorial markings of a previous owner. A coffee spill. A pressed autumn leaf. A single blond hair. Often I find slips with scribbled phone numbers, boarding passes, business cards, grocery lists (why is it predictable for someone who reads Jhumpa Lahiri to have Hummus and Pita bread on her shopping list?) Sometime a person will leave an actual bookmark inside. Once I found a commemorative bookmark for a two-year old baby girl who had died. It just broke my heart to see her little face. I used that bookmark to read Map of the World which is about a child who drowns. Later, when I donated the book to our local library I left the bookmark inside, thinking maybe it would touch another as it had touched me.

A page from an old copy of the I-Ching. The previous owner had made notes which intrigue me. The I-Ching is used by many for fortune telling. I use it as a spiritual guide.

I hate mindless highlighting and copious notes but tiny sribbles inside book pages intrigue me. I have a very old copy of the I-CHING with Heikki Nylund, Kalkata 1964 written in black fountain pen. The name sounds Finnish. I also bought an Amazon  “like new” copy of The Great Gatsby. with the inscription “Marla, I look in Gatsby’s heart and see mine. Ever yours, EM.” Evidentally Marla did not care because the book is brand new. Or maybe Marla died. Maybe they both died. Romeo and Juliet. Such useless imaginings tend to eat up my day but I can’t seem to help myself.

Ah and covers….I pause in my reading to turn back to look at them. I love the cover of Angela’s Ashes. The wee boy in his threadbare clothes– so poor but with such a cheeky attitude. It warms the cockles of my heart (If you want to know what “cockles” mean – here is your trivia for the day. Go on, get sidetracked and waste more time than you are doing so already).

Book publishing is in fast-food mode. Novels are now cheaply processed and readily available. Readers are snackers and nibblers: a taste of this and a wiff of that. There is lots of unhealthy consumption, poor digestion and tons of waste. I am not sure this is doing us a whole lot of good. In an excellent article The Slow Books Manifesto on The Atlantic, writer Maura Kelly says, “In our leisure moments, whenever we have down time, we should turn to literature—to works that took some time to write and will take some time to read, but will also stay with us longer than anything else. “

My favorite book of Rumi poems. The cover has a satiny feel and the pages a rough deckle edge. Just to hold this book in my hand and turn the pages pages good.

So what happens in the era of Kindle? Will bookshelves become redundant furniture like the old roll-top writing desk. Will bookmarks become quaint collectibles? How will we  hand-inscribe our favorite book to someone we love?  What about those exquisite books – the kind you want to run your fingers over and kiss, simply because they are so beautiful. Books are tactile: some covers have a bumpy emboss while others feel like satin. What about rough deckle-edged pages, stylish French flaps and pages with a real papery smell? Am I the only one still craving beautiful paper books? I leave you with this excellent TED TALK by Knopf book designer Chip Kidd. He echoes my thoughts. Won’t you share your thoughts, please?

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Teatime for the Firefly is my debut novel. It is a love story set in a remote tea plantation in Assam, India. You can read the SYNOPSIS and the FIRST CHAPTER by clicking on the red links. I am represented by April Eberhardt Literary.