Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sophie, in Shadow reviewed by the Historical Novel Society.

Sophie, In Shadow by Eileen Kernaghan"Historically, this is a descriptive and engrossing read on all aspects of life in early 20th century British India. It has a twist of mystery and a hint of the supernatural, but it is also a clever study of the customs and culture of Buddhism, as explored by one of the characters who helped Sophie understand her visions. The story includes light-hearted humour and offers an engaging adventure perfect for young adult readers."

The review, by Arleigh Johnson,  appeared in Historical Novels Review Issue 70 (November 2014) You can read the full review at the Historical Novel Society website. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My latest novel, Sophie, in Shadow, set in 1914 India, required a daunting amount of research. Since a great deal has been written about India under the Raj, a broad picture of life in British India was not difficult to find. But what I also discovered -- in the memoirs of private citizens, and in histories like Margaret MacMillan’s Women of the Raj --  were fascinating, less often recorded details of everyday life.

When the ladies of the Raj  escaped from the sweltering plains to their rented houses in the hill stations, they transported not only clothing and supplies, but a good deal of household furniture. A list of basic necessities in The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook (1888) includes crockery and kitchen utensils, carpets, a chest of drawers, bed linen, iron cots, three boxes of books, ornaments ,coats for the servants, an iron bath, and a great deal else -- eleven camel loads in all. (Cited by Margaret MacMillan in Women of the Raj)

Simple Menus and Recipes for Camp, Home and Nursery by Lucy Carne
(1902) suggests a suitable breakfast in camp, while touring: kidney stew, pigeon potato pie and a curry. The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook  provides a list of garments in which a lady might  survive the heat: undergarments of silk or flannel, corsets buttoned to a petticoat and covered by a silk camisole, and then a light woolen tea gown. Optionally, a memsahib might add a flannel cummerbund and a cork spine-protector.

"Next to the Sikh soldier, the nattiest native in India is the postman, who is dressed in a blue uniform with a blue turban of cotton or silk cloth to match, and wears a nickel number over his forehead with the insignia of the postal service, and a girdle with a highly ornamental buckle… You can mail a letter to any part of Calcutta in the morning, and if your correspondent takes the trouble, he can reach you with a reply before dinner. " (Modern India by William Eleroy Curtis, 1905)

"The Fishing Fleet was by long-established custom made up of the highly eligible, beautiful daughters of wealthy people living in India. This was the only way in which they could come out under the protection of their parents, to meet eligible young men and marry. Those who failed returned to England in the spring and were known as the "Returned Empties. " (Plain Tales from the Raj , Charles Allen, Ed.)

Amy Mathers reviews The Snow Queen at Marathon of Books.   "In an interesting take on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Eileen Kernaghan uses her version to focus on the different kinds of strength and power, belief and disbelief in the magic and mystical and the importance of self-determination. Her story focuses on Kai’s disappearance, but also on his rescue thanks to the ingenuity of Gerda and Ritva."

Monday, October 27, 2014


Read  Pulp Literature's   interview   with  my character Ritva,  from "The Robber Maiden's Story" .  My story of Ritva's adventures, loosely based on Andersen's "The Snow Queen"  will appear in the Winter 2015 issue of PL.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reading History at Renaissance Books

Ruth Kozak and I will be reading from our new historical novels at Renaissance Books, 43 -6th Street in New Westminster, on Wednesday, October 15 at 7 p.m. Admission is free and an open mic will follow.

Beginning in Babylon at the time of Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC, Ruth Kozak’s The Shadow of the Lion follows the journey of the newly appointed joint-kings, Alexander’s half-brother Philip Arridaios and his infant son, Iskander, through Asia Minor and Egypt to Macedon, until the year 310 BC when tragedy marks the end of Alexander’s dynasty.

Set in British India, 1914, Sophie, in Shadow, by Eileen Kernaghan, is a story of spies and terrorist plots, time travel and Himalayan journeys, against the background of a world at war. For Sophie Pritchard, still devastated by the loss of her parents in the Titanic disaster, India proves a dangerously unsettling environment, where past, present and future seem to co-exist.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The real historical figures in Sophie, in Shadow

Alexandra David Néel

In the course of her long and adventurous life, Alexandra David-Néel (24 October 1868 – 8 September 1969) was an opera singer, scholar , spiritualist, Buddhist, anarchist, author of more than thirty books on Eastern religion, and intrepid explorer of the Himalayas. In 1924, at the age of 55, after many unsuccessful attempts to enter Tibet -- long forbidden to foreigners -- she disguised herself as a male pilgrim and, accompanied by her adopted son, Sikkimese monk Aphur Yongden, she became the first European woman to reach Lhasa. Out that journey came her best known book, My Journey to Lhasa (1927). Alexandra’s writings and her adventures inspired not only Jack Kerouac Allen Ginsberg, and philosopher Alan Watts, but generations of Himalayan travellers

Many years earlier, as the 20 year old Alexandra Néel, she studied oriental languages and philosophies in London and Paris.  This younger free-spirited Alexandra appears in my novel Wild Talent: a Novel of the Supernatural.  For Alexandra’s adventures in those early years, I drew on her journal entries, published posthumously as Le sortilège du mystère. Though Wild Talent was meant to be the story of my fictional hero Jeannie Guthrie, her friend Alexandra seemed determined to take over the narrative.

In Sophie, in Shadow, a quarter of a century on, the middle-aged Alexandra is comfortably ensconced in her Himalayan hermit’s cave, ten thousand feet above Gangtok, and is still making plans to visit Tibet. Meanwhile, I’ve given her a new role as spiritual adviser to my young hero Sophie Pritchard.

Sir Charles Bell

 During their stay in Sikkim Sophie and the Grenville-Smith family  are guests of the British Resident, Sir Charles Bell, Britain’s political officer in Sikkim, and his wife Cashie. Sir Charles was a respected Tibetan scholar, a friend of the 13th Dalai Lama, whom he met in 1910, and influential in Sikkimese and Bhutanese politics, However, as we see in Sophie, in Shadow, his relationship with Alexandra David Neel was an uneasy one.

Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal

Prince Sidkeong, Maharaja and Chogyal of Sikkim for a brief period in 1914, was a close friend of Alexandra David Néel. When he died suddenly under suspicious circumstances at the age of 35, Alexandra was distraught. Prince Sidkeong’s reformist plans were opposed by the rest of the Sikkimese royal family, and there was a suggestion that his stepmother, the Dowager Queen Drolma, might have had a hand in his death.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Alchemy of Historical Fiction: my guest post on Warpworld's series "The Truth Inside the Lie".

Friday, July 4, 2014

Turning Pages: Sophie, in Shadow

Tanita Davis reviews Sophie, in Shadow at Finding Wonderland : The Writing YA Weblog.

"This book is heartily recommended to anyone re-reading A Passage to India this summer, and to anyone whose childhood summers included Kipling's Kim, which is worth a re-read this summer as well. This book is for anyone who fears that young adult books are short on literary value and too long on popular culture. In the timeless style of L.M. Montgomery and E.M. Forster, this book is simply a treat. (Readers who have enjoyed other fantasy fiction on India during colonial times will find this much finer fare,and delight in finding that that this book is somewhat of a companion to Wild Talent: a Novel of the Supernatural, which tells the story of Sophie's cousin Jeannie.)

You can read the full review at the Finding Wonderland site.

Monday, June 30, 2014

"Darkly Dislocating" -- Derek Newman-Stille reviews Sophie, in Shadow at Speculating Canada

"Eileen Kernaghan creates a sense of wondrous dislocation for the reader. a darkly beautiful reminder that every place is haunted, every locale filled with ghosts of memory from the past. Sophie, in Shadow reminds readers that we dwell in a place of fantasy, of wonder and excitement and that those dreamy places of magic and mystery are always steeped in the shadows of past horrors and veiled in secrets We are always one step through the veil of time away from tragedy."

You can read the rest of the review at the Speculating Canada site

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sophie, in Shadow reviewed by CM Magazine

Kris Rothstein reviews Sophie, in Shadow in the current issue of CM Magazine from the Manitoba Library Association.

    " For the most part Eileen Kernaghan avoids the tendencies of many authors writing about Victorian and Edwardian India. She does not overly exoticize the landscape or its people. She does an excellent job of creating this milieu and seeing it through the eyes of a particular girl from a particular time, rather than a current perspective. Sophie’s friendships with Will, a young World War I soldier, and Darius, a young Oxford-educated Indian scientist, are both very realistic and convey much about relations of the time between men and women and between English and Indians. The tension between the straight-laced officials and Sophie’s more unconventional adoptive family shows the intricacies of the politics of British rule in India. Ultimately, Sophie, In Shadow ends up being a fantastic history lesson without ever really being obvious about it."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Other Worlds, Other Times at Lit Cafe 3

Other Worlds, Other Times is an evening of readings showcasing the work of five award-winning local authors reading from works of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction.

Readers are Ken Boesem, Carol Cram, Eileen Kernaghan, David Slater, and Lorna Suzuki.

 Date: Tuesday, June 24, from 7-9 pm in the Reading Room at Alexandra Neighbourhood House, 2916 McBride Ave. in Crescent Beach. Suggested donation for admission is $5, but none will be turned away for lack of funds.

In addition to the readings, the evening includes a Q&A session, an open mic and book sales.

For more information, please contact Neil Fernyhough, Coordinator of Community Programs, at 604-618-2357 (ext 236) or at

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sophie, in Shadow: where the story begins


“You must expect to be disappointed,” the other passengers told Sophie. Taking refuge in India was sensible now that Europe was at war, but nonetheless it was an experience to be suffered and endured. “The Taj Mahal by moonlight, pale hands beside the Shalimar — romantic balderdash,” pronounced a bronzed and leathery colonel who was on his way back to the Frontier. India, everyone agreed, meant dirt and poverty, smothering heat, bad smells and indigestible food. “Not to mention revolting heathen practices,” added the colonel’s memsahib, declining to elaborate.

Of all this, Sophie was well aware. She had not much patience with romantic novels. She’d prepared for this journey, in her usual methodical way, by reading histories of the Raj and the Moghul Empire, and Himalayan travellers’ tales. Though even those held out the promise of exotic splendours — minarets and gilded palaces, gardens in Kashmir. In any event, whatever horrors awaited her in Calcutta, it would be a huge relief to disembark. Perhaps, out of reach of English newspapers, she would no longer be an object of such fascination.

Just today she had come up on deck to hear a snatch of conversation, hastily broken off.  "To have both her parents drown when she was — how old? Fourteen? And now to be packed off to this godforsakencountry, to live with relatives she’s never met . . . ”

For two years now Sophie had been made to feel like public property — the survivor of a famous disaster, a name miraculously entered on the right side of a list, a curiosity to be interviewed and
photographed and discussed. She yearned to be once again plain Sophie Pritchard, whose life was nobody’s business but her own.

The river was crowded with every sort of craft — paddle steamers, big, solid square-sailed vessels and little fishing boats with upturned bows, barges and launches and bamboo rafts. Along the near bank were factories and warehouses, temples and walled riverside gardens, burning-ghats and
derelict mansions, weed-covered skeletons of boats, and crowds of people standing knee-deep, waist-deep in the murky waterof the bathing ghats, dressed in long robes, or loin-cloths, or nothing at all.

Now they were through the Floating Bridge, and here at last was Calcutta. India, Sophie suspected, was every bit as noisy, and chaotic, and bad-smelling, and bewildering as the colonel had described; but what mattered was that she would soon set foot on solid ground.

The wheel turns, and turns again. That, thought Sophie, is what Hindus believed. Her old life had ended on that disastrous April night in the North Atlantic. Now, for better or worse, as their ship ploughed its way up this swarming,clamorous Indian river, a new one was about to begin.

Friday, May 9, 2014

An early review of Sophie, in Shadow

From a review just posted by Charlotte, at  Charlotte's Library.: "Sophie, in Shadow is historical fantasy that both educates and entertains, that I particularly recommend to fans of Kim!"

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Launch: Sophie, in Shadow

Saturday, May 10, 1:30 p.m. at the New Westminster Arts Council Gallery, Centennial Lodge, New Westminster BC

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sophie, in Shadow: the historical background

Sophie, in Shadow continues a narrative which began in Wild Talent: a Novel of the Supernatural, set in London and Paris a quarter-century earlier.

Though Sophie, like Jeannie, is a fictional character, her story too plays out against real historical events. The details of the 1915 Christmas Day Plot to seize Calcutta and overthrow British rule in India were not revealed until thirty years later, when a former Viceroy of India mentioned them in his memoirs. That particular plan was discovered in time, and a bloodbath averted. However, as Sophie learns, where there is one conspiracy afoot, there are likely to be others.

Sir Charles Bell’s uneasy relationship with Alexandra David Neel, and Alexandra’s persistent attempts to cross the border into Tibet, are well documented in Government of India files and in Alexandra’s own writings. (Eventually Alexandra did fulfill her dream of travelling in Tibet, to Sir Charles’ immense displeasure.)

For background material I am especially indebted to the following titles: Like Hidden Fire: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire, By Peter Hopkirk (Kodansha America); Women of the Raj, by Margaret MacMillan (Thames and Hudson); Calcutta by Krishna Dutta (Interlink Books); Calcutta by Simon and Rupert Winchester (Lonely Planet Books); Forbidden Journey: The Life of Alexandra David-Neel, by Barbara and Michael Foster (Harper & Row); and Two Under the Indian Sun, Jon and Rumer Godden’s delightful memoir of their East Bengal childhood, 1914- 1919 (Alfred A Knopf)

On a personal note: in 1912 my maternal grandfather, Arthur Pritchard, decided to give up his struggling farm in Worcestershire and emigrate with his wife and five children to Canada. Their plan was to make the crossing on the much-publicized maiden voyage of SS Titanic, but they were too late to book accommodation, and travelled instead on the next available ship out of Southampton. In the years leading up to the centennial of the Titanic disaster, I was reminded of how such random events can decide the very fact of our existence.

Sophie’s story, like all family histories, is a narrative of “What If’s?”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sophie, in Shadow: my new young adult historical fantasy

In World War One an orphaned English girl is sent to live in India, where kidnapping, enemy spies, and terrorist plots all challenge her extraordinary powers.

It’s 1914. Sixteen year old Sophie Pritchard, orphaned two years earlier by the sinking of the RMS Titanic, is about to begin a new life in the unfamiliar world of British India. For Sophie, still devastated by her parents' death, India proves a dangerously unsettling environment. Are her terrifying experiences in Kali’s temple and the Park Street cemetery hallucinations, or has she somehow been drawn back through the centuries as a witness to dark places in Calcutta’s past?

Sophie has become an unwilling traveler in a timeless zone where past, present and future co-exist. Kidnapping, enemy spies, and terrorist plots all play their part against the background of a world at war and growing unrest in the Indian subcontinent. Soon Sophie’s powers of precognition will be called upon to help thwart a conspiracy that could incite a bloodbath in Calcutta, and deliver India into enemy hands.

"Sophie, in Shadow deftly weaves intrigue, spies, and mystics with more than a dash of the occult into a story that will captivate any reader." Linda DeMeulemeester, author of the award-winning Grim Hill series.

Release date March 30, 2014 from Thistledown Press. Available for order now.

Stories of the Mystic North

 The popularity of the Walt Disney movie Frozen has brought fresh attention to Hans Christian Andersen’s much loved story The Snow Queen. Andersen’s tale of a brave and determined girl who sets out on an epic adventure to rescue her friend from the Snow Queen’s frozen palace has inspired not only this new Disney film, but a very long list of other film, live theatre and fictional adaptations. Versions of Andersen’s wicked queen appear in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, in Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and in countless other retellings. There's a comprehensive list on the SurLaLune Fairy Tales site.

My own reworking of The Snow Queen follows Gerda’s journey quite closely, with the addition of some mythology from the Finnish epic The Kalevala -- but be warned, there’s a twist at the end.