Editing My Historical Fiction Short Story 'Mystery' For BBC Radio 4 and a FREE Edit For Hubbers!
There were a couple of rewrites of Mystery before it hit the airwaves. Gordon believed it had to be historically correct. He wanted the world to know a little more about this wealthy and powerful empire which traded with other countries and employed female Cossack guards for the king. Both of us were rather uncomfortable about the gypsy's father selling her to the King. She had to be abducted from her caravan and her gypsiness had to come through a little more. So I added the tattered tents and goat's cheese typical of gypsy camps.
I rewrote the ending, as in reality, no woman from the harem could get away.
It was too late.
There was nothing more to do. She turned her back on the stables and retraced her steps. This was a story she could relate to the Queen who, when her time had come and the King was dead, would also be sacrificed alive and trembling, with many others - the most fortunate drugged with the pounded pulp of the bright wild crocus all steadily consumed in the searing flames of the dead kings pyre.
Gemma Jenkins, the producer of Opening Lines, a programme for writers new to radio in which the story was to appear, thought that the evocative images and lyrical prose would make for a wonderful reading. However, she suggested I expand on the conversation between Jehaan and the Queen and build up their relationship slightly. Perhaps establish here that the Queen liked to listen to Jehaan tell stories about her time as a gypsy.
Jenkins thought that it had to be clearer that the Queen was as much of a prisoner as Jehaan and experienced a sense of freedom through Jehaan's stories. This would give more impact to the ending and provide more of a reason as to why Jehaan turned her back on a chance of freedom and decided to stay with the Queen.
Note that at the suggestion of my Muse, Gordon, I modified Jahan to Jehaan and Meherban to Meherbanu names which were more authentic according to him.
Gordon and I plotted and schemed together. What if Jehaan with her gypsy magic offered an amulet to the Queen that would save her from the cruel tradition of 'sati' in which royal wives would immolate themselves on the funeral pyre of the king? This would strengthen their bond.
And the conversation between the Queen and the gypsy was revised:
"I know you were happier as a gypsy, were you not? I can tell by all those stories you tell me of those days of dancing, singing, travelling to strange lands. I understand your longing, my child."
Jehaan did not protest. She took a black leather pouch from her silver girdle and handed it to the Queen.
"You have everything my Queen, but here is a gift only a gypsy can give you. Its an amulet that will protect you and bring you good fortune."
The Queen drew from the pouch a piece of glass and held it up the light streaming in through the arched windows.
"It is a thunderbolt, said Jehaan, created by a lightning bolt striking the sands of Egypt. It is rare."
"It is indeed a gift like none other," said the Queen with a sad smile.
I added to the conversation between the gypsy and Meherbanu:
"And you? said Jehaan, you seem so happy here."
"I came here when the blush of youth had already left me, my dear. I came here to look after the Kings women, not as his mistress. Have you known him as a woman knows a man?"
Meherbanu sighed again. "Once is enough. No wonder the Queen loves you. You both have something in common."
Jehaan was startled. "What could that be?" she asked.
"Alas, both of you share the same fate, my poor little Jehaan because you have both been with the King. She too like you was free once, a well-known courtesan who was chosen to instruct the King in the arts of the Kamasutra and social skills with women. They grew up together, and although he was made to marry a Hoysala princess, he made Tirumala his Queen. And one day, both of you will share the Kings funeral pyre."
"Oh!" cried Jehaan and threw herself into Meherbanus waiting arms.
"That is why I say, enjoy your life of privilege while you can, and do not worry about what is to come. It could take many years."
I must get away! thought Jehaan, as she wept. Meherbanu stroked her head and murmured her love to her.
Self-Editing For Fiction Writers
Edit Notes To The Editor
I then sent this second version above to Gemma with the note:
I have added about 200 words to the story and hope this doesn't make it too long. If it is so in your opinion, we can delete the conversation I've added between Meherbanu and Jehaan in the mango orchard. But adding that detail makes it historically more rich and true, besides explaining why the Queen feels a bond with Jehaan, and revealing to Jehaan her fate on the funeral pyre. This revelation gives her impetus to try to escape.
1. I have changed the name Meherban to Meherbanu as it is more authentic.
2. I have made small corrections throughout the story, and added to the conversation between the Queen and Jehaan as well as Meherbanu and Jehaan.
This, because of the following reasons:
1. This story was written a long time ago and the final paragraph added later when I researched the subject in more detail. Re-reading it now in the context of the last paragraph, some changes, in my opinion need to be made.
2. Indian convention requires that persons of an inferior standing (like Jehaan) may speak only when spoken to by royalty and although (and this is a paradox) they may divulge personal details, they may not ask for these in return from royalty.
However, in this story, some information about the Queen is essential in light of her fate on the funeral pyre. This may only be divulged by Meherbanu who is a kind of protector/mentor to the women of the court and in this story is the one exempt from that terrible fate, never having slept with the King.
3. What I have written is more or less historically correct and portrays the etiquette, ritual, and social behaviour of the time. Krishna Deva Raya, the King at this time, although made to marry a Hoysala princess, also married his childhood instructor the courtesan who is the Queen in the story. So she does have something in common with the dancing and singing Jehaan. All those who had slept with the King were burned on his funeral pyre. This is why, Meherbanu, who has never done so, escapes this terrible fate.
4. According to gypsy tradition, a father would never sell his daughter for any price, so she has to be taken by the King who takes a fancy to her. This requires a small change too in the story.
5. Jehaan only discovers this terrible fate (she has some inkling of already in the beginning of the story) from Meherbanu later, as the Queen would never tell her this. This is why the Queen smiles sadly when Jehaan gives her the gypsy amulet.
Gemma Jenkins thanked me for the extra work I had done on City Of Victory. After reading the rewrites and the original version of the story, she preferred to go with my original ending. She wrote that she liked that Jehaan went against convention and showed the strength of character to follow a life of her own choosing. But with the rewrites the story was now too well explained and consequently had lost its element of mystery.
The final version was published in The Deccan Herald with a note about the broadcast on the BBC.
City of Victory Read by Badria Timimi on BBC Radio
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