Meet Kate, the main character of “The Orchid Tree”

For this blog tour I am delighed to introduce Kate, the main character of The Orchid Tree, which will be published on 15th February and is available to pre-oder from Amazon.

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1. What is the name of your main character? Is she fictional?

Kate Wolseley is a fictional character, although I’ve given her the physical characteristics of my mother at her age.

Ronnie in swimsuit2. When and where is the story set?

Colonial Hong Kong between 1941-1945 and from 1948-1949. My grandparents were interned by the Japanese during WWII. The idea for “The Orchid Tree” came to me when I was researching their life behind barbed wire in the Stanley Civilian Internment Camp. My father joined the Chinese Maritime Customs after his demob from the Royal Navy, and his experiences chasing smugglers up and down the South China Coast inspired the start of Part 2. I wanted to bring alive a time and place that no longer exist, and I hope my knowledge of the era lends an authenticity to my writing that readers will enjoy.

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4. What should we know about Kate?

I don’t want to give away the story, so I’ll keep this brief. Kate has lived a pampered existence, in a house full of servants, at the pinnacle of pre-war Hong Kong society. Spoiled by her father, but lacking the attention of her mother, she finds comfort in the love of her Chinese amah (nanny). Her background is typical “stiff upper lip” British, except Kate is more open than her parents. As a result of her over-protected upbringing, she’s young for her age, which is fifteen at the start of the novel.

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4. What is the main conflict?

Initially, WWII. Kate is interned with her parents in a squalid camp and has to endure cramped conditions, humiliation, disease, and starvation. She befriends 17 year-old Charles – who’s half Chinese – and they give their hearts to each other under the orchid tree. Kate’s father doesn’t approve of their relationship. Can their love survive war and bigotry?

Kate and Charles kissing5. What is Kate’s personal goal?

In December 1948, she returns to the colony after three years in Australia, determined to put the past behind her and come of age. Her goal is to create a new life for herself in a society on the brink of change. She wants to be independent, overcome prejudice, and make herself a part of the new Hong Kong, while holding onto her never-to-be-forgotten love for Charles. An Englishman, James, arrives in the territory and becomes the link between Kate and Sofia Rodrigues, the step-sister of a Macau gangster. The communist-nationalist struggle in China spills over into Hong Kong, catapulting the protagonists into the turmoil with disastrous consequences.

Disastrous consequences6. What can you tell us about the title?

A recurrent location in the novel, the orchid tree, Bauhinia Blakeana, has become the emblem of Hong Kong. I was privileged to have grown up there during the post-war era, and I still consider it home.

Now I would like to pass the baton on to Ann Bennett for her to introduce Laura in her wonderful novel, Bamboo Heart. Over to you, Ann!

The Chinese Maritime Customs

Largely staffed at senior levels by foreigners, the Chinese Maritime Customs Service was a Chinese governmental tax collection agency and information service from the time of its founding in 1854 until its split in 1949 into services operating in the Republic of China on Taiwan, and in the People’s Republic of China on the mainland.

The Service was controlled by the Chinese central government throughout its history. It was established by foreign consuls in Shanghai in 1854 to collect maritime trade taxes that were going unpaid due to the inability of Chinese officials to collect them during the Taiping Rebellion.

Hong Kong, a British Colony until 1997, was a free port. No import duties were charged, but at the time of my novel, The Orchid Tree, the Customs had established a station, Taishan, just outside Hong Kong waters. It was convenient for some of the staff to live in the colony and have their offices there, but their job was to make sure that all cargo junks called at the station to pay Chinese excise duties. They would anchor their craft and watch the traffic out of Hong Kong then chase and seize any junk evading this task. During the war, the collection of excise had lapsed and the trading junks had got into bad habits. They resented having to pay, and smuggling of consumer and luxury goods had become a profitable side industry.

My father, Douglas Bland , was in the Royal Navy during WWII and, after demob, stayed on in Hong Kong to work with the CMC from 1946 to 1948, making charts and chasing smugglers up and down the South China Coast. His story inspired the character of James in my novel.

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