England | 2011
Alice Albinia read English Literature at Cambridge University. After graduating, she moved to Delhi, where she worked for the next two a half years as a journalist and editor. It was during this time, as she travelled around the country writing articles and features, that she had the idea to write a history of the River Indus. In 2002, she moved back to London to take an MA in South Asian history at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where she researched the religious and political history of the Indus region. Empires of the Indus is her first book, for which she won a Royal Society of Literature / Jerwood Foundation Special Prize for non-fiction work in progress, a Somerset Maugham Award, the Dolman Travel Prize and La Toison d’Or du livre d’aventure vécue. In parallel with that, she also wrote her first novel, Leela’s Book.
Rapunzel – I thought of her every day that I spent in Beatrice’s Tuscan tower. How wonderful the views must have been. How often she must have leaned from that window and wondered what lay beyond the tree line. How maybe, if somebody had given her a pen and stack of paper, she could have written her own story instead of waiting for her hair to grow long enough to catch a prince.
The analogy can only be stretched so far. There wasn’t a wicked enchantress (though they say there are several benign omniscient local witches); there wasn’t any rampion, the herb that Rapunzel’s mother’s craved when she was with child (though Nilmini did use parsley in her cooking, which is name – persinette – that the French gave their version of the tale). There was an olive grove, a hillside, and permission to come down from the tower at mealtimes for nourishment and conversation. As for exercise, another privilege that Rapunzel was denied, there is swimming in the summer, and in the autumn, at least two perfect hour-long walks: downwards through the woods for contemplative gloom, or upwards past the bees, across the vineyards, towards the church (with its three Ghirlandaio paintings), for sunlit scenes out of a fourteenth-century Siennese fresco.
Six weeks isn’t long enough to let your hair grow long. But it is amazing what a story will do, locked away at the top of a tower without any suitors/email/domestic obligations to distract it.