Tag Archives: Kumaon literary festival

Some of my favourite things… 8 to be precise!



Inspired by an article in one of the colour supplements at the weekend, I thought I’d photograph my favourite 8 objects. They are some of the possessions I have that are my treasures for lots of different reasons. My only rule was, I had to include my favourite novel (to make it relevant to my blog!).

So, starting top left we have Arundhati Roy’s, God of Small Things…one of the best books I have ever read. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you give it a go! Next to that is my blue Delft Bols gin Amsterdam merchants house, bought last year on a memorable trip to holland. Just below the pretty house is my delicate sea urchin, found on the golden sands of Armona. Then we have an Alfa Romeo Spider… I loved that car:) then top right is one of my many travel journals, this one is when I went to India in 1994.. Bombay,Goa, Mysore, Ooty, Trichu, Cochin, Goa, Bombay…. Home.

Bottom right is ‘squirrel’, he’s actually a ring tailed Lima but Alfie (my son) couldn’t say that when he was little. Next to lovely squirrel is my collection of 3 silver bangles that mum bought me for my trip to the Kumaon Literary Festival last year… They gave me great strength as I stood on stage and spoke to the audience about Dance with Fireflies. Lastly is one of a collection of photo albums of precious family holidays.

I would love to see your 8 favourite things (including your most treasured novel). Email me at: janehowis@gmail.com if you’d like to be featured on my blog… Looking forward to hearing from you!

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One hell of a ride!



It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by since the launch of Dance with Fireflies. 12 months ago, I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined what was to follow!

Here are just a few of the amazing things that have happened since the launch:

Speaker at The Kumaon Literary Festival in India.

Book of the Month in Devon Life magazine.

Reviews and features in magazines and papers, including : Cotswold Life & Devon Life.

Invited to be on the Fellows of Nature South Asia short story jury panel.

A mention in The Times of India.

Selected for ‘Reads on the road’ Travel book recommendations.

Youtube interview for Reader’s Club Delhi.

Blog interview on IndigoEast’s travel blog https://www.indigoeast.co.uk/dance-with-fireflies-author-jane-gill-on-her-indian-inspirations/

Celebrity interest: Caroline Quentin, Jan Leeming, Rosemary Shrager, Tony Singh and Bobby George…

Fantastic 5* reviews on Amazon.

Selected for bookclub reads, from cheltenham to India.

Stocked in a multitude of bookshops.

 I will be featuring in the July issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.

…and to cap it all…this week I was called ‘Doll’ by the legendary Bobby George, sent a kiss by Caroline Quentin and received a beautiful thank you card from the one and only Jan Leeming!









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James Champion, wildlife enthusiast and author, shares his love of writing and longing to be outside!

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Rosemary Fox, me and James Champion at The Boat House Club, Nainital, India.

I met James Champion at The Kumaon Literary Festival. We were fellow speakers with newly published books.

From the moment I met him, he captivated me with fascinating anecdotes of his weird and wonderful travel experiences. Having spent the evening with him (and his travelling companion, conservationist, Rosemary Fox) at The Boat House Club in Nainital, we struck up a great friendship. The following day, I was lucky enough to be invited to hear him do a reading at Gurney House (Jim Corbett’s old home). He is a naturally gifted and charismatic speaker and had the audience captivated.

James kindly agreed to answer my Author Questions…..and here is the result…a brilliant insight into his passion and commitment to retrace some of his ancestors footsteps and explore the wonderful places this leads him to.

What form does your writing take? 

My chief writing passion has to do with history and travel, and luckily I have a whole series of fascinating ancestors who have left diaries, photographs and letters behind them, so I like to write about my journeys in their footsteps. I’m currently working on a book about an incredible journey I made in Guatemala and Panama, in the footsteps of my great grandfather, who was an entomologist who spent four years in Central America from 1879 to 1883, travelling around by mule in remote areas collecting insects. By the end of his career, he had named more than 4,500 new species. We still have all his diaries and the letters he sent home to his mother, describing his adventures and mishaps. My book, entitled “Under the Tail of the Diplodocus” (it’s a lovely story as to why I chose this title, but I will not reveal that yet!), will incorporate my great grandfather’s writings, interspersed with my descriptions of my journeys 140 years later to the places he visited. In some cases I even ended up staying in the same farmhouses that he had stayed in, with the same families! The journey culminated in my re-locating (with my fabulous volcano guide Luisa Zea) a butterfly that bears his name, Drucina championi, on the south side of a Guatemalan volcano in a bamboo grove, 140 years after he had discovered it.



James Champion holding the Drucina championi butterfly, 140 years after his great grandfather discovered it.

How often do you write?

Whenever I can fit it in between my journeys and my “other jobs”, as an English language trainer and freelance tour organiser. I find it hard to look at the computer screen for long periods, and I often find myself wanting to get out and look for birds or other wildlife rather than sitting indoors, but I have to discipline myself more in future! I have so much to write about, and only one lifespan!

How does writing make you feel?

Perhaps because I am by nature and profession a teacher, I love to share my experiences with others, and writing allows me to do that. I want to let people know about the amazing things that I experience, and in some cases of course I also want to alert people who might not otherwise be aware of the awful things that are happening due to human interference in the natural world. On the other hand, though, I like to be able to tell good news stories too. Many people are highly dedicated to wildlife protection, and some incredible achievements have been made. Writing about these also makes me feel happy!

Where/when do you write?

Anywhere! I usually wake up at around 03.00 AM, and then work through till 06.00, and then go back to bed! Not very healthy, I’m sure, but that’s when I am at my most productive, and when my mind travels back best to the journeys I have made.
What do you write about?

As I previously mentioned, I love the combination of history, geography and wildlife that writing about my ancestors’ travels and exploits and my journeys in search of them brings to me. One of my forefathers, Col. Patrick Stewart, was responsible for laying the first cable from Europe to India, between 1863 and 1865. One of the first messages relayed down the cable was that announcing his untimely death at the age of 32. Following his footsteps would be an exciting journey indeed!

My recent book “Tripwire for a Tiger” did not really involve me writing a huge amount myself; it is a collection of the evocative writings of my grandfather, F W Champion OBE IFS (1893 – 1970), who was a pioneering wildlife photographer and wildlife protector at a time when his colleagues were much keener on shooting the animals he loved with a rifle rather than a camera. I collected these articles, which had been published in the 1920s, 30s and 40s in such diverse journals as Country Life, The Field, the Illustrated London News, the Indian State Railways Magazine and the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, and then made a selection of those which I felt reflected best the development of his conservation ethos, and added a biographical introduction. It was a huge pleasure putting it together, and it is wonderful to be able to use his conservation messages and his incredible wildlife photographs to inspire a modern audience. His pleas for action to save tigers and other wild creatures are just as relevant today as they were back in the 1920s.

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His grandfather’s most famous tiger photograph, taken in about 1927.

What’s the best thing about writing?

The ability to share my extraordinary experiences with others through writing about them. I wrote several articles about a trek I made in 2006 to the Pindari Glacier, in the Indian Himalayas, retracing a journey that my grandfather, grandmother, father (then aged 8) and his governess made in October 1936, staying in the same resthouses and photographing the same scenes as they did, precisely 70 years later to the day. I was even shown a letter of recommendation that my grandfather had written for his guide, Gopal Singh, which had been kept in his family’s home in a remote mountain village for 70 years, by Gopal Singh’s grandson. To share that kind of experience is a pleasure indeed.

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Pindari Glacier, photographed on 11th October 1936.

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The Pindari Glacier, photographed exactly 70 years later, to the day! It reveals the shocking degree to which the ice has receded.

How long have you been writing for?

I started writing after that great journey in India in 2006, but only in the form of articles. It is only recently that I have really started to think of putting my experiences and those of my forebears into book form. I hope this will lead to many more exciting adventures, and I look forward to sharing them with as many people as possible in the future!


My very own signed copy!


If you would like a copy of James’s superb book,  you can purchase it from his website: http://www.James-Champion.com.

You can also obtain a copy directly, by contacting James via email: jameschampion77@hotmail.com



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Mahesh Rao, author of One Point Two Billion, shares his thoughts on writing short stories.

I was lucky enough to meet this amazing author whilst attending The Kumaon Literary Festival. His new book, One Point Two Billion, is a fantastic collection of very powerful short stories. I’m extremely chuffed to have my very own signed copy!

Mahesh has been kind enough to take some time out of his very busy schedule to answer my author questions.

Mahesh Rao was born and grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, and has lived in the UK and in India. His short fiction has been shortlisted for various awards, including the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, The Baffler, Prairie Schooner and Elle. His debut novel, ‘The Smoke Is Rising’, won the Tata First Book Award for fiction and was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and the Crossword Prize. ‘One Point Two Billion’, his collection of short stories, was published in October 2015.


What form does your writing take?

I’ve become addicted to writing short stories but I may have to wean myself off for a while and return to my incomplete novel. There are very different pleasures that attach to each form.

How often do you write?

I try to write on most days but there is definitely an ebb and flow. If events or promotions or admin tasks crowd in, there will be far less writing. Sometimes travelling can be really productive: I’ve written quite a bit on trains and planes.

How does writing make you feel?

Depends on how the day has gone. Sometimes elated, sometimes queasy, sometimes depressed. And some days, like the Dorothy Parker quote: ‘I hate writing. I love having written.’

Where/when do you write?

In my study. I start in the mornings and then it’s anyone’s guess when to stop. I’m also often scribbling things in a notebook wherever I am.

What do you write about?

Anything that takes my fancy!

What’s the best thing about writing?

Being happy with a sentence that you feel you can’t better.

How long have you been writing for?

Six years.

If you would like to purchase one of Mahesh’s fabulous books, click on the link below.


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A series of selfies….. Kiran Manral



“Dance with Fireflies takes you back to another era with its exquisite detailing and meticulous research.”

Kiran Manral is the best selling author of Karmic Kids, All Aboard, Once Upon A Crush and The Reluctant Detective.

I met Kiran via Twitter. She read the first few chapters of Dance with Fireflies on the Amazon page and promptly invited me to speak at The Kumaon Literary Festival in the foothills of the Himalayas!

She now has her very own signed copy!


Her successful career began as a journalist, working with The Asian Age and The Times of India. She founded a content supplying company in partnership during the very first dot com boom, Soul Publications, which supplied content to portals set up by Tatanova, Sify, and has edited weddingsutra.com. She was perhaps the first to live blog the earliest Lakme Fashion Weeks. She was India Culture Lead and Trend spotter with CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights, US and is currently Senior Consultant at Vector Insights, LLP. She also co-founded Karma Communications, a communications consultancy.
Her blogs were in Labnol’s list of India’s top blogs. Her parenting blog, http://www.karmickids.blogspot.com was ranked among the top 5 parenting blogs in the country by Blogadda and is now a book, Karmic Kids: The Story of Parenting Nobody Told You (Hay House, 2015). She was a blogger columnist at Tehelka.com on gender issues.
She is also considered a ‘social media star’ on twitter by the TOI. IBN Live named her as among the 30 most interesting Indian women to follow on twitter & among the top 10 Indian moms to follow on twitter for 2013.
Post 26/11, she founded India Helps, a volunteer network to help disaster victims.
She is also part of the core founding team of CSAAM (www.csaawarenessmonth.com) and Violence Against Women Awareness Month (www.vawawareness.wordpress.com).
Her fourth fiction book is due out in Feb 2016 from Amaryllis.
Fashion101.in named her amongst the most stylish authors in India.
She is on the planning board of the Kumaon Literary Festival, an advisor on the Board of Literature Studio, Delhi, mentor at Sheroes.com and a columnist with iDiva.com.She was awarded the Women Achievers award by Young Environmentalists Group in 2013.


Awards: Women Achiever of the Year, Young Environmentalists, 2013

On twitter@kiranmanral

kiranmanral@gmail.com Continue reading


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One of the most amazing experiences of my life!

I have just spent the last week or so in India, having been invited to speak at the Kumaon Literary Festival in Nainital, to talk about life there during the colonial period. This is obviously my ‘Mastermind subject’, my protagonist (Phyllis, my grandmother) in Dance with Fireflies having run a restaurant in the hill station in the 1920’s. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life … one I shall cherish forever.

Day one

Eight hour Night flight to Delhi. Very little sleep but too excited to care! It’s the first time I have arrived at an airport with someone to greet with me with my name on a board. Got driven off to Claridges …an utterly beautiful heritage hotel.

Spent an amazing afternoon in Delhi (Red Fort, Chandi Chowk and Connaught Place).


Claridges Hotel, Delhi


Chandi Chowk

Day two

Up at 5am to catch a train to Kathgodam (the nearest train station to Nainital). Amazing A/C carriage.  Watched all the fantastic scenery speed by as tea and food was served all the way up into the foothills of the Himalayas.


Taxis were arranged for us for the last one hour leg of our journey to Nainital, the summer home of my ancestors. This is my second visit to this beautiful Hill Station, the last being 18 years ago. I felt very emotional as we drove along The Mall, past Barnes’ location (the restaurant Phyllis ran), The Boat House Club and lake.

We arrived at The Shervani Hill Top Hotel, greeted by abundant flowerbeds and overflowing terracotta pots of colour. Another beautiful hotel in an amazing location. We spent a few hours getting to know some of my fellow speakers. Such a lovely bunch of people including: writers, poets, bloggers, journalists and authors.


Enjoying our first beer on the balcony

This was our only opportunity to go into the town and explore a little. We headed straight for the Boat House Club. This building means a lot to me and my family. My grandmother (Phyllis) and grandfather (Arthur) used to be members here. We have a picture of them attending a fancy dress party here.


We walked further on down The Mall to find the location of the all important restaurant, to compare the Dance with Fireflies book cover image in the 1920’s to now.


I’ve been dreaming of standing here, book in hand, for a long time….this made me very happy!

We walked back up to Mallital, so many amazing colonial buildings, but in desperate need of renovation.

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Day 3

The festival begins! I could relax on the first day as I wasn’t speaking until the second day…this gave me a chance to meet up with everyone and see how the ground lay! The location was superb, a colonial lodge homestay owned by the Prasada family.


Kanta Prasada and me



The stage!



Met loads more amazing people, including Sumant Batra, the founder of the festival….a wonderful man…..who has done the most splendid job in making this festival a truly memorable event.


Mahesh Rao…fellow author


Lunch on the lawn


Arvind Passey…poet and blogger


Siddhartha Gigoo … author


Sumant’s opening speech


One of the thoughts going through my mind at this point was…that will be me on the stage tomorrow!!!

After a long and informative day we spent the evening at The Boat House Club!!!! So excited to be allowed in as it is members only…and they are pretty strict!

We had a tasty buffet and met more amazing people…..James Champion (author and conservationist) and Rosemary Fox (conservationist from Canada)….remarkable people… James is the king of funny anecdotes, including one about a Japanese Yukata, a ladies only bathroom and snowdrifts!!! Still laughing now 🙂


Rosemary Fox and James Champion at The Boat House Club

Day 4

My turn today! Woke up feeling a little nervous but put some loud and Adrenalin inducing music in my ears on the walk to Abbotsford, to gear myself up for my 10am session. Met the lovely Rudy Singh who chaired the panel…another lovely man from Nainital. Then that was it, I was called on stage and introduced. It was brilliant. I loved every second of it…rather surprised myself!


On stage with Rudy Singh and Deepak Rawat

Lots of people wanted to chat afterwards about my family’s story and Dance with Fireflies… it was tremendously exciting.



The lovely Preeti Batra

After a lovely afternoon we were taken to Gurney house (Jim Corbett’s old home) in Jim’s Jungle Jeeps to meet Nilanjana Dalmia who now owns it. We had a lovely few hours there listening to a reading by James Champion.



James Champion and Nilanjana Dalmia



Nilanjana’s brother, Sanjaya

Finally we drove back to Abbotsford for a closing ceremony with some incredible musicians, before saying fond farewells to so many amazing people and new friends. We were off to Rishikesh the following morning for a good old chill out!



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The countdown to Kumaon has begun!


The countdown to the Kumaon Literary Festival has begun. There is so much to get ready and prepare for…..

A stack of bookmarks to giveaway.

A mini photo album, showing my family’s connection to Nainital.

Limited edition, 2 chapter sample of the book ( featuring Amazon reviews)…. To hand out on my session.

A poster for the free signed book prize.

…. And not forgetting…. As many books as I can cram into my suitcase once the rest of my clobber is packed.

Just need to work out what I’m going to say on my panel and chocs away!

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