Bestselling Author


The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi

Alka Joshi joins us to talk about her new novel, The Perfumist of Paris. The final chapter in her New York Times bestselling Jaipur trilogy takes readers to 1970s Paris where Radha’s budding career as a perfumer must compete with the demands of her family and the secrets of her past.

Alka Joshi

Alka Joshi is the internationally bestselling author of the Jaipur Trilogy: The Henna Artist, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur and The Perfumist of Paris. Her debut novel, The Henna Artist, immediately became a New York Times bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon Pick. It has been translated into 29 languages and is currently in development at Netflix as a tv series. Joshi was born in India and came to the U.S. with her family at the age of nine. She has a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from California College of Arts. She is available for speaking engagements and group writing instruction.

In this episode of Historical Happy Hour, host Jane interviews Alka Joshi, author of the Jaipur trilogy. Alka discusses her journey in writing the trilogy, focusing on her latest novel, “The Perfumist of Paris”. The conversation delves into the inspiration behind her characters, the extensive research on the perfume industry, and the cultural significance of courtesans in Indian society. Alka shares insights into her writing process as a ‘pantser’, her interaction with fans worldwide, and the global success of her novels. The episode also touches on Alka’s upcoming projects and her collaboration with Netflix for adapting “The Henna Artist” into a TV series.

Timestamp List of Topics:

  • [00:00:00] Introduction of Alka Joshi
  • [00:02:20] Discussion on the arc of the Jaipur trilogy
  • [00:07:04] Research on the perfume industry for “The Perfumist of Paris”
  • [00:10:47] Creation of Delphine’s character, a master perfumer
  • [00:13:04] Role of courtesans in the narrative
  • [00:18:21] Alka’s approach to vivid sensory descriptions in her writing
  • [00:20:36] Cover designs of her novels
  • [00:22:43] Global reception of Alka’s novels
  • [00:26:47] Netflix series adaptation of “The Henna Artist”
  • [00:28:04] Alka’s writing process as a pantser
  • [00:30:06] Favorite and challenging aspects of writing
  • [00:32:07] Alka’s next novel project
  • [00:35:43] Staying in touch with Alka Joshi
  • [00:37:10] Alka’s advice for aspiring authors
  • [00:39:54] Visit to perfumeries in France
  • [00:41:25] Research for “The Perfumist of Paris”
  • [00:43:39] Involvement with Netflix series
  • [00:44:10] Alka’s dedication in “The Perfumist of Paris”
  • [00:47:48] Collaboration for a perfume discovery kit


[00:00:00] Jane: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the latest historical happy hour. We’re finally back. Last month was my launch month, so I did not have one. And I am so excited to have Elke Joshi here to talk about her latest novel, The Perfumist of Paris. I’m going to do a brief introduction. I feel like you don’t need one, but I’m going to do one anyway.

Alka Joshi is the internationally bestselling author of the the Jaipur trilogy, the henna artist, the Secret Keeper of Jaipur, and her latest, The Perfumist of Paris, which was just released. Her debut novel, The Henna Artist, immediately became a New York Times bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon pick.

It has been translated into 29 languages and is currently in development at Netflix as a TV series, which I can’t wait to ask you about. Josie, Josie was born in India and came to the U. S. with her family at the age of nine. She has a BA from Stanford University and an MFA. From California College of the Arts.

I’m fangirling a little. I love all the authors that come on here. I’m a fan of all of them, but I’m kind of obsessed with this trilogy and I’m so happy to have you here tonight.

[00:01:03] Alka: Thank you. It’s lovely to be here. Thank you.

[00:01:07] Jane: So I want to dive in with questions and then at the end I will take questions from the audience and people can put them in the Q& A or the chat and I will, I’ll keep an eye out if the chat is working.

If not, they can put them in the Q& A. I will pull that up. Okay, here we go. So This book, The Perfumist of Paris, is the final installment of this beloved trilogy, and it started with the henna artist, which a lot of people already know about, is the story of Lakshmi Shastri, a henna artist trying to carve her own kind of independent life.

in Jaipur, India in the 1950s. The second novel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur centers on Malik Lakshmi’s protégé as a young man in the late 1960s. Yes, beautiful covers too. I can, my cover, my scarf kind of matches your color. Yeah, it does. I did that on purpose. And then The Perfumist of Paris features Radha.

Lakshmi’s younger sister now living in Paris as a married wife with two young daughters in the 1970s. As I said, I adore these books. I love this one just as much as the other two, although the stories are all very different. And talk to me about the overall arc of the trilogy. And inspiration for this third novel.

[00:02:20] Alka: Okay, so I didn’t even know that this trilogy was going to have an arc. I mean, it’s been a complete surprise to me that it even became a trilogy. And then when I realized it was a true that there was a third book coming. I wanted to stop it right there so I kept saying to my editor I go this is a trilogy I mean whenever I would talk to somebody I would say this is a trilogy and my editor said.

Are you sure you want to say that? Because maybe you want to keep going with this. And I said, no, I just, I really feel like, okay, we’re, we’re done here. I think this is going to be great. So what happened is that, you know, the first book was really sort of an alternate life imagining of my mother. And I wanted her to have the kind of life that Lakshmi did where Lakshmi gets to go off and, you know, on this great big adventure where she leaves what is common.

Her marriage and wants to go out and, you know, do something really interesting with her life and see the larger world. And she does that as she becomes a henna artist and you know, sort of the henna artist of the stars and also really gains a huge knowledge about herbal remedies. Then what happened is that her eight year old assistant, Malik really became a force to be reckoned with.

I, I had had him in my original versions of the, the novel, The Henna Artist, but my agent kept saying, why is Malik even in this? Like, why is this young boy in this story? And I said, well, my gosh, you know, Lakshmi confides in no one else and Malik knows more about her than anyone. So he’s got to be in the book.

So I minimized, minimized, minimized his participation. But then he just came back after the hen artist had gone off to print. He said, you know, you have to write about me because you have all this information about me that didn’t make it into the novel. So I started writing about him. I actually pushed another project aside, which is now going to be my fourth novel, but I pushed that aside and I started working on his novel.

And then when I was done with that I realized that Radha is the only one who is not in that second novel because I knew at that time, I’d mapped it all out when I wrote The Henna Artist, and when I got to the end, I said, okay, so Radha’s going to elope with this young man who is trekking through Paris, I mean, trekking through the Himalayas, he lives in Paris, she’s going to run away with him, she’s going to get married, she’s going to have two kids, and I knew she was going to work in the perfume industry.

Why? Okay. Okay. Because number one, it’s France, it’s Paris, why not do something romantic like perfume? And then secondly, because she’s so good at mixing that henna paste, I figured she would be perfect at figuring out what kind of ingredients you need to put in a fragrance in order to sort of awaken that customer in order to have them seduce somebody else in order to have them, you know fantasize about her life, you know, that’s different from their own.

And I thought, you know, rather has that kind of creative imagination. She could probably do that. So then I thought, okay, she needs her own story. And then I said, okay, so rather, what are you up to? And then she started telling me. And as these characters have grown with me over the last, now it’s more like 14 years that they’ve been with me.

You know, it really feels like they’re a part of my family. I know them. I know what they like to do, what they don’t like to do, what their weaknesses and strengths are and all of that. So I knew that Rada was going to be this amazing woman who is taking care of her family. Loves being a mother, but also loves her job.

And now she’s learning. I think what a, what Lakshmi was doing all of that time that she was raising Raha, Lakshmi loved what she did also and she was trying to build a you know, a kitty so that she could buy her own house and be completely self-sufficient. And Radha now is at a point where she’s realized, Oh, work can sustain you.

Work can be something that you absolutely love and want to spend time at. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad wife. It just means that this is also something you love. And she’s finding that out for the first time and as she does she also finds out that there is that, that there is a price to pay for what she put Lakshmi through in the henna artist.

And you and I both know what that was. That was the illegitimate child that she had. And that boy. I knew was going to show up in book number three. So that is the start of how this whole trilogy came about. I wanted to close the circle so that whatever Rada created in the first book is now hers to deal with in the third book.

[00:07:04] Jane: I see. Okay. Yeah, I was, you know, and as I was reading the first and second book, I was wondering when that was going to come back around and, and Rada’s story. So you know, one thing I love about this third novel is you have these amazing notes in the back about the perfume industry and your research.

And so I want to talk a little bit about that. It says your, your extensive research on the perfume industry took you to New York, France, Portugal, Turkey, India. And tell me a little bit about the research, what you learned and how that shaped the narrative?

[00:07:38] Alka: You know, I knew that there was no way I was going to learn about perfume through books.

I that’s the first place I started. I started looking for books about perfume and they are so dry. I got to tell you Jane, you know, they will put you right to sleep and perfume is not something that should put you to sleep. All of these ingredients that go into perfume are so fascinating. And as I started that journey, I was talking to my producer Michael for the Hannah artist, you know, TV show.

And I said, Michael, I have to work on this third novel and I have to try to get some real people I can speak to about the perfume industry. And he said, Oh. I know exactly the person you should speak to. So that’s when I flew out to New York City to meet with Ann Gottlieb. She gets me in to talk to all these master perfumers.

She has me going to fragrance labs. And when I did that, I knew immediately that’s where Radha lives. She lives in a fragrance lab. I know exactly what her lab now looks like. I know what kind of vials she’s going to pull off the shelves to make her fragrances. And I also understood. That the master perfumers are sending down their formulas to these lab assistants and the lab assistants are responsible just for blending exactly the formula in front of them, then sending it back to the master perfumer.

So the perfumer can say, Oh, that does smell like what I thought, or no, it absolutely does not smell like what I thought. There’s so many things I learned doing that. For example, and these, these will come as surprises, I think to your listeners. Number one. It’s better to smell the perfume on a you know what they call a blotter.

It’s better to smell it on that, wave it in front of your nose rather than putting it on your person because at any one time your skin is going to react differently to the same fragrance. So that’s number one. And you know how we were all taught, you spray on a little perfume and then you rub your wrist.

They never do that. They say, Okay. Don’t do that. What that does is it takes away the the top layer of the fragrance. So every perfume that you put on has three different layers. The first layer is called a top note, and it only lasts for about 15 minutes. Okay, you spray it on the first thing you smell, and you’re only going to smell it for 15 minutes is that top layer.

Then there’s the second layer that lasts for about four hours. And then there’s a third layer that will last you all, all throughout the day and evening. So so these are these are, That’s why you can’t just put it on your skin and go, Oh, that’s what it’s going to smell like on my skin. You really need to wave it because when you wave it under your nose, you can actually smell all of those three tones at the same time.

[00:10:14] Jane: There’s so much more to it than I realized. Yeah. It’s just totally fascinating. And I guess that’s why when you’re in department stores, they give you the little piece of paper instead of like putting it on you or, you know, something like that. Yeah, exactly. Interesting. So I want to talk about Delphine who is the master perfumer, like amazing strong woman character, strong feelings.

[00:10:35] Alka: I loved her. I just loved her.

[00:10:38] Jane: Yeah. So she’s kind of a mentor to Radha. And so how, who was she inspired by someone that you met? How did you come up with her?

[00:10:47] Alka: Okay. This is fascinating. When I was in Lisbon, I met with this very urbane fabulous gentleman who had been Why in the perfume industry or the fragrance industry for 40 years.

And his family had been in it for two centuries. He is now 85, 84 years old. I don’t know exactly. But when I met with him, he had been referred to me by someone else. And he said you know, there was a woman named Sophia Grossman. Who was one of the few women allowed to become a master perfumer in the 1970s of Paris.

And the reason for that is because it’s a very sexist and male dominated industry. At least it was in the 70s. So you had to be a tough woman to get into it in the first place. Or either that or you had to be supremely rich and have patronage coming from somewhere. So I made. Oh, and then the other thing about Sophia Grossman is she was a an inveterate smoker.

She, she smoked all the time. And I said, I said to the person, the person I was interviewing Eve who, by the way, then was the reason that I named the perfume company, the house of Eve. And I said, Eve doesn’t smoking take away your sense of smell. That’s what I’ve always heard. He said it didn’t for Sophia.

Cause she just. Kept making one fabulous perfume after another. And so I thought, okay, Delphine’s going to be like that too. Yeah. I loved her character. I think that she’s really trying to give Rada a leg up first because she knows Rada is smart and she’s very motivated and ambitious, but also because she doesn’t want the guys to supersede her when they’re not as talented as she is.

[00:12:29] Jane: Right, right.

Yeah, I loved her as a character. I thought she was fascinating and love to see strong women like that. So Rana is given her first big project by Delphine you know, to create her own scent and she travels back to India to do this. And meets, you know, meets with Lakshmi and a group of courtesans.

And so talk to me about courtesans, women who know more about fragrance than perhaps anyone else on earth is how it’s described. Talk to me about them and in the context of Indian culture and also their role in the novel.

[00:13:04] Alka: Oh, they’re so fascinating. Research on them was just amazing. They are used to, you know, the first when you enter one of their houses, you will smell the cardamom, you know, the incense, the frankincense and myrrh and all of these kinds of things.

So that’s the first fragrance that you smell. And then as you sit down and as they come and entertain you, you will probably inhale the fragrances that they have on themselves. Each one will be. slightly different. You will also smell the fragrance in your let’s say your drink. Maybe it has rose fragrance in it.

Maybe it has a little saffron in your tea, whatever it is. So there’s a lot of different fragrances going on. And I think ultimately the goal is to have them all seduce you, you know, into feeling fabulous. So I found these women also fascinating because of the history of India, they had been so rich, they had been so well here, they had accumulated property and factories and businesses over time, and they were some of the wealthiest people in India.

When there was the 1857 mutiny where the Indians were trying to get rid of the British, it failed, but it was financed largely by courtesans, which I thought was really cool. Yeah. Yeah. And when the British found out that there, that the money for this mutiny had come from them, they taxed them very heavily.

They made them. You know, they made them look like common prostitutes. They actually changed them from the sort of geisha status that they had had because these women are trained in classical art, classical music. They play instruments. They usually entertain by speaking poetry. They reduce them to common prostitutes who didn’t do any of that, or just had sex with men.

That was really damaging to the courtesans. But the ones who were able to rise up again and accumulate their wealth all over again, they then financed the independence movement of 1947. They were some of the major donors of that movement. So that’s, I love that about them. Yeah. The second thing is that they were a refuge.

These houses were refuge for women who were escaping abusive families, abusive husbands you know, the maybe they were widowed and after you were widowed, you were a nobody, you didn’t get invited to weddings, you didn’t get invited to family functions, you had to just sit in the corner and wear your white sari and you know, that was the end of your life.

And, and you had to cut your hair too. So these women were escaping all kinds of, you know, personal slights. And so they come to this house and they are able to raise their children there. They’re able to have schooling for their children, housing for their children. And when they accumulate enough money, they can leave the house and they can buy their own place and, you know, take their children with them, whatever they want to do.

The third thing that I loved about them is that they were women. Empowered. So the girls of the Kotha the daughters of these women all inherited property, all inherited the money. They all were the benefactors. The boys who were born had to ultimately go and find their own living. They were not going to inherit any of the wealth of the, of the house.

[00:16:23] Jane: So fascinating, and I loved how you pulled them into the story. Yeah, that was a really interesting aspect of Indian culture that I knew nothing about, which I think is the best thing about historical fiction. It teaches you things about different cultures and history that you don’t, you may not have learned.

[00:16:39] Alka: And then the other thing, Jane, is that I knew from the henna artists that I really wanted to talk about them. And so many scenes of these two women, Hazi and Nasreen, were cut out of the henna artists. Really? Yeah, I could only mention them like as tiny little things that Lakshmi would remember. You know, when he was doing something, I had no idea that I was going to be able to bring them back.

And I was just delighted when I thought, how is Rada going to find this last you know, ingredient that she needs? And I thought, well, first of all, she’s going to call Lakshmi and what will Lakshmi say? And I thought Lakshmi will tell her to go to the cortisol. Yeah, I mean, it’s just. It’s this world is almost like beyond me, you know, I’m not creating it as I write this world.

It’s like it was already there. And all I have to do is ask the characters, you know, to answer the questions that I’m asking.

[00:17:35] Jane: Amazing. Amazing. I love that. I want to talk about how you This, this whole world that you created and because you do such a beautiful job creating fictional worlds that incorporate all the senses, you know, colors, smells, tastes, textures, and I’ll just read one example when Radha reunites with Lakshmi.

She smelled of the chrysanthemums in her hair, the henna on her hands, and her husband’s lime and antiseptic scent. And I love that line. And there’s so many vivid descriptions and details like that. But how do you strike the balance between these details and this world building, but not distract from the story itself?

How have you learned to strike that balance?

[00:18:21] Alka: Wow, that’s a really good question, Jane. I’m not really sure that it was Conscious. I think I just knew that. First I have to describe the setting like where are we that is important because I’ve got to ground the reader and I have to ground myself, where are we, you know what to the walls look like are there paintings on the walls are there you know is there carpet on the floor is there a flower arrangement here or there.

I have to ground myself in the setting and then I can ground the people in the setting and what the people are doing. So maybe it’s a combination of that. And then, of course, I want to pull from memories that these people are having whenever you encounter scent, you encounter memory. Like I’m sure you remember the first time you know, if you smell peppermint, you might remember the first time you had peppermint candy stick.

What is that called? Like for Christmas, you don’t have those little candy canes, you know, and it just takes you right back to the first moment that you inhaled that that aroma. So I think I really want. To have people the characters have to sort of start remembering things about their past live that reminds them of something that the scent is engaging.

I also want them to be able to move the story forward. Now that we know where they are, we can have them talking to one another about where they want to go and what they want to accomplish. Every scene that you put in a book. Has to be accomplishing something. Yes. So you can’t just have a scene that says, Hello, how are you?

Oh, I’m fine, thank you. And that’s it. So I know. Yeah, exactly. So when I, when I see the setting, and then I described the setting, I know that each of these characters in this scene, they want something. And they’re going to either talk about it, or they’re going to have an action about it.

[00:20:17] Jane: Yeah, absolutely.

Speaking of colors and senses and your cover designs are gorgeous and so colorful, and I just wondered, did you, do you have much input in cover designs? It really just seems to depend on the publishers, and did you have a lot of say?

[00:20:36] Alka: So here’s what happens with my covers. The art department will send me, let’s say, four different Directions that we could go in.

And then I say, Okay, I think this one direction is probably the best for what I’m writing in the narrative, and then they will take that one direction and refine it further. So that’s kind of how it goes and the art department established with the henna artists they established, you know, the first. Idea of how this was going to look and then I don’t know who determined it within the art department, but they decided that each of the books was going to have their own.

Central color. So here, by the way, is the Spanish version of the henna artist. And so this color was established first as the henna, you know, it’s really the color of henna. And then with The Secret Keeper, we’re so much in the Himalayas with the nomads and with Nimi, that that became more of a blue color.

And then with the Perfumist of Paris, I’m not really quite sure where they came up with the pink, but it’s one of my favorite colors. And look how it does match with this car.

[00:21:46] Jane: Yeah, I love it. I love it. Yeah, it’s beautiful. They’re all beautiful. So I was curious because yeah, sometimes publishers can’t say here’s your cover and but you have an artistic background anyway.

So yeah. Yeah, I’m sure you have strong hands.

[00:21:59] Alka: Yeah, that really helps a lot. And by the way, so what happens sometimes is, you know, we get down to, okay, that’s what the background is going to look like. And then the central figure is very important. And then they will ask me, you know, like, what kind of dress, what kind of sari should she be wearing?

And this time we have Radha. So she’s got a purse because she is more in the modern era. And you know, she’s got short hair. So this is a more modern look. And that’s something that I think Rada would have worn.

[00:22:28] Jane: Oh, yeah, definitely. So these novels have been embraced around the world, obviously translated 29 languages.

And so talk to me about what’s been the most rewarding aspect about that. And what has been the most surprising to you?

[00:22:43] Alka: The most rewarding aspect is How many people feel as if they know these characters, they know these situations, they know this family, they can relate it back to their lives or to the lives of their you know, their mothers, their grandmothers, their villages or their cities and towns.

They can totally understand all of these people. So that’s been a really rewarding thing. And I think the surprising thing is that no matter where in the world people are, no matter which language they are listening to or reading the books in, they really they can, they, they tell me, look, I’ve never been to India.

I don’t know Indian people myself, but I read these stories and these are people I have always known. These are people that I grew up with in my village or in my little town or whatever. And I think that is really amazing. And I think the surprising thing is that 90 year old men from Slovakia will write to me.

Yeah, 25 year old women from Portugal will write to me. And, you know young men, oh, like last night, I was at a book event and a young man came up to me and he is Singaporean and he must be all of 29 years old or something. And and he said, I have read all three of your novels. First of all, they kind of remind me of Singapore.

But then secondly, I just. I just love these characters and you know, are you really stopping at number three? Could you please just keep writing? Just write one for me.

[00:24:17] Jane: Oh, so nice. Yeah. That’s lovely. I love to hear that. But I think you’re right. Like, you know, the characters you know, they speak to the human condition and we can all relate to.

You know, mothers and sisters and brothers and, you know, all the different relationships that you delve into.

[00:24:31] Alka: And some of this, some of this, by the way, Jane doesn’t even have to do with my characters. So they see me with my gray hair and they see that the first time my, the henna artist was published, I was 62 years old and now I’m 65.

And what they see is somebody older. Who can maybe reinvent themselves and do something different. And there is no end to women who write to me and say, you know, I’m 60 something years old or I’m 70 years old and I feel like I’ve got a story in me and I can tell it now because you told yours. So now I, you know, I feel, I feel empowered to tell mine.

[00:25:07] Jane: And how rewarding is that? That’s just amazing. I love that. I heard you say that in another interview and I was like, oh, that’s the best. Yeah, I love it. How about readers in India and Indians in America? How have they reacted to the story?

[00:25:21] Alka: They love the books, which is really, really rewarding as well.

So in India these books are bestsellers, which I’m really delighted about. And I’ve done so many book clubs with Indians all over the diaspora in India, in Bangladesh, in Sri Lanka, in Vienna you know, in Russia, in you know, Paris, all kinds of different places and you know, in the U S and Canada, of course, too.

And it’s been really, fun to reconnect with a lot of people from my birth country and to find out that they have stories of their own that they want to share that are similar to what I’m writing about Lakshmi and Radha and Malik.

[00:26:00] Jane: Yeah. Amazing. I have to say, I, I, I try not to read the comments as I’m chatting, but I, people, if people have questions, I have a couple more questions for you and then I can take questions from the audience.

But. Diego Cagara says, Oh my God, hi, it’s me. I’m the 26 year old man at your book event.

[00:26:18] Alka: Oh, he was so delightful. Hi, Diego.

[00:26:20] Jane: So great. Like that caught my eye. I’m like, I have to read that. Hi, Diego. Thanks for coming on. So talk to me about the Netflix series The Henna Artist, starring Frida Pinto, who I adore from Slovenia.

Millionaire, of course, but other films that she’s done and TV shows, what is the latest on that? And do you have a, do you have a, a launch date for the, for the show? And how, how’s that? And are you involved?

[00:26:47] Alka: I am not involved. The only way that I’m involved is every now and then the producers if I’m down in LA you know, they’ll have lunch with me and you know, they want to catch me up on everything.

But I don’t get a daily or monthly report. And the reason for that is because I chose to stay out of the, the production itself. And all I get is, you know, every now and then I might get a script or two to look at. But I have complete confidence in this group, you know, Michael and Edelstein and Frida Pinto and then the folks at Netflix who are overseeing the production.

They’re so excited about it. So, you know, I, I hope that there is going to be a launch date soon. But I have absolutely no idea what dates those are, you know, every now and then. Their you know, their names will come into my head and I will think, oh, I wish you so, I wish you so much luck in making that series come to life.

And I know they will. I, I know they will.

[00:27:43] Jane: Yeah. So exciting. I can’t wait. I, I have a couple of questions about the writing process. So what, you know, this, these are a couple of questions that I ask every writer that comes on. You know, in the writing world, we talk about plotters versus pantsers. Do you plot out the books before you write them?

Or do you write by the seat of your pants? How, what’s your process like?

[00:28:04] Alka: So I write by the seat of my pants. You know first and a scene will come to me, and then I will start looking at what’s happening in that scene. What does the scene actually, you know, look like, what is the setting what are the characters wearing what they’re concerned about.

And then I probably won’t put anything down on my laptop until I’ve been working with that scene for several weeks. And I just do it in my head. And every time I start walking, I advance it a little bit further, a little bit further. And of course, I’m revising in my head as I go along. So then I finally put it down and that will lead to another scene.

So now my head is cleared of the first scene I was thinking about. Now, now I’ll think about the second scene and then eventually I’ll write that down. And then pretty soon the scenes start coming faster and faster as the story is developing in my head, but there are still so many surprises. Like, you know, I don’t know.

Well, let’s see, I don’t want to give spoilers on the perfume, Mr. Paris, but there are a lot of points in there where I was completely surprised at where we ended up, like the person who commissioned the fragrance that Radha is working on. Complete surprise. I thought, Oh my God, twist.

[00:29:19] Jane: Yeah.

[00:29:21] Alka: And then wasn’t it surprising when, and I don’t think this is a bad spoiler, but Ari from the first book shows up again in the third book.

And I was like, Oh my gosh, what’s he doing here? So there are, there are always surprises. I don’t know. How they’re going to show up. And I think if I were plotting it, I would be less inclined to allow those kinds of surprises in. But because I don’t plan the surprises just come one right after another

[00:29:51] Jane: Amazing.

And so in terms of process, what is the part that you love the most? Is it that part like just kind of the initial writing and kind of writing by the seat of your pants or Just What do you love the most and what is the part that’s most challenging for you?

[00:30:06] Alka: What I, what I love the most are these kind of surprises that happen.

Do you remember in the henna artist, one of the things that happened is that after Lakshmi and Samir sleep together it is Samir’s mistress who tells his wife That Samir was cheating on the mistress, as well as the wife, and I just thought, where did that come from? What a great moment that was. I had no idea what was going to happen.

So those are the kinds of things that are just so joyful for me. Another thing that’s joyful is to see how a character is evolving over time. Because every character that you are building, Has to transform over time. They either become more you know, more evolved, they become more dynamic, they become maybe less annoying.

Maybe they become maybe, maybe they even become worse than they were when they first started, but there has to be some kind of a change in that character. So eventually that, Resolves itself that, you know, I can figure out what the changes are. But sometimes that’s a harder, harder thing to make sure that every single main character has an evolution of some kind.

I think that’s hard. Yeah, another thing. Another thing that’s hard is to maintain tension throughout the novel. That’s a very important thing. Like, I will often put books down that I started and I go, Oh, that’s really good. And then by page 30 or 60, I’m like, Oh, you know, it’s really slowed down. I don’t know where it’s going.

Maybe I’ll pick up another book instead. So I think that that’s a real challenge to make sure that there’s enough tension going on in every single scene as you’re building that somebody says, I couldn’t put this down.

[00:31:56] Jane: Yeah, it’s yeah the pacing and yeah, exactly. That is a, that is a tricky balance. I totally agree.

Are you ready to share what you’re working on next? Are you keeping that close to the vest?

[00:32:07] Alka: I think it’s really fun because the publisher has already bought it so I can tell you about it. It is a 1937. We are in New Delhi, there is an Anglo Indian nurse who is taking care of a. Painter who has just come in as a patient and the painter is modeled after a real life Frida Kahlo of India.

Her name was Amrita Sher-Gil and the real life painter is very close to this particular character in my novel. And that character was the character in my novel is half. Czech and half Indian. That’s why she happens to be in India. So the nurse, who is half British and half Indian also feels a little bit separate from everybody, just like the painter does.

And they formed this bond over the six days that the nurse is taking care of her. On the sixth day, the painter dies and it’s very unexpected. Nobody knows why it happened. And the nurse is the. most you know sort of easy scapegoat. And so she gets fired and the nurse has to clear her name because if she doesn’t, she won’t get another job like this.

And she takes care of an elderly mother. So in order to clear her name, she’s going to go find the three people that the painter had mentioned who were the closest to her to try to discover what finally could have caused her death or led to her death. Oh, yeah. So that’s what number four is about.

[00:33:39] Jane: Fascinating. And when is that scheduled? Or do you have a date, launch date yet for that?

[00:33:43] Alka: We, we don’t have a launch date, but I think sometime in 2024 and maybe early 2025.

[00:33:50] Jane: Amazing. So one more question, and then I know there’s some questions in the Q and A in the chat that people have in your dedication at the beginning of the book, you say for anyone that thinks they can’t, you can.

And. I know that there are always some aspiring authors in the audience and I always ask what’s the best advice you can give them about the writing life and getting a novel published.

[00:34:15] Alka: The one thing I always tell everybody is, if you think you’re done after your first or third or fifth draft you are not done.

You can still go over it, many, many, many more times. And I think that comes as a shock to a lot of young people because they think, Oh, I wrote a pretty good draft here. Now probably I’ll need to just do a couple more revisions and I’m done. No, it took me 30 drafts to write that first book. And then subsequent drafts take me about 11, 12, sometimes even 15 drafts.

So it’s not it’s not a sprint. It is a marathon. It’s going to take a really long time to get to that first published novel after that life will get a lot easier because you will know what not to do. But, you know, it’s like getting good at anything you you know if you want to learn to ski you’re not going to be great skier the first couple of days that you’re out.

It takes years to build up to be a great skier.

[00:35:15] Jane: Yes, absolutely. That’s very good advice. I, how can readers stay in touch with you? And I also have to mention someone mentioned about making their own perfume and you have instructions on your website about how to have a perfume party. Yeah. Recipes in the back of the book for food.

And so there’s lots of good stuff on, on Alka’s website and in the book to have a good book club parties, but how’s the best, what’s the best way to stay in touch with you on social media? Things like that.

[00:35:43] Alka: I’m on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and on Insta, Insta, ugh, on Instagram my handle is at the Alka Joshi.

It turned out that when I set up my Instagram account all those years ago, I. There was another Alka Joshi and she doesn’t look anything like me and she’s a bus driver. And so I don’t want to get confused with that Alka Joshi because her, her life is totally different from mine. So then somebody said, well, why don’t you just be the Alka Joshi?

So that’s, that’s how I came about it.

[00:36:13] Jane: Oh, that’s right. There’s a Scottish Jane Healy who’s also a writer. So we have to constantly like separate out our Wow.

[00:36:21] Alka: Yeah, you know what, it’s a good thing that we don’t have to be like actors, right? Like when they when they join up with their unions, or, you know, sag or whatever it is, they can’t have the same name as somebody else.

So they end up using their middle name or an initial or something. But you and the other Jane Healy don’t ever have to do that. We’re good.

[00:36:40] Jane: Yeah, that’s right. Okay, I’m going to take some questions and Let’s see. Oh, Susan Luscombe asked, and there’s also some wonderful comments and lovely things in the, in the chat you know, all sorts of praise about Sue McGarry says how Alka loves her characters.

This, this is fascinating, as are the books. I loved all three. Christine Mott loves your rings. I do too. They’re very cool. And oh, Susan Luscombe asks, will you write a book about the courtesans? I would love it. Have you thought about that?

[00:37:10] Alka: Yes, I’m actually one of my mentors in writing. She suggested that to me first.

She goes, you know, I found those courtesans really fascinating. You might want to write a whole book about them. So maybe, maybe I will.

[00:37:22] Jane: Suggestion. And do you have a favorite perfume?

[00:37:26] Alka: I don’t have a favorite perfume. I think over time I’ve sort of Had different ones. Like I remember, I don’t know if you guys remember white linen, like I’m a hundred years old.

So I remember stuff like that. I liked how clean it smelled. I liked how it smelled like you just took your clothes out of the dryer and they just smelled so fabulous and clean. And then after a while, I really liked something called Gracie or maybe it was just grace, grace. Maybe it was grace. I don’t remember who made it, but it also had that kind of a light and airy scent.

That’s what I like. It’s funny because That’s what I like in perfume. But in terms of actual scent, I like sandalwood as just a pure essential oil. I love it. And I like sandalwood soap that they make in India that smells just like that. And then the second thing I like is carrot, cardamom. So I like cardamom in my tea.

I like cardamom in all kinds of desserts in India. They put cardamom and that’s a lovely, lovely, calming scent. It’s very soothing and it’s calming to the soul. So those are the two that I really love just as pure sense.

[00:38:33] Jane: Yeah, for me, I love as pure sense, not as perfume, rosemary, like anything rosemary, like cooking with rosemary and you know, we, I rosemary little plant in the yard that I’m trying to keep alive.

You know, I, yeah, I love the smell of rosemary.

[00:38:49] Alka: Yeah. So do you think that’s because you are a cook and you’ve been using it for so long that it’s become sort of part of your regular routine when you’re Yeah.

[00:38:59] Jane: Cause I do, I cook to relax and I think, yeah, I think that I kind of like cooking is relaxing to me on the weekends, not so much during the week and you know, when I’m on deadline.

But but yeah, I love to cook, to relax. And I think that’s why, like when I cook like Rosemary chicken and the whole house smells like Rosemary chicken, I love that. Yeah. Wow.

[00:39:17] Alka: Do you put garlic in it too? Of course. Garlic. Oh my gosh. You know, you know what I’m doing right now? I’m watching that Stanley Tucci that whole series about.

Stanley Tucci finding Italy or something. So good. Yes. And every single dish that anybody is cooking, it’s got like huge cloves of garlic in it and I can almost smell it coming through.

[00:39:39] Jane: That show is the best. I love that. I watch that while I cook. I love, I love Stanley Tucci. Let me see if there’s any, Oh, did you visit the perfumeries in France?

Patricia Sands asks. Yes, I did. She’s another writer friend.

[00:39:54] Alka: Yes. No, I absolutely. I visited some of the perfumeries. I visited a compounding plant firm where they take the, the little formula that has been put together by the lab assistants and approved by the master perfumer. They take the little one, and they compound it into a much larger vat or whatever, you know, that before they put the bottles together.

I visited an atelier. where master perfumers come to, you know, create their best sense without having a particular project. It’s like their own creative lab. And yeah. And then I visited a boutique perfumery, a couple of boutique perfumeries, actually one in cross one in Lisbon and one in Paris. So it was, oh, and then I visited a perfume museum and that’s in Versailles.

And when you go there you see this, a perfume organ of Jean Patou, and he was a perfumer from like the fifties, sixties very, very, you know, very well known and it has his little perfume lab and I swear it is no bigger than what I’m showing you right now. So he is sitting back here and then there’s all these tiny little vials of.

You know, essential oils all around him. It’s just like an organ in a church.

[00:41:13] Jane: Amazing. Oh, so cool. Oh, Barbara Harrington, this is a great question. Barbara Harrington asks, my daughter just got engaged to an Indian gentleman. Would your books give our family more insight into Indian culture?

[00:41:25] Alka: Oh, okay.

Well, number one Be open to all the foods that they are trying to you know, have you taste always be open to tasting because, you know, sometimes, you know, you might not be able to take the heat, but they love feeding people, love, love, love feeding people. They’re like Italians. And so, you know, if you don’t take what they have on offer, that can be considered rude.

So they love that. They also love sharing their family. And their extended family, like they’ll probably have parties where, you know, you, you will never meet those people again, but they know those people because their second cousin, second, second cousin, third cousins, whatever. And so every gathering is a big gathering.

It’s never a small gathering. And you’ll always be invited, which is really nice. And if they want you to wear. You know, they’ll give you the traditional clothes to wear for an Indian ceremony of some kind. Just, just try it, just, you know, put it on, try it, be open to it and they will just love you forever.

I think Indian people are very warm and they want to share their culture very much.

[00:42:30] Jane: And some of the clothing is so gorgeous and the fabrics. I just love that. I also watched Indian Matchmaker on Netflix.

[00:42:37] Alka: Oh, I, we did too. My husband and I were totally hooked on it. Oh, as a matter of fact, Oh, Jane, let me tell you this.

So in season two, there was a young woman named Viral Joshi, no relationship to me at all. And so when I was when I was asked to go to Raleigh to do a book talk at something called Quail Ridge Books I asked Beryl, because I know she lives there because of the Indian Matchmaking Show, and she follows me on Instagram.

So I asked her, I just, I DM’d her and I said, Hey Beryl, I’m going to be out your way in Raleigh. Would you consider, you know, doing this with me and sort of like being my moderator, asking me questions. Absolutely. So we did that in Raleigh and it was lovely to meet her. Jane, you would not believe she is like as normal as you, you and me.

She’s just a normal person. You know, here, she’s been seen by millions and millions of people and she just could not have been nicer. She’s so that’s wonderful.

[00:43:36] Jane: Oh, that’s so, I love that. No, is she engaged or no?

[00:43:39] Alka: No, he is not. And they are doing a series three that’s going to be coming out soon. And I don’t want to give you any spoilers, but you know, that guy that she hooked up with that they, they, you know, that they planned for her on the end of season two, you know, they really are friends.

So, I mean, they, they, they see each other, which is really cool.

[00:44:00] Jane: Yeah, that’s good. It worked out. Okay. Okay. One final question from Lynn LaVange. Why did you choose the painting Olympia by Manet? Question. Yeah.

[00:44:10] Alka: Okay. So number one, I love the impressionist and in 1974 which is when the perfume, Mr. Paris takes place.

That was my first year going to Paris. I went with my parents, I was 16 years old and we went to a museum called a Judean Palm. And that is where the impressionist paintings were. One of them was Olympia. And the more I read about that painting, the more I realized that was an iconoclastic. you know, experience for people.

They had never had a model in a painting up until then that looks straight out at the viewer. I mean, she is just looking straight out as if. You know, here I am. So what do you want? You know, and I think she’s kind of a badass. So much so that when the painting was first released, the Paris salon would not allow it to be exhibited.

They thought it was so controversial to have this, this model doing that. And I don’t know if Manet told her to do it. I have a feeling. That she just did it on her own, you know, look straight out at him, because I think part of what she was challenging is that she’s the model. She’s going to be forgotten.

Many will, you know, live on. And yet, she was a better painter than he was, because she was accepted to the grand salon. She had to unfortunately be a model so that she could make some money and feed herself. Many never had to do that. He comes from wealth. And I’m wondering if some of that, the way that she’s looking at him is sort of like.

You know, I know the measure of you, you think you’re better than me, but you’re not.

[00:45:49] Jane: Yeah, yeah, excellent, excellent choice. Excellent question, Lynn. Thank you. Alka, this is amazing. Thank you so much for your time. I love chatting with you. And you know, I, this will be on as a podcast version, it will be on YouTube.

And I know that people who couldn’t make it tonight will definitely be listening. It’s picking up some steam as a podcast. So. Thank you so much for your time and I wish you the best of luck with everything. Everything.

[00:46:13] Alka: You are so welcome. I’m going to do one more thing. I’m going to show you this. Oh, yeah.

So one of the pieces of research I did was with a man named Jane Paul Austin, Paul Austin, not Jane Austin Paul Austin. And he was so helpful and so gracious. And he’s the one who introduced me to Eve out in Portugal. Paul was working on a fragrance. That the origins of which are all from India.

So it has one major scent per sample that he’s developing per perfume. So one of them is vetiver, one of them is sandalwood, another one is rose, another one is tuberose. So they’re all different scents. And so I work with them on a collaboration and they made this for me. Oh, that is so cool. I know, right?

And so so they’re, they’re ordinary Ordinarily, their package would be just this pink outside, but then they put in a Perfumist of Paris card on the inside. And what you get from this is a discovery kit of seven different vials of perfume. So I, I said, okay, so as part of the collaboration, what they did was they See, this is, this is the grant.

So what they did was they provided these kits of seven samples to every single book event that I had for my launch. And the first 20 people who bought the book would get a sample of this. And I think that’s like one of those great happenstance kind of things. I never would have met them. Otherwise,

[00:47:44] Jane: yes.

Oh, fun. What a great idea.

[00:47:48] Alka: Yeah. Thank you, Jane. And thanks for everybody who was listening in. I really appreciate

[00:47:53] Jane: it. Thank you for sharing and best of luck with everything. And I can’t wait for the Netflix series. Yay.

[00:47:59] Alka: And, and also the same woman who narrated the henna artist is also narrating the Perfumist of Paris.

And I know a lot of people love her voice. So it’s she’s very

[00:48:08] Jane: good. Yes. Cause I listened to it partly on, on audio book as well. So, yeah, excellent. Excellent. All right. Thank you again, Alka. Thank you so much.

[00:48:17] Alka: Bye.


Hosted by Jane Healey, Historical Happy Hour is a live interview and podcast featuring premiere historical fiction authors and their latest novels.

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