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Featured Spotlight for Bookouture's Renata D'Silva

1939, India. Gently kissing her child, Bindu reaches into her pot of powder and touches her finger to the baby’s forehead. She tries to hide her tears behind her sari as she hands her daughter into a stranger’s arms, wondering if she will ever see her again…

Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Bindu is desperately lonely. Before her wedding, she was a highly sought-after cook and although she is not allowed into the kitchen in her new house, she can still taste chilli on her tongue and remember the feel of ground turmeric on her fingers. She finds solace in writing recipes and creating new spice mixes, hoping to pass them down to her unborn child. But when her jealous husband finds out, he confines Bindu to her room alone. As she goes into labour, Bindu is trapped and desperately afraid for her child’s life. Even a recipe cannot rescue her this time. Will she and her baby find a way to survive?

1990, London. Eve’s most treasured gift from her beloved adopted father was a hand-written, Indian recipe book. Grieving his death, she begins to grind and mix the spices penned so carefully in the recipes. Do the crumbling pages in this book hold the key to uncovering the secrets of her past?

Her father never spoke of her birth mother, finding it too painful to talk about his time in India. But now he’s gone, Eve is desperate to understand where she comes from. Will finding her birth family, lost for so long, help Eve to find her place in the world, or will it tear her apart?


The Spice Maker’s Secret is an utterly unforgettable and heartbreaking story about love, betrayal and one woman’s extraordinary sacrifice. Fans of The Henna ArtistThe Beekeeper of Aleppo and The Storyteller’s Secret will be utterly hooked.

Author Bio:

Renita grew up in a picturesque coastal village in the South of India, the oldest of three children. Her father got her first story books when she was six and she fell in love with the world of stories. Even now she prefers that world, by far, to this.

Author Interview:

  1. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

Stratford upon Avon – It was inspiring and inspirational visiting the places where the Bard lived and worked. 

  1. Tell us the best writing tip you can think of, something that helps you.

The first few pages sell your book. The last few pages sell your next book. 

  1. What are common traps for aspiring writers? Advice for young writers starting out.

Believe in yourself and keep trying. Try not to be disheartened by rejection. Everybody gets rejected. J.K.Rowling got rejected umpteen times before Harry Potter was unleashed on the world. Do not give up.

  1. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?  

Do not send your manuscript out before it is the best it can be. Try not to let rejection get you down. 

  1. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Sharon Maas, Angela Marsons, Laura Elliot, Debbie Rix to name a few. We support each other through the ups and downs of author life. I am SO lucky and blessed in them. 

  1. Can you give us a quick review of a favourite book by one of your author friends?

The Children of Berlin by Sharon Maas is an absolute masterpiece. What am I saying – all her books are. I wait eagerly for her books, which I buy as soon as they're announced. She writes so beautifully and she makes me cry and smile, wrenches my emotions with her writing. I always learn something new from each of her books. And this one, wow! So very beautiful and heartrending and heartwarming! A classic. Stunning prose, thought provoking story. Just wow!

  1. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

With my debut, ‘Monsoon Memories’, I didn’t have a plan. It started as a picture of two sisters sitting on a veranda drinking cardamom spiced tea and chatting, while monsoon rain drummed on the roof and farmwomen planted paddy saplings in the fields, their bare feet sinking into mulchy earth, two girls with their whole life ahead of them, waiting to be populated by their experiences. I started telling their story and it grew from there. 

But since then, my writing process has changed, as I am under contract and have to write to a time frame. So, once the idea for a new book takes root, I make a rough story plan. I identify the main characters, broadly sketch their story arcs. Then I begin researching the time periods in which my story is set and go from there.

  1. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

After I completed my debut, Monsoon Memories, I started sending it out to agents and publishers I’d found in The Writers and Artists’ Handbook. The gist of their feedback was that I needed to edit my novel. I didn’t know any editors nor anyone in publishing so I paid Cornerstones Literary Consultancy – whom I found advertised in Mslexia - for a professional edit. That was the best money I spent for it helped me polish my book and prepare it for submission to publishers. 

  1. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

My father gifted me my first books – Andersen and Grimm Fairy Tales – when I was six. Within the pages of those books, I discovered the wonderful, transporting power of words and stories. When I was reading them, I could be anyone – a princess, a witch, the ogre, the gnome. I could travel without leaving the small village where I grew up. It was magic! 

  1. What’s the best way to market your books?

I am lucky in that my wonderful publisher, Bookouture, takes care of the marketing for my books. 

  1. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I read up on the period I’m writing about, what was happening politically, internationally and locally in the places where my story is set. And once I have a fair idea, I start writing. I research and cross reference as I am writing as well, to try to provide for my reader a flavour of that period in time. 

  1. Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak – a beautiful book that completely wowed me. Poetic, heartbreaking, so beautifully written and so very wise. 

  1. What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?  

I do a lot of research and try to portray them as honestly as I am able. 

  1. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I do read the first few reviews when the book first goes up on Netgalley. I have been lucky in that they’ve been mostly good, so when I get a bad one, I can console myself with: ‘Some reviewers liked the book.’

  1. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Trying to overcome self-doubt which hits halfway through every book I write telling me it’s rubbish and asking me to give up. 

  1. Tell us about your novel/novels/or series and why you wrote about this topic?

The Spice Maker’s Secret is a deeply personal novel, some of the scenes I describe gleaned from my own memories - Bindu’s Ajji like my beloved Ba, loving, kind, wise and a brilliant cook. I wanted to explore how cooking binds and comforts, how it brings generations together. I wanted to write about strong women like my grandmother, constrained by society and what happens when they are not allowed the freedom to be who they are, to do what they love, living in a society dictated and controlled by men - how through cooking they found expression, voice, a community, freedom of sorts.

  1. What is your favourite line or passage from your own book?

‘A little bit of fire is necessary, my heart. When we’re cooking, fire is

what you need to mingle all the disparate ingredients together,

spark magic. A touch of fiery heat enhances a dish.’

Bindu’s heart had lifted with exalted relief.

‘But...’ Ajji had winked at Bindu, ‘too much fire ruins a

dish, remember that.’

  1. What was your hardest scene to write? 

It wasn’t a scene as much as a character –Guru. I wanted to make him nuanced, someone who is both good and bad, a product of his upbringing and the time and place he’s living in. I wanted the reader to understand where he was coming from to do what he did. 

  1. Tell us your favourite quote and how the quote tells us something about you.

“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”― Annie Dillard, The Living 

This describes me perfectly - I love nothing better than to lose myself within the pages of a book. 


An extract from The War Child which did not make it into the final typescript.



Potato Pudding

‘Snails have been at my lettuce and cabbages, again!’ Frances cries.

‘That’s a shame,’ Aunt Helen turns from where she’s scrubbing potatoes at the sink, brushing

the hair away from her eyes with the back of her wet hand.

There’s the tinny ringing of the bicycle bell and the rattle and clunk as Danny rests his bike,

none too gently, against the outside wall.

‘That’ll be Danny, then, wanting his supper. I better get these on. That boy is always starving,’

Aunt Helen sighs, putting the potatoes on to boil.

‘Not potatoes for supper again,’ Danny complains, as he thuds and thumps his way indoors.

Everything Frances’s cousin does is noisy.

‘He even came out of my womb wailing fit to wake the dead. That boy wouldn’t know quiet if it hit him on the head,’ Aunt Helen complains fondly.

‘There isn’t anything else, not with the food shortages; the Germans bombing the ships bringing food into the country,’ Aunt Helen says now in response to Danny’s moan.

‘There would have been salad if not for the snails eating my…’

Danny rudely cuts Frances off. ‘Stop going on about your garden and your veggies and the

conkers you collect with the Girl Guides. It’s nothing compared to what I…’

‘Everything helps with the war effort,’ Aunt Helen interjects, sharply.

Danny scowls. ‘You’re always defending her.’

‘It’s the truth. The surplus veggies she grows will raise funds to help with the war effort, going

towards soldiers like your brother and your da.’

‘But I’m doing things that really matter. You’ll never guess the top secret message I had to

deliver to the war office today,’ Danny preens.

‘What was it then?’ Frances asks.

‘If I told you, even if I was allowed, which I’m not, it wouldn’t be secret now, would it,’ Danny


The growling of her stomach wakes Frances.

Much as she hates to agree with her cousin, she’s tired of potatoes, although Aunt Helen comes up with innovative ways of using them - she even made potato pudding the other day and it wasn’t half bad. She knows she mustn’t complain. And yet… She longs for bread, milk, butter, once taken for granted, now luxuries.

The potato heavy dinner makes her stomach bloat, giving the illusion of filling her up but then

she finds herself waking like now, her stomach gaseous and rumbly, gnawing with hunger.

Even the cakes her aunt makes every Sunday are dense with potato.

Frances eats dutifully, her aunt looking on with a smile, happy to have produced a treat despite the scarcity of sugar and butter, even while Danny complains loudly, putting into words what Frances is not saying. In the night she wakes in pain, her stomach kneading, feeling as if it is being torn in two. Those times, as now, night pressing dark and ominous outside, wind howling against the windows, weather insinuating indoors with frosty moodiness, cold indifference, she clasps the medal from her mother, hears her words, her voice soft and gentle, tenderness and love, ‘It will keep you safe.’

Mother’s features are blurring in Frances’s mind (oh how that hurts), but Mother’s voice, saying

those words is alive in her head, vivid as the green of her eyes, that she has bequeathed to

Frances, that she sees in her reflection in the tired, marked and greying glass of her aunt’s

windows, the green of rain adorned meadows glittering in the sun. Footsteps descending, directly underneath her room, aiming for surreptitious, but blustering and loud.

‘Blast it,’ her cousin’s muffled cursing.

The whine of the front door opening, a draft reaching up the stairs and inveigling underneath her door.

Where is he going? It is cold.

France cannot stay in bed. She’s curious.

Pulling on the oversize coat which was given to her by the kind stranger that awful night she lost her mother - which, while wrapping her in a warm hug also overwhelms with bitter memories, crushing smoke, fiery heat, the utter devastation of loss even on the frostiest of nights - she tiptoes down, far quieter than her bumbling cousin

The living room is full of shadows, the curtains she had sewn with her aunt billowing in the air

coming through the front door which her cousin, in his hurry to leave, has left open - which

explains the draft travelling all the way up to her attic room.

She shivers, cold despite the coat, in the doorway and peers out, her eyes adjusting to the frost edged, icy dark.

He’s in the veggie patch. Her veggie patch.

He digs in his pockets and she blinks once, then again, as she watches what he pulls out.

She cannot help it. As he sets the creatures down with a care so unlike him, his face creasing in a grin, she gasps, unable to keep silent.

He turns.

In the grainy, flickering darkness, his beady eyes meet hers.

He flushes once, guilty, and then his face sets in the familiar, mulish expression he sports when

caught out by his mother.

‘What are you doing here? Spying on me?’ He hisses.

She gasps again, at his cheek.

‘You are the one putting snails in my vegetable patch. I tried everything to get rid of them,

caught them, released them elsewhere, used the remedies the other girl guides suggested and

yet they kept on coming. I thought I was doing something wrong, but it’s you!’ Her voice

trembles, not with cold but rage. Hurt.

She knows her cousin has never taken to her but she had no idea he hated her this much. ‘You

do know you’re doing yourself a disservice? These veggies are for us and the money raised

from the surplus that I sell goes to…

‘Oh stop with your saintliness. It won’t work on me, even if it does with Ma.’

‘But…’ She bites her lower lip to stop her upset and anger from spilling over into tears. She

fingers her St Christopher medal. She will not cry. ‘Why do you dislike me so much?’

‘I never got my time with my ma. All my life, it’s always been Johnny this and Johnny that.’ He

hisses savagely. ‘When he went to war, I thought, now's my time. And then you arrive, all sweetness and light.’ He spits. ‘She’s always wanted a girl. She was hoping I was one.’ He

sounds so sad, suddenly, as if all the anger has left him, leaving only distress behind. ‘It was

meant to be just me and Ma.’

Frances’s eyes have adjusted to the dark and she can see that her cousin’s shoulders are

slumped, his mouth turned down. ‘I can never take your place. She’s your ma.’

‘She doesn’t see me, never has.’

‘At least you…’

He pushes past her savagely, so she rocks against the door, the back of her head hitting the

door hinge with a smack and thunders past, not bothering to be quiet.

Frances looks at her vegetable patch, considering the damage the snails will do to it before

shutting the door to the wind and the icy rain which has started up, pricking and stabbing with

frosty venom, and walks wearily into the cold house.

In the annexe by the kitchen, her aunt snores gently, tired out by the days’s chores, blessedly

impervious to her son's hurt, his spite, the noise he’s just made, hoping, perhaps, that she wake up, take note.

Frances walks to her room, shuts the door, climbs into bed.

She clutches the medal, icy cold and wishes it was her mother holding her.

‘At least you have your mother.’ She has been going to say to her cousin.

She dreams of giant snails who attack her, and when they loom close, they morph into her

cousin’s sneering face, yelling, ‘You were never meant to be here.’


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