Two audacious women. One fascinating man.
My historical novel, Olivia & Sophia, which has been out in Asia since November, publishes today in the UK.
The novel examines the adventures of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the remarkable founder of Singapore, through the eyes of his two wives, Olivia, his beloved first wife, who died young, and Sophia, the second wife who outlived him. Each woman was intelligent and inquisitive, but otherwise they were very different: one sexy and scandalous; the other a pious, stalwart, adoring wife and mother. The novel transports you from London to India, and to Java, Sumatra and Singapore. It is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, as they unfolded both in Europe, and in Asia, and of international trade, during a time of great social and intellectual change.
The story in brief...
When Tom Raffles sets sail from the cold, damp confines of Georgian London to make his name and fortune in the tropics, he takes with him his new wife, Olivia, a raffish beauty with a scandalous past. She infatuates his closest friend, a poet, and one of his bitterest rivals, a soldier. Raffles turns a blind eye – or does he just pretend to?
February 1817: After Olivia’s death, and back on leave in London, Raffles, a man once again in need of a wife, makes a practical marriage. Sophia, no beauty, but curious and intelligent, embraces the opportunity of an exciting life abroad. Marriage brings her great joy but also great sadness. Her life with Raffles becomes a catalogue of loss: of their children, of their possessions, of their savings.
And all the while, Raffles, driven and talented, manoeuvres at the centre of global networks of power, trade, politics and diplomacy. His scheming culminates, to his eventual glory, with the founding of a new trading post: Singapore.