How did your personal background and coming to live in the U.S. from India as a teen shape this book?
Capability “Kitty” Weeks, the protagonist of A Front Page Affair, arrives in New York in the spring of 1914 when she’s just 19 years old. She has spent the past decade of her life in boarding school in Switzerland, and before that, traipsing behind her American businessman father as he travels through Asia and the Middle East for work. Kitty is American by birth but she’s never lived in the United States before, so she comes to New York with fresh eyes. It’s her outsider’s perspective that enables her to see what others miss, and to sympathize with the plight of foreigners in the city–and at the time nearly a third New York’s population was foreign-born. Kitty is also well-off, well-educated, young and pretty, so she blends in. She can enter the best drawing rooms in town and that’s what makes her an attractive assistant to her boss, Helena Busby, editor of the Ladies’ Page of The New York Sentinel.
When I was creating the series I knew that my lead had to be someone who could move around New York easily, but who also had a slightly different perspective from others—which would allow her ask different questions. I grew up in Mumbai, India and came to the US on my own when I was 16 to attend boarding school in Connecticut. I understand what it’s like both to fit and not to fit in, to come to a new country and to have to adapt to new ways. It’s easier to adapt when you’re young, but you also retain the perspective of someone who grew up elsewhere, and so you don’t take the status quo for granted.
Funnily enough, my life in India also seemed to have many aspects in common with life in New York City in the 1910s. Back then, Mumbai (Bombay) was a buzzing metropolis with a small town feel, just like New York City. My grandmother ran a house with a full staff, as many wealthier families in 1910 New York did; and we were never alone. There was always some kind of activity, some kind tradesman, whether a tailor, carpenter, upholsterer or jeweler going in and out. Those kind of one-on-one relationships where you know the people who make the clothes you wear or furniture you sit on, is more similar to life in New York in 1915 than my life in New York now. When my husband is at work, and my kids are at school, and I’m writing, I’m all alone. I don’t speak to anyone. That wouldn’t have been the case for Kitty—she would always have had someone around her—and it wasn’t the case for me growing up.
These aren’t elements that are essential to the story but I think my upbringing gave me a feel for Kitty’s world and makes me enjoy writing about it. I can imagine the people in it and the dilemmas they face because they remind me of people and situations from my childhood. If you would like to know more about life in the 1910s—everything from cars, to customs, books, movies, Europe’s royalty and more—please check out the World of Kitty Weeks Tumblr.
About the Author
Radha Vatsal is a writer based in New York City. She was born in Mumbai, India and has a Ph.D. from the English Department at Duke University. Her debut novel, A Front Page Affair, comes out this May from Sourcebooks Landmark. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend her on Facebook.