The Inspiration Behind Secrets of the Snakestone – a blog by Piu DasGupta - Nosy Crow Skip to content
Posted on April 27, 2024

The Inspiration Behind Secrets of the Snakestone – a blog by Piu DasGupta

Last month we were absolutely delighted to have published Secrets of the Snakestone – a breathtaking adventure, written by debut author Piu DasGupta. Today we are very excited to be sharing a blog from Piu, herself, about her inspiration behind the book and growing up in Calcutta, just like Zélie! 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to travel.  Perhaps it comes from being a product of a mixture of cultures and influences – my dad was Indian and my mum English (with Scottish and Irish blood too!).  Even now, I feel a thrill of excitement when I go to an airport and see the destinations flashing on the departure board.  I imagine all the places I could go: Helsinki?  Marrakesh?  Hyderabad?  The world is such a vast, exciting place!

I was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, and grew up in Croydon – but the travelling bug never left me.  At school I learned French and spent time on an exchange with a family in Paris.  I never forgot the excitement of that visit.  I’d been surrounded by different languages all my life, but the thrill of speaking in a language I’d learned only from textbooks, rather than hearing it first hand, was a real head rush!  It felt like a true achievement all my own, something I had chosen for myself.  One of my greatest inspirations was a fantastic French teacher, Mademoiselle Poque, who was elegant and mysterious, but took time to patiently correct my faltering French “r’s”. I was spellbound by her tales of growing up in a village in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques before she came to study and, eventually, settle in the UK.

Paris was a place of dreams and weekends away, until by complete chance I met and married someone who actually lived there! Now the city is my home, but the Paris I know and love is not the city of macarons and romance.  That’s all there, but it’s the Gothic, dark side of Paris that is much less well known, a world of underground sewers and Catacombs, which is the city of Secrets of the Snakestone.  I wanted to transport young readers to this mysterious place, to entrance them with the same taste of adventure and thirst for different worlds that captivated me.  To give them a sense that, whatever their background or race, they too could visit this capital of dreams.

But I know that not every child gets the opportunity to travel.  Growing up, we only ever went on family vacations in the UK, as foreign holidays were too expensive. Secrets of the Snakestone is an adventure of the imagination, where children can explore the underground passageways and catacombs of Paris, without actually being there.  I want my readers to be like Matilda, who travelled “all over the world, while sitting in her little room.”  The book begins with a map of Paris, on which are marked the fun things – the circus, the Catacombs – that flag the journey on which my readers are about to embark.

There’s a growing body of research showing that learning foreign languages and cultures is good for you, building empathy and reducing prejudice towards people who are different. Secrets of the Snakestone is peopled by a myriad of characters of different backgrounds and ethnicities. By portraying Belle Epoque Paris as a melting pot of cultural identities, we see history being lived (and made) by a rainbow of races, as opposed to a monoracial narrative.  I also play with linguistic techniques such as Malapropisms, used (appropriately enough) by a circus contortionist, whose twists in speech reflect those of her body.  Language is fun, not a chore, and I hope to get my readers to join in on the celebration!

It’s important to me that my readers are swept away by the excitement and pace of the adventure.  There are lots of “serious” themes in Secrets of the Snakestone (impact of colonialism, class, women, friendships and poverty to name but a few), but these come second to the twists and turns of the story.  With increasing competition from computer games and social media leading to declining concentration spans, I am aware that children have less and less time to immerse themselves in a book.  We writers need to hook them in with fast, pacy narratives, twists and turns, and cliff-hanger chapter endings.  In short, we need to use every trick in the writer’s book to keep those kids turning the pages, not resorting to Minecraft!

I’ve been blown away by the colourful and imaginative reactions of children to Secrets of the Snakestone.  From the girl who wrote a beautiful summary of the story, enclosed in a drawing of a coiled snake, to the boy who asked me if the name of one of the main characters, “Jules”, was a reference to the stolen “jewel” of the story.  They are a testimony to the fact that we all, whoever and wherever we are, can join in a Parisian adventure!

See more: Uncategorized