She came from Trinidad and only began writing when her children had grown up. ALEX KASRIEL talks to Lakshmi Persaud about her new novel and her famous son

Trying to harness a conversation with Lakshmi Persaud is like trying to catch a butterfly.

The author of Raise the Lanterns High, and mother of TV doctor Raj Persaud, flits between talking about her new book, her life and her children, and back again. But what drives her is not arrogance but an infectious enthusiasm.

"If the book is praised, it doesn't go to my head and, if anyone says to me they don't like the book, it does not disturb me. When someone reads the book, their interpretation of it depends on a whole host of things," Lakshmi said.

Raise the Lanterns High is about a wealthy Hindu girl, Vasti, living in Trinidad, who has to face the reality of an arranged marriage to somebody she witnessed raping a schoolgirl years before.

When she develops a fever out of rage and desperation, she collapses, unconscious, and is transported back 150 years to a northern Indian kingdom, where the three queens of King Paresh are facing an even worse crisis. They are expected to perform satti when a widow climbs the funeral pyre of her dead husband - demanded by the customs of north India.

The characters in the book are well drawn and the language poetic. Lakshmi, now in her late 50s, admits that without fellow Trinidadian writer, the Nobel laureate VS Naipaul, she would not have been able to begin her writing career.

"It was like going through a forest where he had carved through a path for me to follow," she said.

"We have both had a very similar background. Both our families saw the importance of education. But in his first book, he didn't know how to write. We lived in a British colony. We read Wordsworth's Daffodils but we had never seen a daffodil. We read Charles Dickens but we hadn't a clue what London was like.

"He tried to write as though he was English but he couldn't, because he wasn't. Once he had written A House for Mr Biswas, then I found I could write books."

But Lakshmi, who has a PhD in land use of Barbados, is more intent on talking about the subject of women's oppression.

"It is like a stream of thought that is as far back as one can think of," she said.

"You have satti, you have forced arranged marriage, you have dowry deaths. That is one stream. If you go to China you have the binding of the feet. And then in Africa, especially in west Africa, you have the cutting of the clitoris. Even in this country how many women are battered by their husbands? You will find battered women in all cultures. And I found there was a connection with all these things. There is a way of thinking that says women have little worth and therefore they have no self-regard.

"When the wife dies, the men do not want the pyre, and why should they because their lives are worth keeping. And this is why when you increase the worth of women by educating them and giving them opportunities; when they can choose careers for themselves, their worth will increase and respect will come to them and therefore their lives will be honoured.

"I was very fortunate. My parents were enlightened people. Imagine the expense of sending your child to private school in England."

Lakshmi met her husband Bishnodat, from Guyana, while studying at Queen's College, Belfast. They decided to move to Mill Hill after being recommended the schools in the area. Her two boys, Rajandra and Avinash, were at Christ College, Finchley and then Haberdashers in Elstree, and her daughter Sharda went to North London Collegiate. Raj went on to make his name as the resident psychologist on This Morning with Richard and Judy and now presents All in the Mind on Radio 4.

"Raj did exceptionally well. When I saw his O Level results I was convinced there was an error in typing because when I opened it I said there was an error. He didn't think there was an error, I'll tell you that. He was only at Christ College for two years. They wanted to keep him. We wanted to send him to Haberdashers because it had opportunities for things like debating, which has come in handy because he talks a lot, as you can see, like his mother."

Lakshmi talks fondly about Raj. "He prepares. His standards are very high. If he does a programme, he will think about what he could have done better. He has a high regard for his listeners. He will not give them second best. That forces him to examine and reflect on what he's said," she said.

She is visibly proud of her son but she would rather not take too much of the credit.

"Nothing lasts forever. If you enjoy life, have good health, you should be thankful. If you have a job that you enjoy doing, it is a blessing. We need not have a job that we enjoy doing. If we do, we are lucky.

"Chance plays a very important role. It was a chance I met my husband. I could have met an ogre and been foolish enough to marry him."

So the conversation flits back to her husband again, and then back to Indian customs. We could have gone on all day, but Lakshmi has to save some of her thoughts for her next novel.

Raise the Lanterns High, published by Black Amber Books, is available to buy for £8.99.

Visit the author's web site at to find a biography and information about her other books.