Archive for November 12th, 2012

Can people from the past ‘channel’ themselves into contemporary fiction?

November 12, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)


‘Tell me whom you haunt,’ André Breton famously said, ‘and I’ll tell you who you are.’

It’s always disconcerting when a character or a scene in a novel turns out to have an unsuspected ‘real life’ counterpart. The experience is strangest of course when the character or scene in question is one that you had imagined to be  completely ‘fictional’. I had thought that Benjamin Burnham (a character who figures in Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke) was one such. But on October 17 this year, I received this letter.


Namaste Amitav,

My name is RM Allen and I live and work in Exeter, New Hampshire, USA. I am planning a trip on Jan 1-8 to visit friends from Exeter who are in Chennai India – for the next three years with the husband’s job.
I remembered reference to Madras in my family tree. I looked it up last night and saw that my relative is Thomas Burnham of Essex, Massachusetts ( my hometown), brother of Benjamin Burnham of the East India Trading Co (1635-85).
Upon further internet research, I cam across your trilogy, and see that Benjamin is a character in your series. Probably not a pleasant character, as for a man to amass such wealth signals to me that he did it off the backs of others. Also, by reading his will I was struck by his passage in which states his other relatives should “die with me”. Hmmmmm. I wonder if he ever heard of Karma? I am pretty sure he did. This perhaps explains why in the end NONE of his wealth went to his family.
My hosts in Chennai do plan on bringing me to the Fort George Museum, and am sure I will see some artifacts of Benjamin there.
I have ordered Sea of Poppies from the Exeter library, and am looking forward to reading of my ancestor. I am assuming with your meticulous research, that you have painted a pretty realistic portrait of the man. If not, could you reply with some context?
R.M. Allen
 ps. I am also an author, but not quite as well-read as you 🙂
Dear RM Allen
This is very interesting – because although there are many characters in my Trilogy who are taken from history, Benjamin Burnham is not one of them! He is completely fictional.
But then fiction is sometimes all too real…
I would like to post your letter on my blog (which is on my website). Do let me know if that’s okay with you.
Best wishes
Hello again Amitav,

I hope you enjoyed your weekend.
This is all very interesting. Perhaps you were channeling my relation and did not know it? Very odd indeed.

Yes, you may use my email. I am also attaching the page from my family tree about the Burnhams. The will of Benjamin Burnham is easily viewed online. ( you can add this bit as a post script to the blog if you want)


RM Allen


Who, I wonder, was haunting whom?



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