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Flora Annie Steel

Born in 1847, Flora Annie Steel would become a children's writer of great reputation, one whom many considered the equal, and only genuine rival in the genre, of Rudyard Kipling.

Following her marriage in 1867 she lived in India - here husband, Williams Steel, was active in the civil service there - and her interest in the rural Indian culture, and the stark differences to western life, would help shape her writing and interpretation as she grew.

Steel had a great interest in the lives of Indian women, and when she gave birth to a daughter this enabled her to immerse herself more in local life, getting to know the women of Punjab - the area where she lived - and learning the language along the way to aid conversation and understanding.

This interest and immersion in local life enabled her to become involved in local issues, particularly when her husband became ill, and she would act not only as a local school inspector but as an intermediate in sorting out local legal and social issues.

It was this interest in local education, and the nuances of local Indian life, that would stand her in great stead when it came to writing, something that was acknowledged by all who read her work. In addition, Steel was active in collecting and transcribing local Indian folk tales, always a lucrative source of a good story for the inventive writer.

Her novels and short stories were received well by the critics, who were not averse to noticing that, among Anglo-Indian writers of the day, Steels were unique in bringing the native aspects to the fore, as opposed to leaving them firmly in the background.

Over her career, Steel published over thirty volumes of work, mostly consisting of short stories and novels, and also a well regarded popular history of India, inspired by her love of the country and its native inhabitants.

Steel's most in depth work - On the Face of the Waters - was an attempt to describe the Indian Mutiny, and considered an ambitious work in its time.

An interesting aspect in Steel's make up was that she was, apart from a brief period, educated at home, as one of eleven children. It is no surprise that she would enter into the world of colonial government - albeit via her husband - as her father, George Webster, was a Scottish parliament representative based in London, and later the sheriff-clerk of Forfarshire in Scotland. Her mother - Isabella MacCallum Webster - also had connections, being an heiress to property in Jamaica. Although born in Harrow, in the south of England - the place, incidentally, where she met her future husband during childhood - the family would move to a large house in Scotland when Flora was ten, and the influence of the Scottish highland scenery is also evident in her written work.

Steel published her first short story in 1891, a piece by the name of 'Lal' that was published in a literary magazine, and would become a prolific writer in the years up to her death in 1929.

Among her works are the five volumes of short stories based in India, these being From the Five Rivers and The Flower of Forgiveness in 1893 and 1894, plus In the Permanent Way and In the Guardianship of God in 1903, and The Mercy of the Lord in 1914.

Flora Annie Steel also published a selection of short stories set in Scotland - Tales of the Tides, and Other Stories - in 1923, and a further six novels on Indian life, including her famous On the Face of the Waters. Further, she wrote four novels on the history of the Mogul dynasty, as well as four non-fiction works on the history, and otherwise, of India. There would by five further novels set in the British Isles, both contemporary and historical, and a number of children's books based in both India and England. Steel also wrote an autobiography, and a book on animals that met with acclaim. In addition, thanks to her direct involvement, Flora Annie Steel was responsible for an influential selection of educational material that was widely used in schools in India.

Flora Annie Steel died in 1929 - she had returned to Scotland in 1899 where she produced the majority of her work - leaving behind her a rich and treasured catalogue of work that serves to enhance her reputation as one of the most important writers, particularly on Indian culture, of the late 19th and early 20th century.