Welcome to my blog on Location, Location, Location.
I’m fortunate to have worked in the travel and tourism sector for over thirty years. This allowed me to travel extensively, meet interesting people and learn about foreign cultures and lifestyles.
I was lucky to work in a sociable industry that’s fun and often conversational, and where I was able to enjoy other people’s anecdotes and listen to their stories.
On a visit to Vilnius I met a Russian lady. We were on a trip where travel agents get to know a location and become familiar with hotels so they can sell the product to their clients back in their home country. One afternoon, a few of us found a small bar in the old town and over a glass of red wine we swapped stories:
She was happily married and had two children; a boy and a girl but when the boy was eight he became very sick. She had no money for his lifesaving medical treatment but she knew an old man with lots of money who liked her. So, she divorced her husband who then walked his ex wife up the aisle to marry the rich old man. She saved her son’s life but the old man wasn’t kind and with a new younger wife, he wasn’t in a hurry to die. When I met her she had just divorced the old man and remarried her first husband whom she’d never stopped loving.
Several years later she showed me professional photographs of her son. He was entering the world of fashion modelling. She had tears in her eyes and her chest was filled with pride and I remembered the story she had told me in far more detail than these few sentences. It made me realise the power of love and the sacrifice that she and her husband endured to make her son healthy and well.
The memory of sitting in the bar as they whispered their stories in broken English and halting sentences, struggling for the right words, amid their painful memories has stayed with me. Years of Russian suppression had built up resentment and I was interested to learn about the lives from the assortment of agents. It was a time when the Baltic countries were separating from Russia, cruise ships weren’t yet pulling in to their ports and ‘no-frills’ airlines had not yet opened up travel opportunities.
But I haven’t written about these people in my novels or these locations.
Why is this?
Not everywhere I go will be relevant to my novels.
Not everyone I meet will have a story to tell and if they have a story to tell it may not be appropriate.
I’ve learned that it’s important to marry the right research to the appropriate scenes in my books. Just as couples get together and friendships grow, so does my research and the plot of my novel. There has to be a valid reason for information to be included in the book, either to move the plot forward or to give character credibility.
For example in BOOK OF HOURS, relevant scenes for assessing the authenticity of the manuscript is set in Bruges. I visited Bruges. It is a town steeped in history and beauty and realised I wanted to set scenes for my next novel here.
In the fifteenth century, manuscripts with hand-written Ghent-Bruges borders including flowers and birds featured in these opulent books. As I’ve described in my novel, these characteristics were typical of the manuscripts produced there and there has to be a link between the past and the present. So, it seemed logical to set scenes in Bruges where Mikky begins her quest to find out if the Book of Hours is what it seems to be.
And many people have asked me:
The most obvious reason is that I lived in Malaga for almost twenty years and I also spent a lot of time in Tarifa.
Malaga has undergone amazing transformation. It was a city that was often bypassed in favour of the nearby coastal towns and villages but now it proudly demonstrates its past history and houses, prestigious museums and art galleries. The city’s Moorish architecture like Gibralfaro, the Alcazaba and the Cathedral, also illuminate Spain’s cultural heritage and I feel proud of the city I once called home.
By contrast, Tarifa’s wild and often deserted beaches offer the perfect location for kite surfers. For my protagonist Mikky dos Santos it’s the ideal place for her to hone her skills and it provides the location for the opening and closing scenes.
REMEMBER: It’s the people you meet in life. Listen and take notes. Not everything you write down will be used – if at all – but you can extract useful phrases, interesting descriptions, and even unusual locations that maybe used one day to authenticate your writing.
Next Blog Post: Writing Opera in the Golden Icon.