It’s a wonderful double whammy for me today and I am very excited. It is Ebook Publication Day of my new novel – THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN. So get your Kindles warmed up and ready.
But there’s more! It is also paperback Publication Day of THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The Southern Hemisphere strikes lucky! Unfortunately the rest of my lovely readers in UK and elsewhere who are waiting for a paperback, rather than an ebook, will have to be patient until next summer when it will be unleashed in the Northern Hemisphere. Sorry about that, but it’s all about publishers’ schedules.
So what is the story?
Well, as it says on the tin, it is an epic story of love, loss and danger in paradise. About deceit and corruption, about the snake slithering into Eden.
With breathtakingly blue skies, stunning white beaches and glorious sunshine, the Bahamas is a slice of heaven. But it is 1943 and the world is at war. Even paradise isn’t safe. The military have set up training bases on the island and the Duke of Windsor is Governor.
Young Dodie Wyatt thinks she has escaped her turbulent past, but one night she finds a man stabbed in an alleyway and her whole world changes.
On the other side of Nassau a wealthy diplomat’s wife, Ella Stanford, has secrets to keep – and those secrets could put her life in danger.
When one of the richest men in the world, Sir Harry Oakes, is found brutally murdered in his bed, these two very different women are drawn together. Dodie finds love with a secretive American stranger on the island but events spiral into violence, greed and death, until Dodie and Ella have only each other to rely on as their lives are torn apart ….
What next? Ah, well, for more you have to read the book!
And isn’t the cover just gorgeous? Thank you, Sphere/Little Brown’s art department for a fabulous design.
Drop by again soon to see some pics of my research trip to all that sun-bleached sand and all those rum punches in the Bahamas …. well, someone had to do it!!
Today is Publication Day for SHADOWS ON THE NILE in the US and Canada. I am thrilled.
Review: “A stonkingly good read. A dazzling and energetic story with historical mystery and huge twists … The author demonstrates an incredible understanding of the period.” BestChicLit.com
It starts in 1912. Jessie Kenton hears her young brother, Georgie, scream in the middle of the night and wakes up the next morning to find him gone. Her parents never speak of him again. Twenty years later Jessie is haunted by the same nightmare when her other brother, Timothy, inexplicably disappears. In her quest to find him Jessie is helped by Sir Monty Chamford and together they plunge into a mysterious world of seances and mystics, nebulous clues and Egyptian artifacts. The trail leads to Egypt where Jessie must confront her own demons in the swirling sands of the desert. But all the time her missing brother, Georgie, is viewing the world from a different perspective and it is his poignant relationship with his siblings that ultimately allows him to confront the danger they face.
It’s Publication Day today for SHADOWS ON THE NILE, so as I’m too excited to work this morning, I thought I’d tell you a bit about why I write about faraway places.
I didn’t start out exotic. I started out very English. So what was it that made me take that leap into exotic settings when it came to writing? Well – as for a lot of things in life – I blame my mother! It just so happens that she was the daughter of a White Russian who escaped from St Petersburg during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and fled in a hair-raising journey across Siberia to China. So my mother lived her early years in a magical city called Tientsin in northern China and later, when I grew up in drizzly Wales hearing exotic tales of black snakes in bathrooms, acrobats in the streets and songbirds by the thousand in bamboo cages, I was entranced.
So how could I resist? Lured by this family connection to both China and Russia, I set about researching these two proud and powerful countries. And out of my hundreds of pages of notes emerged my first book, The Russian Concubine, which is set in China 1928.
But my Russian heritage had taken a grip on me and it wasn’t ready to let go. I became obsessed. And I mean obsessed! I ate, slept and dreamt all things Russian. It was as though I had to excavate the part of me that was caught up in my ancestry and find out what it means to be Russian. The result was that over the next three years I wrote three books set in Russia between 1910 and 1933 – taking place in Moscow, in St Petersburg and in a village in the Ural Mountains.
Only then, finally, was I ready to move on.
But I had learnt from experience and I knew that for a book to work for me, I had to fall wildly in love with whatever country my story was set in. I had to feel passionate about it. And I was lucky because it happened again. While researching China, I had on numerous occasions brushed up against Malaya with its gentle people and its elegant colonial past. Every time I thought what a spellbindingly beautiful country it is. So I chose to set my next book there – The White Pearl – in 1941, at the moment of the Japanese invasion.
In each of my books I am eager to explore what happens when the usual inner scaffolding of a person or of a society is stripped away at a time of stress, and when I came to write my next book, I was tempted far away from the humid tropics to the searing heat of Egypt.
This time it was the country’s ancient history that drew me to it. Its mysteries set up vibrations inside my head and I wanted to show how they could envelop and enchant my characters – just as Russia had done to me. 1932 was a time of political unrest that was causing schisms to open up in the structure of Egyptian life, a crucial and stressful moment that I felt would add depth and complexity to the powerful story that I wanted my characters to tell in SHADOWS ON THE NILE. It is a country marked by the burning scars of the desert, the breathtaking tombs of its pharaohs, the sweep of the Nile and the enigma of its people in 1932. Irresistible!!
Where next? Well, a research trip to the Bahamas felt good to me ….
This was the view from my window.
I was riding a train. The light was draining from the sky and turning the dusty Egyptian landscape crimson when a hand in a black robe came from behind and thrust a bread roll, smelling of spicy meat, at me. It was followed by a torrent of Arabic, not one word of which I understood, but their meaning was clear. I was being urged to share a meal by a woman in the seat behind. ‘Shukrun,’ I smiled, dragging it out of my meagre cache of Egyptian words. ‘Thank you.’
Kindness to a stranger. It was so unexpected and touched something deep inside me. Yet I found Egypt overflowing with such gestures, and despite the riots that were currently well under way in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, I was treated with warmth and mint tea wherever I went.
So why a rattling 10 hour train journey – instead of a fast and sanitised plane – from Cairo to Luxor? It was because I was hungry to see the country. I wanted to be a part of it, my feet firmly set on its Nile-irrigated soil. For hour after hour on the train I was mesmerised by its landscape scrolling past my window, its distant pink escarpments drifting in and out of view, as elusive as its ancient gods. But that wasn’t the reason I was here. My characters, Jessie and Monty, take the same train in 1932 and I needed to experience Egypt through their eyes.
Life on the other side of the window was endlessly fascinating. We stopped every few miles, sometimes for no apparent reason but other times at bustling towns whose presence was announced from afar by pencil-thin minarets that pierced the blue sky. Black-shrouded women gathered in chattering groups to wash their clothes in the canal that ran parallel to the rail track, while men wearing loose galabayas fished in it and boys swam and dive-bombed its murky waters. White herons strutted at its edge and palm trees leaned gracefully over it, offering shade. I wanted to jump out and join them.
During that strange and oddly changeless day, I caught sight of markets bursting with colourful fruits and level crossings with no gates where goats and children wandered at will. Rubbish heaps spilled into the canal like ugly scars outside each town and everywhere there were donkeys, always donkeys, pulling carts or carrying men and bundles on their backs, dwarfed by their loads, their spindly legs sticking out under them like lollipop sticks.
But above all it was the kindness that lodged in my mind. I want to make that extraordinary journey again, but this time I’ll take a bag of spicy meat rolls with me to share with a stranger.
Only one week to the publication of SHADOWS ON THE NILE in the UK on 20th June – and things are hotting up.
One of the utter joys of writing books set in exotic locations is the need to explore them for research purposes. Of course much of my research is done through books, photographs and old film footage, but there is nothing like seeing a place with your own eyes, engaging your senses with its unfamiliar sights and smells.
I love to get involved. Riding its trains, rattling in its buses, fighting your way through its markets, handling its cabbages, talking with local people. Even finding you’ve been rooked over postcards and getting the money all wrong is part of the fun.
In Egypt the colours are different. I was struck by the way there seemed to be three that dominated the life there – the vast sheet of blue overhead, the soft undulating beige dust of the hills and roads that finds its way into everything, and the vivid luminous green of the irrigated fields that roll out in strips on each side of the Nile. And always the desert lies just a heartbeat away.
A mesmerising country.
This photograph I took at one of its finest monuments, the awe-inspiring mortuary temple of the female pharaoh, Hatshepsut. What a woman! She ruled Egypt for 21 years and made a great job of it. She was the first known person in the world ever to import trees from abroad – she filled her gardens with the foreign trees frankincense and myrrh. She even had herself immortalised as the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris in this magnificent row of statues outside the temple. A bit like Harry Potter dressing up as Dumbledore! Sadly they were largely destroyed by later ill-tempered envious pharoahs, but they are still impressive.
I hope I have conveyed some of this wonder and beauty in SHADOWS OF THE NILE. Scratch me and I will bleed desert sand. So check it out and let me know what you think.