Sharon Maas talks to us about her beloved Guyana and shares its history and why Winnie Cox is your perfect guide –
Beautiful Guyana – South America’s Best-Kept Secret!
In 2014, National Geographic named Guyana as one of the best-kept secrets in South America, and no wonder!Most of the country is still covered in unexplored wild forest. Stunning natural wonders begin on the coast, withnewly restored mangroves near the capital city, Georgetown.
The mighty Kaieteur Falls is the highest single drop waterfalls in the world – five times the height of Niagara! — with not a single tourist hotel or restaurantto spoil its natural beauty, andaccessible only by tiny propellor planes.
At the time of The Secret Life of Winnie Cox, all of this was still far in the future. Back then, British Guiana was truly off the beaten track as far as the English colonisers were concerned – across the ocean from Europe, it seemed at the end of the world.
It was all about sugar, and the wealth waiting for intrepid settlers to exploit. They came, they conquered – and created along the coast a paradise of a capital city, Georgetown, known as The Garden CityEventually British Guiana became Guyana, home to the people of many races the British left behind, one people who went on to build their own nation, their own destiny.
With many thanks to Sharon for sharing this with us and for telling us more about why she had to write the book and tell Winnie’s story. Oh you have to read this for the sheer tug of love and Winnie’s struggle to survive her time and place in society. A gripping read and one which did make me shed a tear or two – a history that is not that far away when you think about it.
There’s more to explore on Sharon’s blog and well, you’ll not be disappointed. This is a lady who lives and breathes her locations, their history and how the people who live there live and interact with one another.
I’m off to meet a man about an elephant today. Yup, you read that right. I am currently sitting in an Indian restaurant, with the fragrances of the food and drink wafting all around me waiting for Vaseem Khan – the author of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. Suddenly there is a loud trumpeting sound – Vaseem’s taxi? As I approach the door, an elephant bedecked in jewels comes lumbering around the corner before stopping right infront of me. Truck uncoils and a man slides down and announces himself – Hello he says. Vaseem Khan at your service.
Well with that novel approach (never have I had an author arrive by elephant) I just have to start firing away with the questions straight away.
You create a vivid picture of the sights and sounds of Mumbai. Can you tell us a little more about Chopra’s city?
Mumbai is an eternal city. It is constantly changing but its soul will always remain quintessentially Indian. The city was once a series of seven islands occupied for millennia by Koli fisherman until the Portuguese established a trading centre there in 1534 and called it Bom Bahia or ‘Good Bay’ from whence the name Bombay is derived. A century later the Portuguese gifted the territory to King Charles II of England as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. Charles promptly leased the islands to the East India Company which transformed the disparate islands into a city. By the end of the 1700s Bombay, with its deepwater port and established trade routes, was the ‘Gateway to India’. In 1995 Bombay was rechristened, after Mumbadevi, the stone goddess of the original Koli fishermen.
Today 20 million live in the city. Is it any wonder that Mumbai is a non-stop assault on the senses? People’s lives are a blend of modern and traditional sensibilities – Mumbai, like most metros in India, is facing a cultural onslaught from westernisation – which brings both good and bad, as I describe in my novel. But most people are still very wedded to their ancient culture. What is a constant is how warm and friendly everyone is.
How did you think about having an elephant in your story?
You could say that the elephant was born on my first day in India. I remember vividly walking out from Bombay airport in 1997, aged 23, into a wall of sizzling hot air. The first thing I saw set the scene for me – a group of lepers and beggars milling about the taxi rank. At the first traffic junction we stopped at there was a thumping on the window. I turned to see a tall well-built gentleman in a sari. My first eunuch. I turned back to the road and there, lumbering through the traffic as cool as you please, was an enormous grey Indian elephant with a mahout on its back. This surreal sight stuck with me and eventually became a part of the novel I wrote when I returned to England ten years later.
When you think about it, elephants make great crime fighters – they are intelligent, have great memories and display a range of emotions, which is important to me as a writer as the dynamic between Ganesha and Inspector Chopra is a key aspect of the novel, adding much charm and humour.
Ganesha is a one-year-old baby Indian elephant. He is sent to Chopra by his long lost uncle Bansi. But Bansi doesn’t reveal why he is sending him an elephant or anything about Ganesha’s background. This is a mystery that will be revealed slowly over the course of the book and series. Bansi does say – in a letter – that Ganesha ‘is no ordinary elephant’. These words gradually prove prophetic as Chopra discovers there is more to little Ganesha than meets the eye.
When Ganesha first turns up he is very despondent. But we soon see his real personality emerge. He is adorable, of course, but also tenacious, determined, mischievous and adventurous – he is a child, after all. As well as helping Chopra he will be getting into a few scrapes of his own!
What next do you have planned for Chopra and Ganesha?
Well, Chopra and Ganesha are just getting started! I have just completed their second adventure, ‘The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown’ which is about the theft of the world’s most famous diamond – the Kohinoor, which was originally mined in India and then given to Queen Victoria during the Raj. The Kohinoor is currently part of the British Crown Jewels. In the novel the Crown Jewels have been brought to India for a special exhibition. A daring robbery sees the Kohinoor stolen and Chopra and Ganesha called in to try and recover the great diamond.
After that Chopra and Ganesha will be on the trail of a kidnapped Bollywood star, and then in the fourth episode they will be travelling outside of Mumbai to Chopra’s native village in Punjab, North India, to try to unravel the mystery of Ganesha’s origins and the disappearance of Chopra’s Uncle Bansi.
My aim is to showcase different parts of India as the series progresses. India is really a collection of countries – it is so different everywhere you go. I’d like to put Chopra and Ganesha into different cities and regions so that we can use those wonderful environments as backdrops to the stories.
What should we eat if we visit Mumbai?
Mumbai is a gastronome’s paradise. As a world city there are now restaurants from every cuisine on the planet – many of these restaurants are in the suburbs of Juhu and Bandra or in the richer zones of south Mumbai.
Punjabi dhabas – to taste truly authentic Punjabi Indian food – tandoori chicken, nan bread, butter chicken, Mughlai dishes – eat at a traditional dhaba. These are usually rustic restaurants such as Uttam’s Dhaba in Marol, but there are others with an upmarket ambience such as Urban Tadka in Seven Bungalows.
Leopold’s Café is a Mumbai landmark and features in my second novel in this series ‘The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown.’ It was previously made famous in the novel Shantaram. It has a range of delicious Indian and continental cuisine and is a good place to stop when exploring south Mumbai.http://www.leopoldcafe.com/index.htm
Mumbai is a coastal city so there are many great seafood restaurants. Try amazing Maharasthran-style seafood at Gajalee – especially the crab. http://www.gajalee.com/
What better author to have a cuppa and a cake with than Dinah Jefferies who has written a novel set on a tea plantation. How very apt! And an excuse to get some of the most perfect tea I’ve ever tasted. Ah Dinah transports you to a place via all manner of ways….
The story of The Tea Planters Wife is one about love and loss, and moving to a new country. The sense of feeling alone that Gwendolyn experiences is heartbreaking. Can you tell us more about her?
Gwen is only nineteen at the start of the novel, and arrives in Ceylon full of youthful idealism and hope for the future. She comes from Owltree Manor in Gloucestershire (inspired by lovely Owlpen Manor near Uley http://www.owlpen.com/) and until now has never been abroad. Her story begins in 1925, ninety years ago, when things were so different for women. We didn’t even have the vote! At her new home she quickly senses her husband is keeping something from her and that there are secrets at the plantation. It’s only when she explores on her own that she finds clues to the past – including an overgrown grave hidden in the grounds, far too small for an adult. But that’s just the start; as her story unfolds she is faced with a terrible choice no mother should have to make. Forced to bury a secret at the heart of her marriage, it almost breaks her. Almost but not quite…
You evoke the time and place so well and so vividly. Which memories and experiences do you use and what kind of research did you do?
The idea for The Tea Planter’s Wife was triggered by listening to my mother-in-law’s stories about life on tea plantations in Ceylon and India. Once I have the key idea, I start by reading history books, articles on the internet and novels – anything I can lay my hands. I make tons of notes while I’m doing it, though I often don’t look at them again, but the act of writing helps fix the time and place in my mind. I look at YouTube and love watching films set in the country. For The Tea Planter’s Wife I travelled to Sri Lanka and stayed at a tea planter’s bungalow, beside a lake in the misty hill country. It’s very similar to the setting of Hooper’s Plantation in the novel. It felt like going back in time and really helped me get a sense of how life must have been for the privileged British who lived there.
Ceylon seems like a dream as it must have done to Gwendolyn at first. Can you tell us more about it?
It’s shaped like a pearl and was extremely unspoilt and beautiful. Sri Lanka, as it is now known, is still gorgeous. I tried to make it as dreamy and seductive as I could, because that’s how Gwen would have seen it, and I wanted the reader to experience it just the way Gwen does. Of course, during the time that the book takes place, 1925-1934, Ceylon was beginning to change. It was a British colony and, after a period of upheaval when there were strikes and many negotiations, independence was finally granted in 1948.
Where did Sinhalese artist, Savi Ravasinghe come from? Is he just from your imagination or did you conjure him from your research?
Savi is pure imagination. He popped into my mind fully formed and would not leave. I think I’d like to write a book all about him one day. Funnily enough, after I’d written the story I did read about a group of influential Sri Lankan artists who existed at that time.
It’s an epic tale – how racism and prejudice was dealt with at the time is fascinating to see. It was a difficult time for most wasn’t it and so being a young white woman there must have been even more so.
The white women of Gwen’s class were hugely protected from the difficulties many of the population faced. They were rich, indulged and often very snobbish. You only have to listen to recorded voices from that period to hear their underlying sense of superiority and entitlement. I didn’t want Gwen to be like that and I’m sure not everyone was. But the depths of racism in the colonial world is deeply shocking to a modern reader, so I had to tone it down a bit, though it is prejudice that lies at the heart of the book. Most of all isolation would have been hardest and learning how to cope with what would have seemed an alien world. In addition to that, they didn’t have modern medical facilities and I guess many of their children would have died. They couldn’t phone home or travel easily so they were often very cut off and lonely.
What is your favourite kind of tea?
Oh dear! Good quality builder’s tea – but, of course, it must come from Ceylon.
With many thanks to the wonderful Dinah Jefferies for her fascinating answers and wonderful book. This is a treat on so many levels and Booktrail recommended! Also a Richard and Judy read dontcha know 😉
Today we welcome Jennifer Klinec to the blog. Author of the quite frankly amazing book ‘The Temporary Bride’ where she details her travels to Iran to learn about the food and the culture but ends up discovering a whole new world and a love that threatens to risk everything…
The book – It’s the a story about love in so many ways – the love of food, the love and respect she has for Iran and the love for an Iranian man named Vahid. With a unique understanding and respect for her new home, Jennifer immerses herself in everything Iran has to offer. This is no naive traveller, she is rather a travelling ambassador of sorts who aims to discover the gems that are tucked away in family homes, markets, shops and steeped in tradition. Where women are kept hidden from society, Jennifer observes everything around her and questions what she doesn’t understand. Never judging, she is curious – and her love of the amazing food takes her deep into the heart of the country and its people.
Be aware that this book will make you so hungry and you’ll just have to have some Iranian style food to hand. This is one amazing diary of discovery….
Here Jennifer speaks of why she travelled to Yazd in Iran, why she choose this as her kitchen of discovery and what she found when she got there..
The couple who’d sat in front of me on the flight to Iran had looked at me as if it were the moon. Like most of my fellow passengers they shunned the provinces, preferring the tree-lined suburbs of northern Tehran.
But it wasn’t for monuments, tombs, the great ruins of Persepolis that I covered my hair and averted my gaze, stepping out alone beneath beneath the enormous, lifelike paintings of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei with their unsmiling faces and long, white beards.
I had come to Iran for its food.
Since I was a student in Montreal eating my first Persian stew, tearing fibres of lamb between a metal spoon and fork, breathing in the scent of dried black limes, I had chartered a course to this place. It is for love I was willing to sit alone night after night, eating in the empty womens’ dining rooms of the few restaurants that survived the revolution. It is for love I weaved through the men in crowded, ancient coffeehouses, tolerating the whispering and unashamed stares. It is love that drove me to visit a country ruled by fear, with a culture much overlooked and long forgotten.
I looked out and watched the women who hurried along the pavements in this city, wearing severe, black cloaks pulled forward to their eyebrows, with children scurrying close behind.
Despite living in a city known for the sensuous curves of its adobe passages and romantically named alleyways, the occupants of Yazd – the Yazdi – were famous for being conservative and financially shrewd.The men dressed in peasant clothes and cheap plastic sandals but were secretly rich, renowned for their furious bargaining skills.Transactions at the market, at the rice seller, in the narrow archways of the gold bazaar, were belaboured exchanges of tuts and hisses, whispered offers with lowered eyes, counter-offers protested while patting empty wallets in pockets.
Above my head the windows of apartments were blacked out with amber adhesive panels, frayed and peeling around the edges. The balconies were concealed more vibrantly with colourful sheets – bright paisley patterns, elaborate equestrian scenes – generously strung from sagging lengths of twine and tightly wound around black iron railings: the miniature worlds behind them betrayed by faint glimpses of an upended mop or a haphazard clothesline, the swishing of rubber flip-flops, the scratching of a corn broom.
I heard women whispering ‘teflaki’ as I passed, an empathy used for people who are fragile. I knew I was vulnerable in their eyes because I was alone.
It was a long way from London to this place I longed for, where I could untangle myself from everything. To Iran I was taking all my romantic ideas. I was bringing the best, kindest version of myself. In turn I hoped the best, most beautiful parts of Iran might reveal themselves to me.
With many thanks to Jennifer for sharing this with us! Right, we’re off to the market – lunchtime beckons!
This cuppa and a cake was a very interesting and poignant one to do. I read the book and it was very moving indeed. Now, having had a chance to speak to the author, I can now delve a little further into the story behind the story. All the while offering cake of course. It would be rude not to.
Welcome Lindsay Hawdon
This story of Jakob’s colours is a little told one. What made you want to tell it, and in this way?
I didn’t set out to tell a WWII story.Certainly I felt I had no authority on the subject.I began this book simply with a small boy running, that was all, and then slowly layers were added to it.I wanted him to be running from something and to have nowhere to run to, for the natural world around him to be the only thing that he understood and knew.It was only when I decided that he was a Roma boy that I began to research Romany past and present which led me to WWII. We are well aware of the Jewish persecution during that time, but between a half and one and a half million Romani lives were lost by 1945 and the Nazi genocide of the gypsies was only officially acknowledged in 1982.
Certainly they were the forgotten people and I think as soon as I found this information out I knew that this was what I wanted to write about.A subject that is still very relevant today.
As a whole though, Jakob’s Colours, is about a family buffeted in the storm of world around them.I wanted to explore the microcosm of war through their individual experiences, how it effects everyone, no matter the background, no matter the part played.We live in a world where we can very much begin in one place, and end in a very different one.We stray very much from the path we imagine is laid out before us.I wanted to explore how easily the life we are living can be destroyed, how we have to begin again and again, and how human beings have this extraordinary capacity to bear the unbearable, to still find hope against no hope.
See the booktrail here – https://thebooktrail.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/austria-england-switzerland-jakobs-colours-lindsay-hawdon/
We see the brutality of war through the innocent eyes of a young boy – do you think this contrast between brutality and innocence allowed you to explore and portray the horror of war more effectively?
Yes I do.I think with a child any reality is possible, which means their ability to find solace in things is matched by their imagination.Their inner world is powerful.Certainly it is what can save them in the bleakest hours. They also live in an immediate world, a very present one, and in times of great grief that can be the only place to find solace. The past is too painful to remember, the future too fear-filled.
I wanted to approach each scene from a very human place, to explore in the writing if a moment of brutality could be overridden with the love of the people that surrounded it. I wanted that to be what you were left with.Children hold their emotions very closely to the surface, are raw and transparent with them, and through their eyes we can see more than simply the horrors of a scene.We can see the love that endures, from parent to child, child to parent, sibling to sibling.
Why do you think the story of the Gypsy holocaust is not so well told as other aspects of the war?
I think because they come from an aural background, so traditionally they do not write stories down, but tell them.Most historical accounts of Roma past is written by outsiders.And also I think that for Romany people WWI and WWII were just two moments in time when they had to face persecution, no more no less that anything they had faced before.Afterwards they had no time to linger on the atrocities that had taken place, to pause and claim justice, they were too busy surviving the next wave of persecution that came their way.
What do you think the use of the local language brings to the novel? Do you speak a little yourself?
I don’t speak Roma.I found bits here and there and sometimes it was quite hard to find a translation for what I wanted to say.But I think it’s a beautiful language and I wanted to set it with the prose like a poem, a mantra that this small boy could take with him.
Do you think your past experience of travel writing really helped your ability to immerse yourself in your story.
Certainly I think travel writing means you train your eye to capture detail.You are a spectator, invited in to witness someone else’s way of life, to watch it fleetingly from the ringside.And I am always looking for a story, a small moment in time, that has to then unravel in a way that the reader will want to read on. In journalism you have to capture someone in the first line, keep them reading, before they flick onto the column beside yours.So I hope that made me keep up an immediacy for the tale in hand.
What I love about writing a novel is the freedom to explore.There are no constraints, just this vast blank page, the prospect of filling it both terrifying and thrilling.
With many thanks to Lindsay for taking the time out to talk about some difficult subjects and how she came to write about them in such a heartbreaking story.
We do love a good travel adventure here at the booktrail so when that lovely Lucy Clarke invited me aboard her yacht for a chat, a swig of rum and some grilled fish, I thought how lovely!
But then this is the author of The Blue – the sailing experience in paradise which turns very sour indeed….Would we be alone on this yacht I asked? How far from land would we be? What about the rules of the passage? Lucy I’ve read your book – I know what goes on!
But of course this is fiction and Lucy is just the friendliest and nicest person ever. We set sail and drift off into a sea of conversation, good food and a sea breeze that whips my hair into a sort of Mr Whippy style. Still, with views like this I’m not going to complain…
Whilst Lucy’s husband grills the fish for lunch, we have a chat.
Your idea for the novel came from your own yacht trip. Can you tell us what you loved about it?
A few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to spend a week on board a yacht with my best friend and her extended family. Having never sailed before, it was an incredible experience to spend day and night on the water, to eat our meals on deck, to anchor in deserted lagoons, to fall asleep to the sound of waves. But what stayed with me after the trip was how interesting dynamics can be when you’re confined to the small space of a yacht, as emotions become heightened and events can quickly escalate. By the end of that trip, I knew that one day I’d set a novel on board a yacht.
Where would you sail to in the world if you had the chance and why?
If I could sail anywhere in the world, I’d love to sail around the islands of Micronesia. From what I’ve heard and read, it’s an incredible, remote and beautiful place to explore – and doing so by yacht would be the icing on the cake.
Which five places is your novel based on?
I spent a month in the Philippines researching for the novel, and the places that inspired the settings within The Blue were Busuanga Island (particularly Coron Town), and Coron Island, and El Nido.
What food did you eat whilst sailing?
When I was sailing in the Philippines, our meals were usually simple affairs: pancakes and fresh mango for breakfast, salads for lunch, and freshly caught fish for dinner. We used to make a lovely local dish by frying up crushed peanuts, chillies and shredded cabbage.
(Lunch is served at this point and Lucy’s husband comes on deck with most of what Lucy has just talked about. Now that’s the way I love fact and fiction to mix…)
What memorable moment can you tell us about on the yacht?
A memorable moment I had on the yacht was diving from the bow to cool down. Afterwards I lay on my back in the sea, just drifting, looking up at the wide expanse of blue sky. It was so incredibly peaceful, that I think I’ll remember it for ever.
Whilst Lucy goes diving, I sit on deck, watching into the horizon and wondering where we’re sailing off to next. Where will Lucy take her readers to next? I for one can’t wait.
Now where’s that rum….
You can find more about Lucy and her travels here as well as the fantastic novel The Blue –
When we heard that Sheila O’ Flanagan was going to be enjoying some champagne and cake this week, well we thought would be rude not to join her. After all, this is her Anniversary tour so if you can’t have champagne then, when can you have it? We were rather more attracted to the cake to be honest and when you see it, you’ll know why.
So cake! A woman after our own hearts…
Your latest novel My Mother’s Secret is about a party to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary – a memorable event but for all the wrong reasons. Have you ever attended an event where something unexpected has happened?
I’ve never been at a party where something truly dramatic has happened like with Jenny and Pascal, but I did go to a surprise 50th party for a work colleague’s husband and it wasn’t as smooth as she’d planned. He was supposed to come home directly from the office but there was a big announcement at work that day and everyone went to the pub afterwards. One of his colleagues was in charge of getting him home on time, but kept phoning my friend to say that there were speeches etc going on and that they’d be on the way ‘shortly’. So everyone was hanging around at his house for about three hours (and trying to stay away from the food and drink) before he eventually arrived a bit the worse for wear! After we all the the ‘surprise’ thing he said he was going upstairs to change out of his suit. He never came back down because he fell asleep on the bed. The party went on without him but it was very embarrrassing. Surprise parties have always been my worst nightmare and that only confirmed it for me!
Can you tell us more about the novel’s setting?
The main setting for My Mother’s Secret is a restored house in County Wexford in Ireland. Wexford is on the south east coast and is one of the prettiest places in Ireland. It has both long sandy beaches and beautiful rolling countryside which stretches for miles. Lots of Dublin people have holiday homes there because it’s a little warmer too (though we’re talking about Ireland, so that’s relative!) Jenny and Pascal’s house, Aranbeg, is near a typical country town where everyone knows everyone else, and it’s one of those houses where you feel at home as soon as you walk in the door. Aranbeg means ‘little Aran’ – it’s named after the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland because the original stone work was like some of the houses on the islands. I could see it very clearly when I was writing about it!
My Mother’s Secret revolves around a large and varied family. What is about this family you found so interesting to write about?
Regular readers of my books will know that I enjoy writing about families. I think it’s that there can be such great dynamics going on within a family unit. When you’re with a group of friends you usually have lots of interests in common. But family members are often very different and the only thing they have in common is being part of the family. Writing about the Sheehans gave me a chance to explore what it is to be part of a family, and why – even when you sometimes feel an outsider – you still remaiin part of the group. I loved the fact that I could write about people who were total opposites but who were still held together by those family ties. Of course Jenny and Pascal have kept a secret from their family for 40 years – I think that’s also one of the intriguing things about families – you might think you know everything about your relatives, but often you don’t!
You’ve taken us to some stunning locations in your novels so far. Where do you intend on taking us next? Where inspires you to write about?
I enjoy travelling, and find that different places can inspire me in different ways. Because I’m Irish, my characters will always have some Irish connection, but I do like to bring them and my readers to other locations. My previous book, If You Were Me, was inspired by a visit to Seville and I hope that lots of that hot Spanish passion vibe comes through! My next book, which I’m currently working on, switches from Ireland to the west coast of France, and specifically the pretty seaside town of Hendaye. I know that part of France quite well and it’s really lovely. So I hope my readers will enjoy the setting!
How do you intend to celebrate your Anniversary of your 20th novel? Will there be cake and champagne involved?
I’ve actually celebrated already as some of the team from my publishers, Headline, came to Dublin last month and we had cocktails followed by dinner in a very posh restaurant. It was lovely to celebrate with them as they’ve been part of my writing journey for such a long time and they’re all such dedicated and lovely people. Because not everyone could come to Dublin, we also had a mini-celebration in the Headline offices in London which did indeed include both champagne and cake. Every book should have a champagne and cake
Never have wiser words been spoken. Sheila we salute you and wish you a very happy anniversary celebration. Here’s to great success with your latest novel My Mother’s Secret and may you always have cake and champagne in your life.
You can chat to Sheila here – (although we can’t promise there will be cake)
Arne Dahl is no ordinary Swedish crime writer. For one he has two names (a real one and a pen name), he has a map open on the table in front of him ‘looking for somewhere to bury a body’ and he likes a mean feast of haggis…
Well I am here today to talk about Bloody Scotland with him so he is definitely getting into character!
Do you think that when you visit Stirling for the Bloody Scotland festival you may want to use the setting in a book?
I really love the Scottish landscapes in general, they are quite unique, all in their own way. And Stirling is such a brilliant little medieval city, with such an amazing history, that it well deserves a good killing. I need one more visit to decide where to bury the corpse. (For those of you in Stirling between 11th and 13th September for Bloody Scotland…watch out 😉
Why do you enjoy Bloody Scotland? Are there parallels between the landscape of Sweden and Scotland for you?
There are definitely enough similarities to make you feel at home as a Swede, yes – the people, the landscape, the political attitudes – the weather. But basically it’s about the feeling of being truly welcome.
How have you felt getting your books written as a television series?
It’s a different kind of writing, and I have been doing enough of that myself to realize how difficult it is to transform novel prose into television language. And in general I think they did a great job. But there were distinctive worries beforehand, I promise.
Why do you feel Sweden and Stockholm are good settings for crime novels?
Maybe it’s because of the clash between beauty and horror. Maybe it’s because of the relative distance to the real violence of the world today. Maybe it’s even because there is this (slightly misleading) idea of Sweden being some kind of perfect welfare state. And it’s always a bit of fun watching perfection crumble…
Do you share any similarities with Paul Hjelm?
Quite a few, I fear, not least his shortcomings. On the other hand, my storytelling is based on a kind of collective approach, where all the members of the A Unit are equally strong as protagonists. I suppose they all represent me, in different ways, but Paul is probably the most realistic representation…
What kind of research did you bring into your creation of the A Unit which seems to have quite a mix of characters within it!?
What I wanted was simply a somewhat representative mix of people from the Swedish society around the turn of the millennium. Normal, reasonably well-functioning citizens – with their fair share of personal problems – that just happen to be police officers. The basic idea was simply to put a number of realistic characters together, plunge them deep into darkness, and see if the circumstances would make them function as a real team. And I think they did.
Will you be sampling any Scottish cuisine on your visit here? What Swedish food would you recommend to us?
I definitely have a haggis every time I go to Scotland – and this time will be no exception – but the core of your cuisine is of course the whisky. Last year I went to Islay to enjoy the local cuisine…
Swedish food is a rather short story. It’s basically about different kinds of more or less raw fish, like salmon and herring. But if you want a special tip, I suggest looking at the YouTube clips with Americans trying to eat “surströmming” (“soured herring”), a fermented, very smelly fish from northern Sweden. That should make you feel welcome in Sweden.
With that, the very thought of having to try “surströmming” again ( I can still smell it from the first time I tried it) I’m off before he gets the chance to offer it again. Haggis however is another matter and more apt of course for the Bloody Scotland festival. It’s been a real pleasure to meet you Arne, to practise the Swedish again and to revisit Stockholm (Although I will see Strandvägen and many other places in a whole new light!) Hej Hej!
Need a good travel guide to Morocco? Then look no further that Zohra’s Ladder and other Moroccan Tales by Pamela Windo as she guides us around some of the more lesser known and hidden parts of the country. From the Souk to the Hammam, this is a real insider’s tour…..
Take this book with you as Pamela shows us around – (The places and stories in the book they refer to are mentioned at the end of each answer)
You start your prologue with the line “Landscape or its absence, is the setting for our lives”– can you expand upon this?
If you were born and live in a big city, instead of a landscape of green fields and trees, mountains and streams, you have towering buildings, asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks. When I wrote: “landscape or its absence,” I meant whichever “landscape” you have shapes your lives. [Prologue]
You were born in England and now live in New York but it was North Africa which claimed you, when you went to Morocco to be alone and write. How do you think your experiences have shaped you?
I went to Morocco with the idea I would hide away and write a book. What I found was a lifestyle and culture that brought echoes of my childhood in England—before the consumer cult took hold, and the simple things of life were still valued beyond money. In Morocco, I gradually let go of all my ideas and ambitions and listened to a different rhythm in which people live in the present moment, in close connection to other people, whether family or strangers. [STORIES: Rabiah’s House; The Street Cleaner’s Clothes —
In both these stories, I loved the house I was living in; one was in a working-class neighborhood in Agadir, the other in a quiet neighborhood in the Medina of Marrakesh.
The bathing ritual you describe in An Afternoon at the Hamman is very evocative – the smell of the room, the feel of the sludge clay paste you put in your hair. What are your lasting memories of this early experience?
My first experience of the hammam was in a local one, not in one of those designed for tourists in a chic hotel.I felt shy but was immediately put at ease by the relaxed atmosphere… the women were of all ages and clearly felt neither shame nor embarrassment at being naked except for a pair of knickers. Veils and djellabas and scarves are worn in the street to hide women’s bodies from men’s lust. In the women’s hammam, those disguises are left in the lockers. All I felt was acceptance and friendliness, and a serious intent on getting clean, especially as most of the women didn’t have hot water, let alone a shower or bath, at home.I was shown the ritual and helped by whoever was nearest me, and quickly noticed that all the women had the same tried and tested traditional toiletries…. No need for anything fancy and expensive.[STORY: AN AFTERNOON AT THE HAMMAM]
You write of the difficulty of becoming accustomed to things you take for granted such as regular post and the freedom women have in the West. What could we learn from the women of Morocco however?
The hammam in particular showed me the strength of the sisterhood the women share… the scrubbing of each other’s bodies and rinsing of each other’s hair.But mostly I saw this solidarity in their homes, in which they reign over the men. Women neighbors come in every day to help grind the almonds, to do a mammoth wash, or make a huge couscous. Young girls watch their mothers, and learn how to cook and help with housework without complaint or excuses. By the time they marry, they are excellent cooks and take pride in the traditional dishes they present to their family. I found that women of all ages possess innate self-confidence that comes from self-acceptance.I once complained that I had no bosom, and received this response: “You are the way Allah made you. It is wrong to want to be different.” [STORIES: An Evening with the General’s Wife; Zohra’s Ladder]
Your descriptions of the golden-amber dunes of the desertare so evocative and immersive. The landscape is one of colours and contrasts. Was it difficult to capture its expanse and full beauty?
Yes, it was difficult to describe the country’s beautiful and varied landscapes. I always felt a jaw-dropping awe that left me speechless…or rather wordless!But I think that is precisely why we seek out these landscapes – to be stunned beyond words. This must be why they say “a photograph is worth a thousand words.” Even so, I had to try. [STORIES: The Desert Sky; In Search of the Argan Tree]
Street life in the Medina is a daily theatre. As if the day spent in the Souk. What aspect of life there did you find the most fascinating?
Daily life in the souk – Yes, to me it was a “theater” – the constant crowds were like a river streaming madly in all directions, a lack of order that creates scenes that are both spontaneous and magical –sleek Mercedes cars and mangy mules missing each other by a hair’s breadth; exotic enticing aromas mixing with the stench of animal and vegetable debris.[STORY: Pilgrimages to the Post Office; Observing Processions; The Days of Ramadan]
You immersed yourself in all aspects of life – the religion, the bathing rituals, the food. What have your continued to include in your life now?
I think that what have stayed with me most since I left Morocco are the people’s kindness and hospitality, and their insistence on authentic connection with others. You must stop in the street to say hello, even if the person is just an acquaintance; you must look the person in the eye to acknowledge them, and touch them with your hand, or with a kiss on the cheek. You must ask after their health and their family’s health before you take your leave. Of course, the music and dancing have stayed with me too, and perhaps the main thing that has remained a part of my life is the Moroccan cuisine – I am always cooking couscous and tagines for family and friends. [STORY: Lunch with the Sheikh; Baba Halou]
With many thanks to Pamela for taking the time to show us around and showing us a side to Morocco we’d never seen before. We’re off to the souk now for some authentic Moroccan tea. See you later!