11 June 2007

Where would you go?

I've never felt the sting of sand against my cheek as I trudge through the Valley of the Kings while exploring tombs. I've never inhaled the dank scent of the Nile. Never heard the haunting, lyrical chant of the muezzin calling the faithful to evening prayer. These feet have never dangled over the sides of a little white donkey riding toward the Valley, or walked where proud pharaohs once prayed to jackal-headed gods.

I've never seen the yellowed, friendly smile of a fellahin as he tries to sell me a cartouche with my name inscribed on it. Never heard the shouts of the vendors in Cairo, coughed in the dust stirred by carriages rattling past or stared at the majestic rise of the pyramids, shadowed and golden against the rose-violet setting sun. Never heard the flapping sails of a felucca drifting up the Nile. Never heard the shouts of barefoot children herding sheep. Heard the thunder of hooves of Arabians galloping over the desert plain.

The stifling, musty heat of a tomb more than 3,000 years old has never encased my body as I explore, caressing the ancient rock and wondering what rough hands labored to hewn it for the long-dead king. I've never heard the singing of a pick biting into the rocky sands or the grunt of basket boys struggling to carry rock away from an excavation site.

Yet all these things I have experienced...in my mind. I have never visited Egypt, but I've been there for five books.

Yesterday I went there again as I wrote The Scorpion and the Seducer, my sixth Egyptian historical for Dorchester. I heard the labored breathing of Thomas, his boots slipping on the slope of a rocky path as his sweating palm encases Jasmine's, tugging her up the mountain. He is running from the assassin who tried strangling Jasmine in the tomb. Wind whips the pretty emerald scarf hiding the flowering blue bruises around her neck. In the distance they can see the cool refreshment of the Nile, and the safety of the Winter Palace, where dignified servants hover over ladies languidly sipping tea and complaining of luxurious boredom. His parched throat aches, his mouth feels drier than the gritty sand, but he pushes on, determined to keep Jasmine safe from her killer.

For me, writing about a place, a time and a culture I've never experienced requires extensive research. Armchair traveling is the only option when I write a book on Egypt. But it's a journey well-worth taking, even if I can only, rather wistfully, visit in my mind.

What areas do you visit when writing your books and what methods do you employ to reach your destination? Is there one country, city or town you long to explore, but you will probably only do so through research and your writing?