My latest book The Eight Bench Walk should be ready for publication next month. This is the first Mac Maguire mystery that is more or less completely set abroad and so it presents its own set of problems. (Only part of Two Dogs was set in France and Ireland in The Chancer is definitely not ‘abroad’ as far as I’m concerned).
One of these was getting the locations right.
I have now made two trips to Larnaka for research purposes. The first was more about getting some ideas for the plot and looking at specific locations that might feature in the story. Indeed one of the locations, an esplanade called Piale Pasa, provided the title of the book. Like Mac I have problems walking any distance and, in getting myself to walk as far as possible, I used to count the benches as I went along. I somehow managed to reach my final target of eight benches well before the end of the trip. I knew then that this had to be the title of the book but at that point I had no idea why or exactly where it would feature in the book.
The second trip took place after the first complete draft of the book had been written so it was more about checking the specifics of how the locations would work in some detail and also to get photos from the viewpoints of some of the characters for descriptive purposes. I found that I had to change some of the mechanics of certain key events to ensure that they could realistically happen within the real locations.
Another was getting the Cypriot characters’ names right.
There was only one character name that I knew I would use when I first had the idea of setting a book in Cyprus. That was Christodoulou. I gained my degree and MSc through the Open University and Anastasios Christodoulou was a Cypriot academic and one of its founders. Otherwise I had to find names for a multitude of characters and, if you look on the Wikipedia page of Famous Cypriots, you’ll find quite a lot of the names I used feature there. I am hoping to have all these checked to make sure that they’re as authentic as possible.
Then there’s the language.
I’m all too aware that, although Greek is nominally the language spoken in the southern part of Cyprus, there is also a Cypriot dialect. To get around having to use this in a number of scenes people are asked to speak English as Mac is present. I can do this without stretching things too far as just about everyone we met in Larnaka could speak English to some extent.
Finally there’s the sense of place.
This is a somewhat difficult thing to define but to me it’s as important as anything else. It’s not what a place looks like but what it feels like. Not what it feels like to me but to the characters in the book who live there. In living memory the island has been sundered in two by a violent conflict between two warring communities and has more or less stayed like that for the past forty five years. I wanted to get some idea of what living in such a place might feel like. I’ve had a taste of this myself as the situation in Northern Ireland is quite similar and I was able to draw some comparisons on this. I was lucky in being able to speak to some Cypriots about what it’s like to live on the island. I don’t pretend that the book gives an in depth appreciation of what it’s like to be a Greek Cypriot but I wanted to be able to give an honest flavour of it in the book.
Setting a book in Cyprus has been a lot harder than I’d thought it would be but it has also been quite rewarding as I now have a better appreciation of the island’s history and of its current situation. Not only that I’ve had to really observe its places and people in some detail which I’ve found absolutely fascinating.
Cyprus is a place I’ve really come to love and I hope that I do it justice in the book.
I took this shot from the battlements of the fort and below you can see the Piale Pasa stretching away towards the marina at Psarolimano. This is the very start of the Eight Bench Walk.
‘Yanni’s Bar’ is just on the right and note that you can see the little electric vehicle with the dog in the panier parked outside!