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Why Is Location Research For Spy Novels Important?






     Detailed location research, preferably in situ, is mandatory if an author of spy novels is to capture the feel of a location and write convincingly about that place as the novel is built and the 'sense of place' created.

In 2010, I was sailing in North Africa, a month before the revolution in Tunisia, which started the 'Arab Spring'. We were moored in the marina in Sidi Bou Said, which is hard-by the Presidential Palace, a few miles outside Tunisand was ringed by armed guards.

Ben Ali's palace had its own private harbour. Adjacent to the palace are the ruins of Carthage. We spent an interesting afternoon exploring the ruins, under the eyes of the guards in their sentry boxes just a couple of hundred yards away (the palace is on a hill).

Ten weeks later the presidential palace was gutted by the people, and the President fled to Saudi Arabia. There was a great sense of history in Carthage (even greater now, but theprevailing atmosphere of the country was tainted by the prevalent official culture of corruption. Shortly after we sailed in, I sat in my cabin whilst a customs official asked me, in French, if I had any gifts for him.

Now, it may make one bridle when faced with that sort of behaviour, but a bottle of whisky is not a lot to us. The downside is that if you do not play the game - then the bureaucratic process moves very slowly indeed.

Official Entry Stamps and Visas

Getting that official entry rubber stamp on your documents can take a long, long time if you don't 'cooperate' with the officials. Some visiting sailors refuse to play, and lose a lot of time waiting around whilst officials push paper pointlessly. I don't like the 'bakhsheesh' culture, so I 'cooperate'. It does give a writer an extra edge when he writes about it - that air of discomfort experienced as the power of these officials is made clear.

It was this very culture that led to the revolution, when, in Sidi Bouzid, a young street trader immolated himself when confronted yet again by bureaucratic extortion.

Mohamed Bouazizi will be remembered for what he started in Tunisia and the Middle East.

Kafka-esque

Some time ago, I worked in Russia on and off for a couple of years (this was during Yeltsin's time) and that was a surreal, Kafka-esque experience. Travelling and working in countries which are struggling under tyrranies of one form or another (or the hangover of such regimes) is to be recommended for thriller writers (though it has to be said that some very, very good thrillers are set in Washington or London, with no other countries involved. I guess it is having no control over one's situation that is frightening to me - and that can occur anywhere.

Although I haven't worked in Sicily, I have spent several months there, and was always aware of the insidious nature of Mafia influence - just another form of oppression and corruption.

Sense of Place

So, to write convincingly about a location, one has to have developed a strong 'sense of place' - just as to write well about marriage breakdown, one has to have lived through it. I've been fortunate that this year has added research in the Ionian Islands, Sicily and Malta, and I hope to portray my sense of those places in 'Sicilian Channel', and, of course, including Tunisia.

Authors of thrillers and spy novels also write about things they may not themselves have experienced - for example, torture. I have written about it, having read extensively around the subject. However, there are limits to what I'll experience directly in the course of research!




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The author writes topical spy novels and thrillers with maritime themes bringing his wide business and travel experience together to provide a unique perspective to his themes. He also writes about the process of writing novels on his site.


Posted on 2012-01-19, By: *

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Note: The content of this article solely conveys the opinion of its author,


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