Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Cape to Cairo? No, Karoo to Cape!

How much does environment influence a novel?

My first book, The Housemaid's Daughter, is set in the Karoo, a great swathe of semi-desert that stretches across the centre of South Africa.
Its clear, dry air lets you see for miles, as you can tell from this picture at the top of Mountain Zebra National Park.
Those dramatic flat-topped mountains, that stark climate - freezing in winter, boiling in summer and parched for most of the year - was ever present in the back of my mind as I wrote the book. And there's no doubt that the harshness of the terrain found its echo in the action. My heroine, Ada, is alienated and alone, and the landscape seems to reflect her pain.
I would walk out of the township to where the sky met the the earth. When the sun was at its highest, I would squat in the bony shade of a thorn tree and watch the air tremble with the heat of the veld stretching into watery mirages far ahead.

Now head south west from the boundless Karoo and you will find Simon's Town, the former Royal Navy base at the foot of the Cape Peninsula. This is where my new book due out in January 2017, The Girl from Simon's Bay, is set. Here, a very different palette of weather/terrain comes into play. Guarded by mountains rich with pincushion proteas and fringed by the glittering sea of Simon's Bay, it is an idyllically beautiful place - and seems to be a softer landscape than the Karoo. But looks can be deceiving. That limpid sea can quickly become a raging torrent, those gentle winds can turn into a black southeaster. Fire is a constant threat in the summer.
A wisp of smoke was spiraling above a clump of trees.
As I watched, there was an explosion. Flames burst through the leafy canopy like orange umbrellas unfurling against the white-hot sky.

So... expect some drama!

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