Monday, March 5, 2012

A Different Desert Experience - Annie West

GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT, my current book, begins in an isolated encampment in wild, inhospitable mountains. Cassie and Amir spend a week in the most luxurious tent you could imagine - one fit for a king, and later they return to his royal palace. To get the feel of the story right I had to imagine an arid, almost deserted landscape.

Readers often ask how much research I do for the settings of my books. It varies. I often write about places I know or have visited. If it's somewhere I've never been then research, including contact with people who know the place, is invaluable.

This time I can tell you that yes, I've visited a desert. A couple in fact. I've camped out on the fringes of the desert in Australia (yes, we have them too!). I've ridden a camel into the desert in Egypt and walked far enough to learn how difficult it is to trudge through sand. I've felt the blaze of daytime heat and been surprised by the evening chill of a desert night. I've been amazed at the number of stars you see in the desert sky at night. And I've shuddered at the thought of coming across a scorpion.

But it had been some time since I'd been in a desert when I planned Cassie and Amir's story. So when I had the chance on a recent trip to Dubai, I signed up for an excursion to a desert national park.

This was a completely new experience for me. Instead of moving under my own steam or on a four-legged animal we were in a 4WD driven by a man who clearly saw the desert as a playground for thrill seekers. We deliberately veered at improbable angles over steep dunes and more than once it seemed inevitable we'd overturn. Imagine a roller coaster on wheels... It was exhilarating and fun, but I think he was disappointed I didn't scream as the dips and sways grew more outlandish.

We saw a spectacular sunset and had a delicious meal. I hand my hand painted with henna - a soothing, fascinating experience but far too short. We were entertained by a belly dancer and there were, of course, camels to be ridden. And there were lots of us. I had to laugh when I turned from taking the photo of the sunset (above) and clicked this photo of just a few of the many people who'd also booked a desert trip. This was not the setting for a blissfully romantic tryst.

It was a fun, fascinating experience and one I wouldn't have missed. I got to soak up the scent of the desert and feel the prickle on my skin as the night closed in around us. It helped me focus on some of the things I wanted to bring to the setting for GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT and it also reinforced the things that would be different in my story. Cassie and Amir's book would have less people and there'd be horses for transport, not 4WDs. There would be a sense of isolation - the two of them trapped together in difficult circumstances, and despite that, a sense of pure luxury that befits a royal sheikh.

Have you ever been somewhere you'd always wanted to visit? Did you find it just as you expected? Or was it full of surprises, like my desert trip with a thrill seeking driver? Would you rather be surprised or are you disappointed when places aren't the same as you imagined?

GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT is out this month as a Presents Extra release. I'm thrilled to say it's just been awarded a CataRomance Reviewers' Choice Award (yay!) and was also shorlisted for an Australian Romance Readers' Award. You can read an excerpt of it on my website.

14 comments:

  1. Awesome pics, Annie! I can see you're prepared to go to great lengths to get your research just right because Girl in a Bedouin Tent is a fab story!

    We went to Monkey Mia to see the dolphins - it was very very crowded so we didn't get a terribly good view. But then everyone disappeared because the dolphins went. I was taking pictures of the pelicans on the beach when the dolphins unexpectedly came back so the rangers came out with a few more fish. Very few people had stayed around because it wasn't particularly nice weather so this time I had a front row view! It was an amazing experience. One of the dolphins came very close to where I was standing and looked right up at me. She was a very playful dolphin and kept going back to the ranger and tapping her on the back of the leg.

    :)
    Sharon

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  2. Congrats on your CataRomance Award, Annie! *Love* those dessert pics. What an exciting trip that must have been.

    I always wanted to visit New York, and I've been lucky enough to have gone twice now. It was everything I hoped it would be--interesting people, amazing Art Deco architecture, food, food, food! It's the kind of place where you can get practically anything you want any time. I don't mind a nice beach or a mountain retreat, but I really do think city holidays make me feel much more alive. :)

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  3. Ack! I meant to say desert pics!!!! I have dessert on the brain!

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  4. Wow, Annie, great pics! And congratulations on the Cataromance Award. Well deserved. I really think Girl in the Bedouin Tent is one of your best, and that's saying something. I think the place I wanted to visit that turned out to be full of lovely surprises was Venice. Once the day trippers have gone, it's surprisingly quiet. There's no motorised transport apart from the boats on the canals and it made me aware of quite how much ancillary noise I filtered out every day from traffic. And you really can lose yourself in streets that make you feel like the 18th century is within touching distance.

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  5. Hi Sharon,

    Thanks - it's great to know you enjoyed Cassie and Amir's story.

    I've never been to Monkey Mia but I've heard so many wonderful things about it. How special it would be to experience that with few people around instead of in a horde! That dolphin sounds like a hoot. Aren't they the most gorgeous animals? I was watching some at the beach just last week and marvelling at them. I've never been that close though.

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  6. Vanessa - now that's my sort of typo! I have got some pictures of scrumptious desserts I could share, but I'm sure I put on weight just looking at them.

    How terrific you've been to the place you always wanted to visit. It sounds amazing. Another place I've yet to visit. Plenty of planning to do here for future trips, which is always fun. Thanks for stopping by.

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  7. Ooh, Anna, I love Venice. We weren't there in summer so it wasn't so crowded. I know what you mean, though, about it being quiet after the daytrippers go home. I loved walking down the narrow streets at night with just the occasional lamp, wondering if we were going the right way. Most of the time it did look like something straight out of the 18th century or earlier. I bet you had a wonderful time.

    Thanks for the congratulations on the CataRomance Award. I was thrilled!

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  8. Hi Annie, how amazing that you have done such hands-on research into deserts in the name of authenticity for your books. No wonder I like your sheik books so much! Can't wait to read GIRL IN THE BEDOUIN TENT. (That said, I just thoroughly enjoyed one of your non sheik stories, THE SAVAKIS MERGER. Maybe I just like Annie West stories, full stop!)

    As a small child I lived in India and always wanted to go back there to visit. When I eventually did, it did not disappoint. It is an amazing country. Heaven knows when I will get back there, but get back there I will!

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  9. PS Forgot to say congratulations on your CataRomance award and on finalling in the ARRA awards.

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  10. Hi Annie,
    Congratulations on your CataRomance Award!

    Sounds like Dubai (another place on my bucket list) was amazing and inspiring. I love the pics. I could also say the desert doesn't look anything like I would have expected. What, no camels? No date palms? The parking lot seems so wrong, LOL.

    San Francisco was a surprise to me. I had no idea it was so small!

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  11. Fabulous pictures, Annie.
    We were there in September for a bit of Dune bashing, it was awesome as well. After that trip I decided that everywhere you travel can have its high points and disappointments, though I must say our Rhine Cruise was only high points for me.
    Congratulations on your CataRomance award, and on finalling in the ARRA awards - only high points there, I'm guessing:) cheers Lia.
    c

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  12. Hi Kandy,

    Yes, there's 'hands on' research but not with sheikhs, just the desert. I've no doubt my husband would object to me researching that far! How interesting growing up in India and now living so far from it. Travelling back must have been a marvellous experience. I hope you get back again soon.

    So glad you enjoyed 'The Savakis Merger'. Just thinking about that book makes me want to go to Greece.

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  13. Hi Cheryl,

    Thanks for the congratulations. How fascinating about San Fransisco. It's a place I've yet to visit. I suppose I always imagined it as sprawling.

    Well, there are camels in the desert, and date palms, but not as many as you'd think. I agree, the parking lot just didn't look right, did it? That's why I took the pic.

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  14. Hi Lia,

    It sounds like you've been doing a bit of travelling recently. Aren't those dune rides amazing. Definitely not what I'd expected.

    I've been eyeing off those Rhine cruises for some time. I like the idea of unpacking once and then just letting the world go by each day. We once lived for a short time just a block back from the Rhine and it was incredibly scenic. Maybe one day we'll travel it that way. I loved all the small towns and the castles you see as you travel it by train.

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