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.