Thursday 7 April 2016

The seeds of a novel

A question I'm asked surprisingly often is, "Where do you get the ideas for your novels?" As someone who is always noticing things and wondering whether these would make a story, I always feel it's more a question of, "How do you decide which idea would make the best story?"
The seeds of 300 Days of Sun were sown when I traveled to Faro with my daughter Maddy, who had booked herself a two-week Portuguese language course there. She was only seventeen at the time and I felt I couldn’t allow her to go alone, though she would have done so, quite happily. While she went to class every morning, I wandered around the town with a street map, camera and my notebook. 

I am always inspired to write by the places I visit, and Faro was no exception. I had never been there before, though I knew the name from a hundred airport departure boards, as the hub for tourists traveling to the Algarve coast. Maddy and I were charmed from the first evening, by its mosaic pavements, by the laid-back atmosphere in the August heat, by the sea and the glimpses of green salt marsh. In the afternoons, we found various ways to get to the beaches and islands – and the first time we went to Praia de Faro, we did find the sea curiously green and furry, though this is not the usual state of affairs.

It’s important to say here that, for all the geographical accuracy of my portrayal of Faro, the town in this book is an imaginary version: certain elements, like great storm of February 1941 and the re-opening of the Café Alianҫa during the local elections (held, in real life, in 2013), are superficially true, but the story in the book is entirely fictional. If there are similarities with real life on the Algarve, this is only in order to give my story the tang of authenticity, though as ever, I have tried to describe the places as I found them, to transport the reader to an atmospheric and intriguing place.

It has been a long time coming, but a big thank you is due to the Portuguese Tourist Board in London. In June 1985, I was lucky enough to be invited on a press trip to Lisbon, Cascais and Estoril. I was a trainee reporter on the Kentish Times, a weekly newspaper based in South London. The trip was an adventure that began with a gathering of six or seven strangers in the departure lounge at Heathrow airport; we were to be escorted by a Portuguese guide with a twinkly smile called João and, in return for writing an article extolling the beauty of this area of Portugal’s Atlantic coast, we would be treated to a week of interesting trips and lovely meals.


We had a wonderful time. Everyone seemed to get along, and there was lots of laughter, including a running joke about sardines, though the details of that one have got away. We visited Setúbal, Óbidos, Belém and Sintra, and the pousadas, the medieval castles and convents that had been transformed into atmospheric hotels. We had dinner one evening at the Fortaleza do Guincho at Cascais, where we drank white port with ice as an aperitif. Here I am, in a collage of old photos (I loved those pink shoes).
Unfortunately, when I got back to England and wrote my piece, only four sparse, dull paragraphs made it into print with no photograph. I was so embarrassed that I never went to the trip reunion in London a few months later, not daring to face João again. So if anyone at the Portuguese Tourist Board should find themselves reading this book, may I say Obrigado and apologize for making you wait so long for some words that do Lisbon and Cascais justice.



Karen Wojcik Berner said...

It's always fascinating what inspires writers. Your novels have a wonderful sense of place. Now I can see why.

Deborah Lawrenson said...

Thanks, Karen! The nuts and bolts are simple observation - and writing them down at the time.

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