This is the question I’m most often asked when people find out I’m a novelist. And, as any writer will tell you, it’s a really difficult question to answer. For me it’s always been a bit of a mystery – ideas really do seem to pop-up out of nowhere. But every now and then, it’s possible to identify the exact time and place when an idea comes to you.
If you’ve read my latest novel IMPLICATED you’ll know it starts with the image of a man underwater, desperately trying to swim down to a ruined Greek church on the seabed. The man in question, Erdogan Denizli, is a crime scene cleaner in Ventura County, California, and, as you soon find out, he’s dreaming. Ah, you may wonder: why is a Californian crime-scene cleaner dreaming about a church beneath the sea?
If you’ve read the book you’ll know. But where did this opening image come from?
A few years go, I was travelling in Northern Cyprus. I stopped at a small hotel on a deserted rocky promontory, a long way from anywhere.
It wasn’t a very promising spot for a hotel – it was spread across both sides of the road and the “beach” was an uninviting rocky cove, accessed by a cement ramp: it resembled not so much a holiday resort as an abandoned quarry. And yet, there was something strangely appealing about the place. Was it the light? The remoteness of the location?
Or perhaps it was the erudite and charming Turkish Cypriot owner, Erdogan – a retired teacher from Istanbul – who made me feel so welcome.
I ended up staying for three weeks. During that time I got to know Erdogan reasonably well and one evening, asked him about how he came to build the hotel.
Years ago, he told me, he’d had a rather odd dream: he dreamt of a ruined church completely submerged beneath the sea. At the time he thought nothing of it.
On retirement, he was driving around Northern Cyprus looking for a place to build a hotel when he came to this rocky outcrop. For reasons he couldn’t explain, he knew at once that this was the place.
He built his hotel. The business thrived. Over the years he entertained visitors from all over the world including, on one occasion, a couple of Italian archaeologists.
One morning the Italians went diving and returned in a state of high excitement: just off the promontory, several metres below the surface, they had discovered the ruins of a Greek Orthodox church, completely submerged in the aquamarine sea…
Some years later I was watching a documentary about crime-scene cleaning. It was fascinating and I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of person would choose to do a job like this?
And for some strange reason the image of the church underwater came back to me, and I knew I had both a name for my protagonist and an opening scene for my new thriller…