Location plays an important part in novels. It sets the scene, helps brings the story to life with realism, especially when actual places are used, places readers may know and can envisage. In each of my novels location has proved invaluable to creating atmosphere: London and the River Thames in Every Step of the Way and Queenie Queenie (yet to be published), a Cotswold Georgian mansion where I once lived in White Stones, and the Greek island of Thassos in Where Two Worlds Collide – currently in progress. This last location, although a very real island, is one I have not visited yet but, being a lover of all things Greek and having over the last 12 years had the fortune to visit many Greek islands, a vivid imagination knows how that island must look. That and images and descriptions found on the Internet, of course.
So it came as a great shock when holidaying on Corfu earlier this year I found myself staying in a beautiful bay on the east coast that exactly mirrored the bay and location I had created in Two Worlds. In this novel, a time slip, I describe a large villa built against a cliffside, spread over three levels. There is a swimming pool on the second terrace and rough stone steps flanked by blue morning glory, oleander and hibiscus bushes leading down to a narrow sandy beach in a shallow bay guarded by high headlands. A short walk along the beach on a rickety boardwalk takes my heroine to the nearby village, otherwise reached by a dusty dirt road over the cliff before descending to a scattering of houses and tavernas. I have no doubt innumerable bays and resorts around Greece mirror this but there was something else about Agios Gordios that made this extra weird.
In my book, there is a cave leading up through the cliff to an old village set way back in the hills. The entrance is hidden from view by a rock stack in which there is a huge wasps’ nest. Just as at Agios Gordios!
Imagine then my surprise at finding just such things at the hotel I stayed at. Built over several terraces, a swimming pool on the second, stone steps down to the beach, the village reached by a short walk along the beach, the high cliffs flanking the bay and that eerie monolith of rock hiding caves. Caves, I did not venture into, I hasten to add. Weird things happen there in my book that I didn’t want to happen to me.
As I watched the sunrise over the bay that very first morning, it was like a homecoming. The sense of déjà vu overwhelming as the cicadas ceased their singing and slunk back into the dank undergrowth and the birds trilled in the growing light, for I knew the place well. It was scary and yet comfortable all at the same time. My travelling companions were taken aback when I led them to the village by the long route through dusty paths between semi-derelict and bougainvillea-clad houses and guided them to familiar tavernas spread along the beach, knew what time the fishing boats came into the narrow jetty. How? Because I had written about it all, described each element.
Perhaps I had been there before, in a past life or in a dream. Whatever the reason, Agios Gordios will remain in my memory for a lifetime. It will have to as I have probably lost all my holiday photos thanks to a computer error. Hopefully the Greek Gods will look down kindly on me and restore them or else take my path back there some day so I can take some more whilst sampling one of the many cocktails served at Agios Gordios.