You can’t beat personal experience of something to give your writing an adrenaline shot of realism. That’s a bit trickier if you’re writing about made-worlds but nothing is entirely new or lacking a foundation in reality and there’s a whole world of inspiration out there. In fact, I believe travel is one of the most valuable things you can do to improve your writing.
Much of the setting and culture of City of Djinn is influenced by my experiences travelling around the Mediterranean Coast – Italy, Spain, Greece, Morocco and Egypt. When I was thinking about where to go on holiday this year I decided to choose a place where I could soak an atmosphere that would be directly relevant to my novel. It’s a good time in City of Djinn to do this. The first draft is almost complete so I have a good handle on the plot and characters. Now I need to rewrite all the shonky prose, including making the setting vivid, realistic and consistent.
So earlier this month I spent two weeks travelling around the western half of Turkey. Turkey is a country with a rich past, complex culture and fascinating landscapes. I filled one and a half notebooks and took over 1,700 photos. The places I visited, food I ate, landscape and weather, clothes people wore, the layout of Roman cities, pots, jewellery and sculpture seen in museums – all this and more will feed into my novel.
There were a few occasions where I had a peculiar sense of deja vu. This was most distinct once evening when I walked into a thirteenth-century caravanserai in Cappadocia. Caravanserai are walled compounds where traders rested their camel caravans overnight. Originally they lined the silk route every 30km, the distance a camel train can travel in one day.
I’d researched caravanserai online before writing a scene set in an abandoned caravanserai so, when I came to visit one in real life, it felt like I’d been there before. The extra details I was able to jot down will really improve this scene – the cooing of pigeons from the rafters, grass growing between the slabs, dry leaves and feathers collecting in corners, the light echo.