I’m delighted to share a guest post by Katherine Webb today. Katherine’s latest book, The English Girl, is published by Orion in hardback and as an e-book today. You can order a copy here: The English Girl The book is about a young archaeologist Joan Seabrook who has travelled to Oman where she meets and becomes friends with Maude Vickery, an explorer and Joan’s childhood heroine. Katherine Webb writes about her setting, Oman, in her guest post.
Talk to us about your setting, have you visited Oman?
Once I’d decided to set The English Girl in Oman, I knew I’d have to travel there to be able to write authentically about it. Oman is a small country in the far south of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It’s stable and prosperous, and one of the few places in Arabia where Western tourists are made welcome. I was so excited to travel there – to its cities and mountains, but most of all to its desert. I’d been to desert areas before – the Sahara and the South West of the USA, but I knew the Empty Quarter would be very different.
I travelled on a small group tour, on an itinerary which got right off the beaten track – into the Jebel Mountains, and deep into the desert. We camped wild on beaches and out under the stars in the desert – it really was magical, and totally unique, and I know that the book I wrote having been on that trip was very different – and far better – than one I might have written in I hadn’t made the trip.
One thing I’d never experienced before was the total quiet of the desert. Even when I’d been to deserts in the past, I suppose I’d only been on the fringes, and there had always been a lot of other people around. In Oman, we drove all day in jeeps, deep into the Empty Quarter, and once we’d made camp I hiked off into the dunes on my own – you can’t get lost, since you can always follow your footsteps back in the soft sand. Then I sat down on a dune to watch the sun set, and the stillness was astonishing. Almost unnatural. It really made you appreciate how loud modern life has become! And it was incredible peaceful – meditative, in a way. I knew that I would try to capture that same feeling for both of my main characters, Maude and Joan, when they go into the desert, in an attempt to put my finger on what it is that’s so compelling about the desert.
But the visit wasn’t only about the desert. A lot of the story takes place in the bare, brutal Jebel Mountains, which form a barrier between the desert and the sea in Oman. I wanted to climb high into them, and see how truly impenetrable they would have been had I been on foot, and they’d been riddled with snipers as they were during the Jebel wars… I wanted to explore ancient Muscat, and experience all the smells and tiny details that then make my writing come alive – the colours and the light, the sounds, the feel of the air… Nothing can inspire, or colour a work of fiction, like being in that place. I came back full of impressions and ideas I was desperate to set down on paper. And I really hope to return to Oman one day – it is a wonderful place.
From the back of the book
Joan Seabrook, a fledgling archaeologist, has fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Arabia by travelling from England to the ancient city of Muscat with her fiancé, Rory. Desperate to escape the pain of a personal tragedy, she longs to explore the desert fort of Jabrin, and unearth the treasures it is said to conceal.
But Oman is a land lost in time – hard, secretive, and in the midst of a violent upheaval – and gaining permission to explore Jabrin could prove impossible. Joan’s disappointment is only alleviated by the thrill of meeting her childhood heroine, pioneering explorer Maude Vickery, and hearing first-hand the stories that captured her imagination and fuelled her ambition as a child.
Joan’s encounter with the extraordinary and reclusive Maude will change everything. Both women have things that they want, and secrets they must keep. As their friendship grows, Joan is seduced by Maude’s stories, and the thrill of the adventure they hold, and only too late does she begin to question her actions – actions that will spark a wild, and potentially disastrous, chain of events.
Will the girl that left England for this beautiful but dangerous land ever find her way back?