The trouble with writing contemporary fiction

Hi, I’m Fiona Deal, author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt, all available on Amazon.  My books follow the adventures of my thoroughly modern heroine Merry as she unlocks secrets from Egypt’s ancient past and unravels centuries’ old mysteries.

I started writing the books back in 2012 and decided to set them in the present day.  There are now nine books in the series, and I’m embarking on my tenth.

Deciding to make the books contemporary (rather than historical) fiction has been both a blessing and a curse.

I’ve been fascinated by ancient Egypt since I was a child, so researching its pharaonic history to provide the mysteries for my novels has always been a pleasure and never felt like hard work.  But to actually set my books in ancient Egypt ?  Well, that felt like a leap too far.  I wanted my characters to experience Egypt the way I do.  Part of the joy of writing them has been imagining myself into Merry’s shoes, and living her adventures along with her.  And hoping that my readers might do the same.

But it’s meant I’ve had to stay true to events in Egypt and around the world as they’ve unfolded.  When I started writing the series in April 2012, a little over a year after the Arab Spring I could never have imagined the political turmoil that would topple President Mohamed Morsi (Egypt’s first democratically elected president) from office just a year or so later.  Nor the terrorist atrocities that would rock its tourist industry.  And now we have the lockdown of the Coronavirus around the world. So travel to the Nile Valley (or anywhere else for that matter) is off-limits.

I’ve had to negotiate my way around these obstacles and – wherever possible – weave them into my stories.  All of which rather makes me wonder if my decision to write modern stories was the right one after all.

Lucky for me, I do have a couple of years to play with.  There’s an advantage to having been so deeply distracted by events in my own life recently.  These have included taking on a whole new remit at work, and also a new relationship.

Merry’s last adventure took place in early 2017 when tourism to Egypt was just starting to pick up.  (She herself may have had a small part to play in all that !!)  So I can let her plunge headfirst into some new adventures while also bringing her up-to-date.  And maybe Merry can somehow escape the Coronavirus-related restrictions altogether.

For the rest of us the options right now are more limited. I was lucky enough to visit Cairo twice last year.  And I spent two weeks over Christmas and New Year 2019-20 in Egypt exploring the sites of Aswan and Luxor, with a short Nile cruise thrown in for good measure.  But sadly my trip to Cairo scheduled for the 2020 Easter weekend became a Coronavirus casualty.

But on the upside… since world travel is impossible right now, it leaves only the opportunity of exploring foreign parts vicariously: through TV, films, books and online.  Speaking for myself, this means throwing myself into writing Merry’s latest adventure.  So I can take myself off to Egypt in my imagination and experience its sights and sounds, the dust and the heat and the wonder of its ancient monuments.

If you feel like travelling to Egypt right now, even if only from your armchair, you might want to join Merry on her adventures.  Please click on each picture for the link.  Happy travels.

Belzoni’s Bequest now published

BookCoverImageBook number 7 in the series following Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt is now published on Amazon.  For a limited period it will be available with the old-style cover design.  This is to enable anyone who was collecting the series before I updated the covers to have the new book in the same style as the others if they wish.  The new cover will replace this one at end-September.

Belzoni’s Bequest

Swapping the heat and dust of Egypt for the cooler climes of London, Merry and Adam find themselves caught up in an intrigue involving the Egyptian collection at the exalted British Museum.  

First of all, an Egyptologist disappears in the midst of a security evacuation.  Then Merry stumbles across a mystery suggesting the circus strongman Giovanni Belzoni and his wife discovered more than just tombs and temples during their excavations in Egypt in the early 1800s.  A stolen journal, a set of newspaper-wrapped artefacts, and a blast from Adam’s past combine to make this a most perplexing mystery!

As ever, I welcome feedback and comments here on my website.  I also read and very much appreciate all reviews on Amazon.

To find out more or download now please click here.  The book is also available in paperback.

I hope you enjoy Merry’s latest adventure … Fiona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cook Abroad: in Egypt

Photo credit : BBC

Photo credit : BBC

At last ! A programme about Egypt to warm the heart – whet the appetite –  and hopefully encourage tourists to return.  On Monday evening BBC2 screened the first of six episodes in a new series called ‘A Cook Abroad’.

First up TV chef and one half of the Hairy Bikers travelled to Egypt to experience the nation’s culinary offerings, and explore a bit of its history.

Travelling from Cairo to Luxor via Fayoum by motorbike, and then on to Aswan aboard the steamship Sudan (the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile), Myers took time to visit many of the country’s historical sites along the way.

After sampling street food for breakfast in Cairo – a bean dish called ‘ful medames’ – Myers headed out to the pyramids at Giza to fulfil his boyhood dream of standing in their shadow.

But it was his trip to the ancient necropolis of Saqqara that really got him excited.  There, he enthused over the tomb wall paintings dating back more than 4,500 years depicting the baking of bread.  As Myers pointed out, this must surely count as the earliest recipe on record!

In the oasis of El Fayoum Myers enjoyed dates pulled freshly from the palm tree, then attempted (with little success but much hilarity) to emulate the skill of the fellahin’s wife in tossing her homemade bread atop an oven-dish that looked like a pizza pan, the idea being to make flat bread of pancake-like proportions.

In Luxor, Myers sampled a delicious-looking stuffed pigeon in a local restaurant before dressing up to board the steamship Sudan, where the chef taught him to make a local delicacy called um ali (a sweetened bread and butter pudding with hot milk).  But first, he visited the West Bank where he sampled shasmi bread with a local called Mahmoud.  He noted how the design Mahmoud’s wife baked into her bread was the same as on the loaves depicted in the ancient wall paintings in Deir el Medina, the Village of the Workers.  Great to see that some things haven’t been lost down the centuries.

To mark the end of his journey, Myers was invited by a family of Nubians for a feast to celebrate the end of Eid Al Adha, and help prepare a traditional meal to be shared with family, friends and neighbours.

For Myers, the star of the show was the home-baked Egyptian bread, in all its various forms.  For me, it was seeing the warm welcome he was given by all the Egyptian people he encountered.

All in all, it was a programme that left me longing to return.  I was even nostalgic for the haggling game, watching Myers enter some good-natured bartering with trinket sellers near the Colossi of Memnon.  I can only hope others watching the programme had their appetites similarly whetted.  Well done Dave Myers on showing us the delightful side of Egypt and its people.

Since Egyptian food in singularly absent from what’s on offer in the UK – as Myers pointed out,  “Where can you go for an ‘Egyptian’?” – the best bet is surely to visit the Land of the Pharaohs and sample it with the locals.

Fiona Deal – author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt – available in paperback on Amazon or to download from Amazon or all major ebook sellers.

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Levison Wood. Walking the Nile

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Photo Credit : Channel 4

Last night I watched the last episode of Channel 4’s documentary ‘Walking the Nile’.  This four-part series followed former soldier Levison Wood as he set out to walk along the longest river on earth, from its source in deepest Africa, to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt.  That’s 7 million steps and nine months of solid walking!

This was an impressive undertaking, given the heat, the distance and the painful foot blisters (shown in all their graphic glory!).

I found myself unexpectedly moved when Mr Wood – or ‘Lev’ as he introduced himself – reached the end of his epic journey and dived into the sea before an emotional reunion with his family.

I’ll be honest and say I haven’t watched all four episodes although I’ve seen bits of the previous ones, showing Levison travelling through Ethiopia and Sudan.  It was the final leg of his journey – through Egypt – that I wanted to see.  I’d hoped this might show Egypt in a light that would encourage tourists to return.  In this wish, I was disappointed.

I’m sure much of the challenge for Levison Wood was to be seen to walk through parts of the world that might be described as ‘trouble spots’.  He’s a battle-hardened man, who’s made a name for himself trekking across war zones.  But, to me, it was disappointing to see Egypt given this treatment.

I’m not so naive as to think everything in the garden is rosy in Egypt.  The News reports over the weekend of clashes in Cairo marking the 4-year anniversary of the Revolution to topple Hosni Mubarak – which have left 18 people dead – are testament enough to the on-going political unrest.  But I thought the Walking the Nile documentary was overly skewed towards portraying a country apparently rife with gun smugglers, where the atmosphere is one of tension and mistrust of foreigners.

In my 11 visits to Egypt (including trips in each of the last four years 2011-14), I have never experienced this sense of unease at all.  Admittedly, I have been a visitor to Luxor, not to any of the towns previously strongholds for the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.  Even so, I thought Egypt was misrepresented in last night’s programme.

Levison Wood paused briefly to enjoy the hospitality of the famous Old Cataract hotel in Aswan.  Previously host to Sir Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie, the hotel was conspicuously devoid of guests.  He also made short stops at some of the temples along Lake Nasser (although we weren’t shown him visiting Abu Simbel, despite the promise of the opening titles) and in Luxor.  But the jaw-dropping history and archaeological sites of Egypt were given scant air time, brushed over in favour of scenes of Mr Wood being followed by the police.  In this, too, I felt the Egyptian authorities were done a disservice.  It seemed clear to me the police officers concerned were good natured and concerned for Mr Wood’s safety whilst in their country, nothing more sinister than that.

I’m not sure what it will take for tourists to venture back to Egypt.  To be fair, the purpose of Channel 4’s documentary was not to be a travelogue.  Nevertheless I thought it a shame that such a spectacular country, one with so much to offer its visitors, was represented as a war zone.

I applaud Levison Wood for his courageous journey.  What a remarkable achievement.  Nevertheless, I hope I will be believed when I say Egypt remains a fabulous destination for a holiday.  I hope to go again during 2015, and make it a fifth consecutive year for a visit.  True, I may not have Cairo on my itinerary – and I will certainly avoid the Sinai Peninsula.  But Luxor is a treasure not to be missed.  I hope even Levison Wood would agree with that !

Fiona Deal

Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt – a series of mystery/adventure novels set in Luxor.  Available on Amazon.

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