A scene from Hatshepsut’s Hideaway

I recently visited Elephantine Island, located in the middle of the Nile at Aswan.  This is the site of ancient Egyptian ruins dating from the Old Kingdom onwards, with almost all the epochs of that ancient civilisation represented.

One of the best-preserved on the ancient ruins is the Temple of Satet, built in the early Eighteenth Dynasty under the female pharaoh Hatshepsut and her nephew/stepson and successor Thutmosis III.

It provides the location for a key scene in the third book in my Egyptian series, Hatshepsut’s Hideaway.

Here’s a short clip of me describing it …

Fiona Deal, Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt, fiction books all available on Amazon. To join Merry on her adventures please click on each picture for the link.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Carter's Conundrums

Cover of  Carter’s Conundrums. Book 1 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Tutankhamun’s Triumph.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Tutankhamun’s Triumph. Book 2 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Hatshepsut’s Hideaway.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Hatshepsut’s Hideaway. Book 3 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Farouk’s Fancies.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Farouk’s Fancies. Book 4 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Akhenaten’s Alibi.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Akhenaten’s Alibi. Book 5 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Seti’s Secret.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Seti’s Secret. Book 6 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Belzoni’s Bequest.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Belzoni’s Bequest. Book 7 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Nefertari’s Narrative.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Nefertari’s Narrative. Book 8 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

An image of the cover of the Fiona Deal book, Ramses’ Riches.

The cover of the Fiona Deal book, Ramses’ Riches. Book 9 in the series, Meredith Pink’s adventures in Egypt.

Travel during Lockdown

Right now much of the world is in lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the planet.

But, to my way of looking at it, we can still travel.  Just not literally (by which I mean physically).

But we can read books set in far-flung places.  I can pick up Alexander McCall Smith’s wonderful series about the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency and be immediately transported to Botswana.  It’s a country that remains on my bucket list but, even so, I feel as if I’ve been there.

 

In the same way, I hope my series following Meredith Pink on her adventures in Egypt can mentally take readers to the heat, light, dust and magic of the Land of the Pharaohs.  Here’s the first couple of lines to whet your appetite:  “At first, when I found myself locked in Howard Carter’s house for the night, I thought it must be an elaborate prank.  A little later, when I smashed one of his pictures, I stopped seeing the funny side.”

We can also look at pictures and photographs to remind ourselves of the wonders of far flung places we might long to travel to.  Here are a few of my favourites taken on my travels in Egypt:

Feluccas on the Nile – Aswan

The Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel

Elephantine Island, Aswan

The Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan

Elephantine Island, Aswan

Elephantine Island, Aswan

Temple of Isis, Philae

Kiosk of Trajan, Philae

Philae Temples

The Nile

Obelisk at Karnak Temple

Rebuilt Pylon at Karnak Temple

Medinet Habu

Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple

Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple

Denderah Temple of Hathor

Egyptian sunset

The Open Court – Karnak

Hypostyle Hall, Karnak

Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

Mortuary Temple of Seti I

Ramesseum

Ramesseum

Fallen colossus at the Ramesseum

Colossi of Memnon

The Winter Palace Hotel, Luxor

Fiona Deal, Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt, all available on Amazon.

To join Merry on her adventures please click on each picture for the link.

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.

Three Grande Dames

Egypt has some fabulous historic hotels.  The picture is of a fantastic book which tells the story of these amazing hostelries in their heyday.  But they’re still fantastic places to stay for those travelling to Egypt.

 

Three of these great historic hotels in particular stand out to me. They have each provided settings for some key scenes in my adventure/mystery fiction series following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt. These three hotels also benefit from being located in the some of the best cities, north, middle and south in Egypt, great for any traveller wishing to do a grand Egyptian tour.

I’m lucky enough to have stayed in all three.  So I thought I’d share some images of these three historic Egyptian Grande Dames.  The pictures may bring back memories for some of you.  If you’ve never been to Egypt but you’ve read my books then hopefully they’ll help bring some of the settings to life.  And if you have Egypt on your bucket list, might I encourage you to consider putting these on your list of accommodation options ?

I have to start with the wonderful Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor.  As so many of my novels are set in Luxor, I’ve used this beautiful Victorian hotel for key scenes in a number of my books.  Merry and Adam contrive to spend a night there in Carter’s Conundrums (book 1), and the hotel is central to a number of key scenes in Farouk’s Fancies (book 4).

 

The Winter Palace is a historic British colonial-era 5-star luxury resort hotel located on the banks of Corniche in Luxor overlooking the Nile.  It has fabulous views from the rooms at the front of the hotel across to the Theban Hills on the West Bank.  Great for watching the sunset.  At the back, extensive botanical-like gardens lead to a large pool, with a terrace bar and restaurant.

 

 

Next is the fabulous Mena House hotel in Cairo, situated right at the foot of the Giza pyramid plateau, literally a short walk to the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.  My characters stay at the Mena House while riddling their way through a set of clues in Carter’s Conundrums (book 1).  They also enjoy the hotel’s lavish hospitality during the uprisings surrounding the ousting of President Morsi in Akhenaten’s Alibi (book 5)

Originally a Khedive hunting lodge in 1869, it opened as a hotel in 1886 and was the first Egyptian hotel to boast a swimming pool which opened in 1890.  It was also the first hotel with a golf course, literally built in the desert at the foot of the pyramids.  Golfers can still play a round there today.

And last but by no means least is the stylish Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan.  While my characters have never actually booked in for the night, they’ve enjoyed lunch on the hotel’s famous terrace with its stunning view of the Nile and Elephantine Island in Hatshepsut’s Hideaway (book 3)

The Old Cataract was built in 1899 by Thomas Cook for European travellers to Egypt.  Built on a granite buff overlooking the Nile, it still has its original restaurant showing fabulous Moorish architectural design.

I hope these photographs have given you a flavour of the wonderful welcome that awaits visitors at these great Egyptian hotels.  And that they’ve brought to life some of the settings for my books.

Fiona Deal, Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt, all available on Amazon. To join Merry on her adventures please click on each picture for the link.

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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On location – the Nile

There are many wonderful places to visit along the Nile.  The standard Nile cruise itineraries take visitors to the sites on both banks of the Nile at Luxor, then head south towards Aswan.

I’ve put together a short video showing my favourites on the journey between Luxor and Aswan: Efdu, Kom Ombo, Philae – all of which date from the Greaco-Roman period.  Also the Unfinished Obelisk still lying in its granite quarry in Aswan where Queen-Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s workmen were forced to leave it when a huge crack appeared in the rock.  If it had been finished it would have stood one third taller than any other obelisk in Egypt.  And, of course, the magnificent Abu Simbel on Lake Nasser.  This is a feat of both ancient and modern engineering.  UNESCO re-sited it in the 1960s to rescue it from the rising waters of Lake Nasser.  Most cruises give the option to either drive or fly down to see it – and it’s not to be missed – despite the early start!

Merry and Adam go on a Nile cruise in the third book in my series following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt – Hatshepsut’s Hideaway.  They visit Edfu and Kom Ombo – with incidents in both of course!  It wouldn’t be a story otherwise!

If you’re interested in seeing a similar video on the sites of Luxor, check out my link: On Location in Luxor.

Fiona Deal

A good time to visit Egypt as a tourist?

In view of the tragedy that unfolded in Paris yesterday, I thought it was a good time to brush the dust of this, one of my first posts about Egypt.  The Foreign Office is advising visitors to Paris to exercise extra care.  It just goes to show you can be anywhere in the world when terrorism or tragedy strikes.  Just look at the Boston marathon a couple of years back, the Mumbai and London bombings, etc.

Egypt is a nation that has experienced perhaps more than its fair share of upheaval – much of it political in recent years.  The Foreign Office still advises against all but essential travel to certain parts of the country (not including the prime tourist locations around the Red Sea and in Cairo and Luxor.  So, should tourists continue to stay away?

As someone who has visited Egypt almost every year for more than a decade, I would say GO.  The sites are quiet, the people welcoming and the weather fabulous !  Of course, be careful … but sadly that seems to be the case everywhere in the world.  Here in the UK the terror threat remains ‘severe’.  So… Egypt …

I first visited Egypt in 1983, a scant two years after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.  We were there in October, staying near the Pyramids in the Jolie Ville hotel.  Shortly after we left it was razed to the ground in demonstrations.  I have to say I don’t remember why!  If anyone can enlighten me I’d be grateful.

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Here I am – back in Egypt – this time in July 1996.  This picture was taken in the Valley of the Kings.  It was the year before the awful massacre of tourists at Hatshepsut’s temple.  I remember how shocked and horrified I was when I saw it on the News and thought how recently I’d been there.

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I was back in 2002, just months after 9/11. Tourists were staying away.  Holiday prices were cheap.  The locals were as friendly and welcoming as ever – despite the usual call for baksheesh !

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The next visit was 2004.  A fantastic trip.  One week on the Nile, cruising between Luxor and Aswan.  Then a week in Luxor, followed by a week at a Red Sea resort in El Quesir.  2004 was the year of the Sinai bombings, followed in 2005 with attacks in Sharm el Shiekh.  Yes, I was back in 2005 !  Just a short 1-week visit to Luxor.

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In 2008 I cruised down Lake Nasser to the awe inspiring temples at Abu Simbel.  The trip also took in a few days in Cairo and a 1-week cruise down the Nile on the splendid SS Misr (used as a location in Hatshepsut’s Hideaway). Just two years previously in 2006 Egypt suffered the Dahab bombings.

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Here I am with Ramses the camel at the Jolie Ville hotel in Luxor in 2009.  (Ramses features in both Carter’s Conundrums and Tutankhamun’s Triumph).  2009 saw the Khan el Khalili bombing in Cairo.

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Back in 2011 – here I am at the Ramesseum on the West Bank in Luxor.  It was March, just a couple of weeks after the Revolution of the Arab Spring.  We had most of the tourist sites completely to ourselves.  It was an amazing experience.

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My next trip was January 2012 – pictured here at the Avenue of Sphinxes at Luxor temple.  Demonstrations took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in June following Mubarak’s trial.

 

IMG_2007Then April 2013.  President Morsi was running the show, but it was an uneasy kind of calm before the storm of the coup d’etat that removed him from office in early July.

IMG_4730My last visit was in July 2014, a quiet break to the Jolie Ville hotel in Luxor (a beautiful retreat set on its own island in the Nile).  Tragically, I was one of only 24 guests – tourism still reeling from the recent political events.

Reading this post, I guess you might conclude there’s never a good time to visit Egypt as a tourist.  I’d have to disagree.  I think it’s possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time anywhere in the world.  I don’t court trouble, and I’d steer clear of the Sinai Peninsular at the moment – but Egypt’s been my favourite holiday destination for the last decade.  Modern Egypt is unsettled for sure.  But historical and archaeological Egypt is not to be missed.  And the sun always shines!

Fiona Deal – Jan 2015 (updated from blog originally posted Feb 2013)

Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt, available to download or in paperback on Amazon.

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