Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Jasmine Nights

Back in Istanbul to research my new book, provisionally titled JASMINE NIGHTS, and set in Cairo, Alexandria and Istanbul in 1942. This time on my own and staying at the Avicenna Hotel in Sultanahmet in a converted Ottoman mansion - built out of wood. The trip was a bit of a shot in the arm, after a freezing cold winter in Wales (- we'd actually gone tobogganing on our field and been snowed in for a week).

On my first day in Istanbul I walked my feet off the first day with John Dyson, an English translator, musician and writer man, who lives out there permanently, speaks fluent Turkish and who is translating the book of an Ottoman Sultan. He knew the city so well I was lucky to find him. One of the pleasures of researching books is the almost spooky way in which the right person seems to show up at the right time to help. For instance, my heroine in this book is a half -Turkish half -English singer, and one of my aims was to find out how differently a Turkish singer and an English singer might approach a song. The first person I spoke to at the hotel, a delightful, pretty girl called Gulsah Dumy, was half Turkish and half English and wrote songs.

That night, I had dinner in a Russian restaurant with a well known Turkish singer called Sema. This was not a coincidence a friend had found her on the internet. Sema was a find too. She was funny and warm and voluble (she reminded me of the Turkish version of Bette Midler) and quite undeterred when half way through our conversation a four piece band booted up their balalaikas and accordians and bellowed, 'My Way,' in Russian in our ears. I've been playing Sema's new CD (Sema Ekho) while I work. The cover shows Sema feathered, veiled, hennaed and red lipped giving the camera a very saucy look.

During our conversation she told me that in certain parts of Aetolia girls from peasant families are still given away much like you'd give a horse or a sheep in marriage. Some get their own back by singing lullabies to their parents in which they complain bitterly about the raw deal they got. A wedding planner's nightmare, but what a brilliant wheeze.