I had been to China once before, many years ago, in 1990, but I had never been to Xi'an, so I knew I had to go there to explore all the locations I wanted to write about. I visited in February, 2014. My husband came with me to keep me company and to take photos while I was busy taking notes.
|I'll just take a note of that!|
I kept all the maps and tickets and pinned them on the board in my office when I got home to inspire me as I was writing.
It was quite cold and rainy, and there was often a thick fog. Sometimes it was difficult to see the places I wanted to find out about. But the fog added a certain strange and mysterious atmosphere which I really wanted to use in the The Dragon Path. Cleo and Ryan set off up Mount Li on a damp, foggy day. Ryan finds it very creepy . . . and things don't go to plan (cue one giant salamander!)
|Xi'an in the fog from the ancient city wall|
|Mount Li in the fog|
|Cleo and Ryan climb Mount Li - Leo Hartas's amazing illustrations are in the style of traditional Chinese wood cuts|
I hope that you will have a chance to visit the terracotta army; you will find them still standing in the pits where they were buried - now covered by a vast building like an aircraft hangar. It is a breath-taking site to see the ranks of soldiers all lined up as if they might suddenly come back to life and fight for the Emperor once again. Although they are all now a muddy-grey they were originally painted in bright colours.
|You can actually meet one of the farmers who discovered the terracotta warriors in 1974!|
|Now, where is Cleo going to fall in?|
The tomb of the First Emperor
Qin Shi Huangdi is known as the first Emperor, because before he came to power in 221 BC, China was made up of many individual states each with their own king. Nobody knows exactly what is inside the tomb, but the Grand Historian wrote that it contained a model of the universe with seas of liquid mercury and skies with jewel stars. All that you can see of the tomb now is a huge pyramid-shaped hill covered in trees. Nobody is allowed to go inside so it remains a mystery. Cleo and Ryan find themselves in the tomb by mistake and I tried to imagine what it would be like in there . . .
Cleo and Ryan climb Mount Li twice. They think the entrance to the dragon path may be hidden on the mountainside. I went up Mount Li once, by cable car in the fog, and then climbed down. You may recognise the pavillion and the tree with the red banners.
|The red ribbons are tied onto the branches|
|The Sunset pavillion on Mount Li|
|Leo's fantastic illustration of the pavillion|
For lots more information, you could watch this fantastic Channel 4 programme all about ancient Chinese emperors, their tombs and their search for immortality.
There is food everywhere in China. It's not just in cafes and restaurants, but also out on the streets, being sold from stalls and tricycles or trays. Things on sticks are very popular (like the pineapple on sticks that Cleo and Ryan eat). So are the baked sweet potatoes that they eat in the park.
|Eggs boiled in tea are a popular snack|
The thick biang biang noodles that Cleo and Ryan eat when they first go to Aunty Ting's noodle bar are a speciality of the Xi'an region. In this photo you can see the red lanterns hanging outside. In one cafe I saw a little boy sitting threading chicken onto skewers while doing his homework - just as Meilin does in The Dragon Path.
|Just like Aunty Ting's? With lucky red lanterns and a thick door curtain to keep out the cold|
|Biang biang noodlesare delicious - but very messy to eat!|
The Shaanxi Opera
A very important scene takes place at the banquet at the Shaanxi Opera (in fact, you won't know just how important until you have read Book 3, The Serpent King!). After spending an evening watching the beautiful dancing and eating an enormous dumpling banquet I knew I had to include this place in the The Dragon Path. All the dishes that I describe in the banquet are real local specialities (even the gory ones!)
|The dancers wore different beautiful costumes for every dance|
|Leo's illustration captures the dancers perfectly|
The Shaanxi museum was full of inspiration. This was my very favourite thing. The moment I saw it I knew I had to include it in the story. If you have read The Dragon Path you will know exactly what a tiger tally or hufu is, and how Cleo and Ryan use one to open the tunnel.
|A real hufu - small enough to fit into your hand.|
|I had to buy this noteook, of course!|
|the sword that doesn't rust . . .|
|the crossbow - yikes!|
|yellow puffa jackets were THE fashion must-have - so I gave one to Professor Han!|