Although The Phoenix Code is a completely fictional story it is set in real locations in Egypt. I am not an archaeologist and I have never lived in Egypt so I had to read a lot of books, study hundreds of websites and visit many museums to find out everything I wanted to know. I spent several of my teenage years in Saudi Arabia, so I had many memories of the Middle East to build on, and a smattering of Arabic, and these all came in useful too.
But the most important thing of all was to travel to Egypt and look around the places that would form the backdrop to the action in the book. There is nothing like being there to get a feel for the sights and sounds and smells of a place.
|Research trip, not holiday, but my husband came along too and took most of the photos|
While the other passengers sunbathed and read books, I was busy looking out at the scenes we passed, making notes, and plotting, plotting, plotting.
|I'm working, honest! - look, I've got a pen in my hand!|
Many details found their way into The Phoenix Code. Here are just two scenes as examples.
1. Ryan's Big Leap
It's Chapter 18 and Cleo and Ryan are crossing the Nile on a ferry on their way back from looking for important documents at the museum. Disaster strikes when an unknown thief steals Ryan's backpack - which contains a very precious cargo (I won't tell you what it is so I don't spoil the plot for you if you've not read it). When the thief throws the backpack overboard to a man in a tiny rowing boat far below, Ryan dives into the water to try to save it. Things don't go too well at first, but luckily Ryan gets some much-needed help from Mr Mansour, the caretaker from Cleo's apartment building, who is out fishing with his grandson, Ali . . .
|the elegant "feluccas" that Ryan notices on the water - before he has more serious things to worry about - like crocodiles trying to bit his legs off!|
The salesmen threw the items up onto deck. If people wanted to buy they threw the money down, but mainly they just thew the unwanted goods back.
Luckily the men on the boats were very good at catching - (much better than the thief's accomplice).
|Ryan thinks the water must be safe because he sees guys washing their donkeys and playing in the water. Cleo is not so sure!|
The Arabic name for the plant that floats in these clumps is Ward-i-Nil. I noticed them because one features in a tragic incident in a crime novel that I was reading, which was also set partly in Egypt - "The Labyrinth of Osiris" by Paul Sussman.
2. Escape from Karnak
this amazing website, which contains reconstructions, time maps and videos.
When Cleo and Ryan discover that the priest, Rahotep, was sent to Karnak in the guise of an apprentice priest while searching for the Benben Stone they are certain that it's the place to look for clues to crack his coded messages.
First problem: it's a big place.
Second problem: they're not the only ones looking . . . soon they're both running for their lives!
This is the Hypostyle Hall. There are more than a hundred and twenty of these massive columns. Ryan compares it to a forest of mighty redwood trees. He's totally dumbstuck.
"I forgot you hadn't seen the Great Hypostyle Hall," Cleo said. "Impressive, isn't it?'
There she goes with the understatement again, Ryan thought. Manchester Town Hall was impressive. This was in a whole other league!
(The Phoenix Code, p155)
That's just how I felt!
Hmm, I thought, that would be just the thing if you need to climb over a wall to escape from someone chasing you in and out of all those columns . . .
And, of course, that's what Ryan does.
" Women scooped children out of the path of the runaway cart. A man carrying a tray of white eggs jumped backwards and landed in a tub of chilli powder. The eggs flew up and rained down like hail to splatter all over the mounds of spices and bunches of herbs. "Sorry!' Ryan shouted in all directions, ducking as the items for sale, hanging from lines festooned between the buildings on either side of the alley zoomed towards him: dresses, towels, blankets, radios, kettles, furry toys, baskets of live chickens, sides of meat, bike tyres and flip-flops. It was like the most random 3D film ever."
(The Phoenix Code, p 178)
When I got home I covered the pinboard in my office with souvenirs and pictures from the trip to keep me inspired while I was writing.