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Saturday, 30 November 2013

ABERDEEN and the art world

The Studio Game by Peter Burnett set in Aberdeen

Click on the title to find our more and to purchase
Our review can now be found here

Tina and the TripFiction Team
Plenty of locations (over a 1000!) on the TripFiction website: 'see a location through an author's eyes' and come and say hello on Facebook and Twitter

Thursday, 28 November 2013

VERMONT - when the snows recede....

Cloudland by Joseph Olshan set in Vermont

Our review can now be found on the new TripFiction website here

Monday, 25 November 2013

SWITZERLAND by train, in the company of a certain Mr Thomas Cook (oh, and Mr Diccon Bewes)

Slow Train to Switzerland by Diccon Bewes, set in Switzerland

Switzerland captured on an SBB train, book in hand
1863 and members of The Junior United Alpine Club set off in a party of 130 to Paris, headed ultimately for Switzerland, in the company of Mr Thomas Cook, entrepreneur and travel aficionado. Miss Jemima Morrell was the unofficial chronicler of the tour, this, the first package holiday abroad organised by Mr Cook (following several failed attempts at home); his travel shops still appear on many high streets across Britain today, and he is still considered to be the genius behind the package holiday! Just look where his early endeavours have now landed - mass tourism today is 5% of global GDP, so Cook was a man with huge vision.

2013, and 150 year later, Diccon Bewes, who is the accidental ex-pat expert on Switzerland, retraces the footsteps of these intrepid (and intrepid they certainly were!) explorers. Armed with his Murray guidebook from the nineteenth century, nattily entitled A Handbook for Travellers in Switzerland, and the Alps of Savoy and Piedmont (all is revealed in the book as to why Savoy and Piedmont also featured), he sets off from Newhaven crossing the Channel to Dieppe. With further guidebooks at his disposal A Handbook of Travel-Talk from 1858, he delves into gems of useful translation, which perhaps aren't altogether useful in modern day parlance, but give a wonderful insight into the mores of Victorian travel: "May I not be allowed to carry ashore my carpet-bag?" or "Sit still, the train is moving" ... and extracts from Thomas Cook's The Excursionist beautifully evoke the flavour of the bygone era, which featured ships, trains, coaches and, of course, camels...

We undertook our own mini junior tour, on the back of this book and gladly hopped on an SBB train to follow in Miss Jemima's footsteps; this is essentially what TripFiction is all about, it is seeing a place through an author's eyes (in this case both Diccon's and Miss Jemima's eyes) and gaining a new and individual perspective on locale. 

Contemporary and historical observations accompany the modern day traveller, as the hikers moved down through Paris, to Geneva and on to Chamonix, which was originally discovered by two British men in 1741. The book highlights how the British were ahead of the game in exploring the Alps: mountain peaks to be conquered, Union Jacks to be planted! The Swiss were just there, generally getting on with their lives, and living on the poverty line. This was truly the Golden Age of Alpinism. Nowadays Chamonix, for example, can boast 4.5 million overnight stays per annum, and is in so many ways removed from what Miss Jemima and her fellow travellers saw 150 years ago.

Mr Cook had been escorting the Package Pioneers, and soon came to leave the 60 remaining trekkers to their own devices. By Martigny there were only 8 hardy souls left (Martigny incidentally is the half way point between London and Rome).

Onwards from Martigny to Sion and Leuk (which is where the TriFiction team took up with the party) and up to Leukerbad, where the Victorians observed the 'unnatural' behaviour of the bathers soaking in the pools of thermal waters. Diccon however is much more of a convert to the soothing and relaxing qualities of the bubbling waters and even rates the Walliser Alpentherme amongst his top 10 Public Spa (or should it be Wellness?) destinations "Lying neck deep in hot water on a bed of bubbles and looking up at the mighty cliffs, I realise why people travelled across Europe for centuries to do exactly this. It's not necessarily the water, which can be found in many natural spas, but the location 1411m above sea level and surrounded by natural splendour."

From Leukerbad it was then off to the top of the Gemmi mountain - a 2 hour trail that was actually built by Tirolean labourers from Austria. Imagine climbing a vertical cliff, in the warmth of a June Summer in Victorian garb, crinolines and formal gear; their alacrity over the boulders and their stoicism is something we cannot perhaps appreciate in our modern day. Then a further long trek over to Kandersteg. 

On to Frutigen, where today they have tapped into the natural hot waters, sufficiently that they can grow exotic fruits (coincidence probably that the place name sounds like fruit?) - guavas, papayas, starfruit are all grown in this small backwater. The opening of the Lötschberg Tunnel in 1913, this time built by Italian labourers, changed everything for the region. From here via Spiez and on to Interlaken, the Paris of the Alps and base station for the Jungfrau, now a wonder of faded grandeur (and attracting quite a different kind of clientele from the days of Miss Jemima; but Cafe Schuh still provides a warm welcome to visitors). Finally off to Lucerne, and eventually Neuchâtel to round off the tour. The original tour group then headed back to Paris.

There is so much to cherish in this informative and charming travelogue, which for me proved to be quite an eye-opener: the determination of the Victorians to search out new places, hampered as they were by dress and manners, and limited by an array of transport possibilities, mostly of variable quality; the place the British played in bringing tourism to Switzlerand (including mention of George Stephenson who consulted on a railway project or two); and the grinding poverty of the locals at the time of the Thomas Cook trip - such a stark contrast to the booming economy of Switzerland of the present day. If you want to learn more about Switzerland then and now, in an interesting, informative and often entertaining way, then we recommend this travelogue to you. You can also pick up Diccon Bewes' first book on Switzlerland Swiss Watching on our site.

And if you fancy following in the footsteps of Miss Jemima Morrell you can do so with Inntravel who have created a self-guided walk from Leukerbad to Lucerne. And general travel in Switzerland can be arranged via the Switzerland Travel Centre

Tina and the TripFiction Team

Do come and join us on Twitter and FacebookHelp us to continue to build the TripFiction website by adding your reviews of books that are set in, and evocative of location, and help build this resource for both actual and armchair travellers.  It's an interesting way of getting to know a place (and also you get to read some pretty good books!)

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Formulaic book covers. A good thing?

How similar are these collated book covers! We want your feedback!

We have come across a lot of book covers as we do our researches for TripFiction and, as you can imagine, there is a vast, unending, creative array. Some are incredibly original, some are functional, some are plain bad (and we will come back to these another time) and some conform to type; it is this latter category that piqued our interest for this blogpost. It happens time and again that books of a certain genre, set in a specific area of the world will be allocated a certain 'type' of cover. We have picked the thriller genre, invariably set in Eastern Europe/Russia or in cold 'noir' Scandinavia - but shouting thriller, horror and more, and it is amazing how many covers do actually conform to stereotype. The covers are grey/black, the colour red appears somewhere in the type, a solitary figure is in black and there is a very clear vanishing point. And lots of snow, always! So, our question for discussion is this: is this lazy cover design, or is this clever marketing? As a potential book buyer will you think "I know what I am buying and therefore I feel safe in my choice and I am in my comfort zone?"; or might you think: "Here's another cover that is just like all the others, formulaic and dull?" Interestingly, the books are all published by different publishers....

We bring together a few covers to get the discussion going and let me tell you, these are the tip of the iceberg....  Let us know your thoughts below, we would be really interested to hear. 

EUROPE/BALKANS Vlado Petric, former detective in war-torn Sarajevo, has left his beloved homeland to join his wife and daughter in Germany, where he scratches a meagre living among the dust of former conflicts on the building sites of the new Berlin.
Returning home one evening, he finds an enigmatic American investigator waiting for him in the small apartment he now shares with his wife and daughter. The investigator, Calvin Pine, works for the International War Crimes Tribunal, and he tells Petric that they want him to go to The Hague. It doesn't take Petric long to accept, especially when Pine tells him they are after a big fish: one of the men who they think is responsible for the terrible massacre of Srebrenica.

RUSSIA 1920. The Red Terror tightens its hold. Kolya has deserted his Red Army unit and returns home to bury his brother and reunite with his wife and sons. But he finds the village silent and empty. The men have been massacred in the forest. The women and children have disappeared.
In this remote, rural Russian community the folk tales mothers tell their children by candlelight take on powerful significance and the terrifying legend of Koschei, The Deathless One, begins to feel very real. Kolya sets out on a journey through dense, haunting forests and across vast plains as bitter winter sets in, in the desperate hope he will find his wife and two boys, and find them alive. But there are very dark things in Kolya's past. And, as he strives to find his family, there's someone or something on his trail...

RUSSIA The Secret Speech performs this tricky balancing act by taking the reader back to 1949, with Leo the unreformed agent of the state, behaving with the callousness he once possessed before his life was turned upside down. We are then taken to the mid-fifties, after the death of Stalin (as cracks begin to show in the totalitarian Soviet State). Khrushchev’s famous denunciation of the Stalin era ushers in significant changes, and Leo Dormidov (along with his wife Raisa and their daughters) are in danger, as the power of the police is undercut – and, in fact, the police are now identified as enemies of the state. This is only one of the dangers that Leo faces: there is now a ruthless enemy on his trail – as ruthless as Leo was himself in the days of his authority and acclaim.

RUSSIA It is 1939. The world stands on the brink of Armageddon. In the Soviet Union, years of revolution, fear and persecution have left the country unprepared to face the onslaught of Nazi Germany. For the coming battles, Stalin has placed his hopes on a 30-ton steel monster, known to its inventors as the T-34 tank, and, the 'Red Coffin' to those men who will soon be using it.

POLAND/SMOLENSK It is winter, 1943. Bernie Gunther has left the Criminal Police and is working for the German War Crimes Bureau based in Berlin. Reports have been circulating of a mass grave hidden in a wood near Smolensk. The grave's whereabouts are uncertain until, deep in the Katyn Forest, a wolf digs up some human remains. Rumour has it that the grave is full of Polish officers murdered by the Russians - a war crime that is perfect propaganda for Germany. But it needs a detective of subtle skill to investigate this horrific discovery. Cue Bernie Gunther...

Saddleworth Moor, UK which always has a link now to the Moors Murders....Cass is building a new life for herself and her young son Ben after the death of her soldier husband Pete, returning to the village where she lived as a child. But their idyllic new home is not what she expected: the other flats are all empty, there's strange graffiti on the walls, and the villagers are a bit odd. And when an unexpectedly heavy snowstorm maroons the village, things get even harder. 
(this book was kindly suggested by Janet Lambert to add to the list)

Sweden, Uppsala When the mutilated body of tropical fish collector John Jonsson is discovered in Uppsala the police are baffled - he may not have been a saint, but who would want to kill him, and in such a brutal way? Inspector Ann Lindell, working the case, is convinced that the killer has been swiftly identified, but then doubts begin to creep in: what if she's wrong? As increasingly sinister events begin to unfold, and Jonsson's family get further involved, Lindell and her team must unravel the complex clues and stop the killer before it's too late.

Sweden Early one morning in the coldest winter in Swedish memory, police detective Malin Fors is called away from the warm flat she shares with her teenage daughter. The naked body of a man has been found hanging from a tree on the deserted, frozen plain outside the town of Link?ping.
From the outset Malin is confronted with a host of unanswered questions: Who is the dead man? How did he end up in a tree? And where did the strange wounds on his body come from?

Oslo The police urgently need Harry Hole
A killer is stalking Oslo's streets. Police officers are being slain at the scenes of crimes they once investigated, but failed to solve. The murders are brutal, the media reaction hysterical. But this time, Harry can't help anyone
For years, detective Harry Hole has been at the centre of every major criminal investigation in Oslo. His dedication to his job and his brilliant insights have saved the lives of countless people. But now, with those he loves most facing terrible danger, Harry can't protect anyone. Least of all himself.

And another one due out May 2014...

USA, Russia, Afghanistan - Agent 6, the third and final outing for the conflicted former MGB officer, brings the trilogy of novels to a resounding climax. Leo’s new civilian life with his wife Raisa and his family has acquired equilibrium, but the USSR and the US are still bitter enemies. A visit to the states by Leo on a diplomatic mission has a tragic outcome, and Leo loses everything.

This one bucks the genre trend for location, but conforms to type: DORSETIn this house there are many secrets… It is 1965 and young Alexandra Crewe obediently marries the man her father has selected for her. But very soon both she and her husband Laurence realize that their marriage is a disaster. When real love finds Alexandra, plucking her out of her unhappy existence, she is powerless to resist. Her home becomes Fort Stirling, a beautiful Dorset castle, but Alexandra fears that there will be a price to pay for this wonderful new life. When tragedy strikes, it seems that her punishment has come, and there is only one way she can atone for her sins . . . In the present day, Delilah Young is the second wife of John Stirling and the new chatelaine of Fort Stirling. The house seems to be a sad one and Delilah hopes to fill it with life and happiness. But when she attempts to heal the heartbreak in John’s life, it seems that the forces of the past might be too strong for her. 

Come and join us for dialogue on Twitter and on Facebook and leave your comments below!

We love to hear from you! And please come and add reviews on the TripFiction website - authors everywhere value reviews and so do we!

Tina and the TripFiction Team

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

RHODE ISLAND and CALCUTTA: Two worlds collide

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri set in Calcutta and Rhode Island

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013

Our review now appears on the new TripFiction Website here

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