Although I’ve lived in the same cottage in a quiet corner of the Cotswolds for thirty years, I’m better travelled than this statement might suggest.
- By the age of 9, I’d made a road trip with my family across the USA from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, visiting more states than many US citizens.
- Before I left school, I was a seasoned pan-European solo traveller by train and plane, flitting between Frankfurt, where I lived aged 14-18, to England and the Netherlands to visit family and friends.
- By the time I was 40, my career in journalism and PR had paid me to travel to many European cities and to join conventions in Hong Kong and on a Caribbean cruise ship.
- Since 2000, I’ve spent many holidays Greek island-hopping in the small sailing yacht in which we owned a small share (more affordable than it sounds – just £3k!) or touring Scotland and northern mainland Europe in our camper van.
Reading to Travel
While my wanderlust has abated as I’ve got older and have fewer places left on my bucket list, I still like to “travel by book”, reading about distant lands, whether in fiction in the form of novels and short stories or in non-fiction via travelogues and memoirs.
I enjoy revisiting places I’ve been and which I love (eg to the Scottish Highlands and Islands in Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore), and I also welcome the chance to virtually visit countries I’m never likely to reach in person (eg to Iceland with Bjorn Larssen in Storytellers)- such as anywhere that is host to venomous snakes! While not a habitual reader of fantasy, I’ve also had some pleasurable trips to places that are the stuff of myth, from Homer’s Odyssey to Lucienne Boyce’s To the Fair Land.
While so many of us face continuing travel restrictions, I thought it would be fun this year to make the theme of the monthly guest posts on my blog “Travels with my Books”, interviewing author friends all around the world about the settings of their books.
First Stop: Fiji!
I’m delighted to begin the series with about as distant a destination as possible from my English village home: Fiji, in the company of B M Allsopp (Bernadette).
I first discovered her compelling and colourful Fiji Islands Mysteries when Bernadette emailed me out of the blue to offer a review copy, having discovered my English village mysteries on the internet. Despite the distance, and although we’re unlikely ever to meet in person, we have become firm friends. I so enjoyed the chance her first book, Death on Paradise Island, gave me to learn about Fiji through the first adventure of her Inspector Josefa Horseman and his sidekick Sergeant Singh that I’ve now read all of her books and eagerly anticipate new additions to her series.
I hope my conversation with Bernadette will encourage you to take a virtual trip to Fiji too. Join her mailing list at www.bmallsopp.com and you can even get two free books to sample her work!
Hi Bernardette and welcome to my blog. Can we please kick off by pinpointing your books’ setting on the globe?
Spin your globe to the vast blue segment of the Pacific Ocean. Trace down the 180-degree meridian to south of the equator and you’ll find Fiji above the Tropic of Capricorn. You’ll notice the International Date Line diverts east from the meridian here, so that Fiji, some other islands, New Zealand and part of the Russian Far East are in the same time zone. The sun truly rises in Fiji first!
What a neat claim! Next, can you please give a nutshell summary of your books?
My Fiji Islands Mysteries are police procedurals featuring Inspector Joe Horseman, washed-up Fiji rugby star, and Sergeant Susila Singh, a driven woman defying the odds. Their partnership grows as they strive for justice in their fragile paradise.
What makes Fiji such a great setting for your stories?
My stories wouldn’t exist without Fiji because they have sprung from my own experiences there. As a huge fan of exotic crime fiction, I aim to give readers the same sense of discovery that I enjoy with authors like Alexander McCall Smith (No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series set in Botswana).
What is your relationship with Fiji, and how much of your life have you spent there?
I lived in the South Pacific islands for 14 years, including four in Fiji, where I taught at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. I love Fiji!
What is special about the people native to Fiji?
The first settlers were unsurpassed navigators who arrived around 3,500 years ago from islands to the west, perhaps from as far as New Guinea. Indigenous Fijians now comprise 58% of the population and own most of the land through a traditional hierarchy of hereditary chiefs. Fijians are courteous and dignified while also vital, smiling and friendly. Renowned in the nineteenth century for the quality of their boats and houses, many traditional skills still thrive, as do elaborate ceremonials surrounding the chiefs.
Does your protagonist or other characters come from Fiji?
My main series characters are Fijians from different ethnic backgrounds. The only foreign series character is the Australian pathologist, Dr Matt Young, who has lived in Fiji for over 20 years. His late wife was Fijian and he considers Fiji his home.
What are the distinguishing features of Fiji in terms of geography, geology, flora, fauna or any other detail you care to mention?
Most of Fiji’s 320 or so islands are of volcanic origin and fringed by coral reefs. The biggest four islands have rugged mountains and support rainforest, grassland and wetland habitats for diverse plants and animal species. Although native mammals are restricted to just four kinds of bats, a number of beautiful birds, reptiles and plants are found only in Fiji. Of these, the red shining parrot and the crested iguana feature in my first book, Death on Paradise Island.
What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to the setting of your book?
As Fiji is economically dependent on tourism, the people are suffering terribly from the current Covid-19 travel restrictions. When the world opens up again, why not escape to these glorious islands? Here are my top tips for when you do!
- Unless you thrive on hot and very humid weather, I recommend the months from April to October, when the temperatures are moderate, cool breezes blow and the risk of storms and cyclones is small.
- Fiji offers much more than sand and coconut palms. You can gently snorkel over a dazzling coral reef, visit a rural village school, scuba dive with feasome sharks, play golf… and much more.
- Don’t spend all you time in one of the big international hotels, lovely though they are. If you hate backpacker beach huts, there are 5-star boutique island getaways where you’ll experience traditional culture and still luxuriate.
- Don’t hesitate to chat to the locals. Wherever you go, Fijians will always be welcoming and wonderfully friendly.
“Only in Fiji” – name three things that could only exist/happen there.
- Uniformed police officers direct traffic wearing a starched white skirt (sulu) with a saw-tooth hem. The dress uniform of the Fiji Military Forces is similar.
- The whole country stops when the Fiji rugby team is playing an international game. Except on remote islands with no TV or Internet reception, the entire population is glued to a screen.
- Fijians readily acknowledge their ancestors were feared cannibals not so long ago. They are not at all embarrassed to talk about such customs but are very thankful times have changed.
Where is your latest book set?
Death Beyond the Limit, the third in the series, is set in Fiji’s capital of Suva, the beautiful mountainous island of Ovalau and at sea.
Where will your next book be set?
Fiji – the precise location is still a mystery.
Thank you so much for that lightning introduction to Fiji, Bernadette, and thanks also for kindly allowing me to share the following extracts from your books for a further taste of Fiji.
Start Your Journey to Fiji Here!
The Prologue from Death on Paradise Island
A crested tern swooped down to the edge of the fringing reef, attracted by the flutter of white in the water lapping the exposed coral. But the tern flew away disappointed, for this was no fish, just a scrap of cloth. The cloth was torn from the uniform worn by all the Paradise Island staff for the marine reserve celebrations: tailored white tunic patterned with black coconut palms and rugby balls, worn with a black sulu, the Fijian wraparound skirt.
If the tern investigated the white flapping further, it would find the cloth scrap still partly attached to the tunic and the girl wearing it. She had washed in from the sea and was caught by the jagged shelf below the coral overhang. The delicate coral was merciless, abrading her golden-brown skin as the waves tossed her back and forth until the tide retreated.
So it was a small hermit crab who first discovered the dead body of Akanisi Leletaku, who had so proudly arranged the floral decorations for the festivities. The crab picked its way over her uniform and scuttled into her open mouth, where it began to feed on the soft tissue.
© B M Allsopp 2021
Detective Horseman tells the story behind his name – Death on Paradise Island
‘But I like my ancestor’s story better. Legend has it that he was a survivor of a ship wrecked on a reef off Vanua Levu. A few men managed to get ashore, where they were clubbed and prepared for the ovens.’ He paused, trying to gauge if they were really interested.
‘Come on! Truly? I’m sure all those cannibal stories are highly exaggerated for ghoulish tourists,’ McKenzie protested, ever the diplomatic host.
Horseman glanced at Adi Litia, who calmly replied, ‘Not at all, Ian. The victors ate all the enemy killed in battle, for a start. The chiefs’ cooks roasted anyone put to death for offending the law or the chief too. There were even raiding parties whose main purpose was to bring back meat. All Fijians praise God for sending the brave Christian missionaries to deliver us from those evils.’ She put a forkful of rare steak into her mouth and chewed it with strong white teeth.
McKenzie subsided into a stunned silence.
Horseman went on. ‘My ancestor clung to some timber and washed up in a different bay. He came to on the beach as he was being nuzzled by a horse, part of his ship’s cargo. The club-wielding warriors were keeping their distance, terrified. You’ve got to remember, none of them had ever seen a land animal bigger than a pig.
‘The chief’s men reported the wreck to him, and he came along to inspect the flotsam and jetsam for himself. It was true love at first sight. The chief would have given anything for the horse—guns, war canoes, slaves, women—anything and everything. My ancestor sensed the chief’s desire and stayed close to the horse for protection. He stroked and soothed the traumatised animal, and kept repeating the word Horse, trying to placate the Fijians. Desperate to convince the chief of his value, he climbed on the horse’s back and showed off his riding skills before the gob-smacked Fijians. Up and down the beach. Bareback. Trotting, galloping, wheeling and rearing. Impressive.
‘The upshot was my ancestor became the chief’s horseman, groom and riding instructor. He was given a house and at least one wife, and lived long enough to have several children. Only one son had children himself, and he adopted his father’s title as a surname, which has been passed down in the European way until today.’
‘Are you sure you’re not making this up?’ asked Pat McKenzie, suspiciously. Another glare from her husband.
‘No, but it might have been made up a long time ago. Who knows now? Six generations have passed since then. But we’re here, and my ancestor’s word for the animal was horse, so I guess he was from Britain, Ireland or America.’
‘The first horse in Fiji—a fabulous story.’ McKenzie spoke softly, awed.
Adi Litia laughed. ‘Fijians believe it. I hope it’s true.’
‘There are a lot of us now, and we’re officially classified in Fiji as kailoma, part-European. The leaves on my branch are mostly Fijians, so I look Fijian. I’ve cousins in Australia who look completely European. We’re all Horsemans, though. Or should it be Horsemen? Our clan can never agree on that, especially the women.’
© B M Allsopp 2021
Inspector Horseman arrives at Tanoa village, where a man has been murdered – Death By Tradition
Mist shrouded the river, thinning as it rose to the hilltops. The hazy river bank opposite curved to the point where the bridge crossed.
To the right stood clusters of houses and a church. Further up the slope was a terrace with a school and a grassed rectangle with bamboo posts at either end. This would be the rara, the ceremonial space that in small villages doubled as a rugby field, both functions equally vital. Here and there were washing lines and small sheds. At the beach below the bridge, women washed clothes, slapping them rhythmically on the smooth river stones. Others tended fish traps, watched closely by a couple of thin dogs. A typical backblocks village—picturesque, placid, dull. But this one harboured an unusual and dangerous killer.
To the left of the bridge, the land rose steeply to a high outcrop of rock, a near-vertical cliff. The stone at the top had been shaped, maybe boulders hauled up to increase the height. Horseman recognised the ruins of a precolonial hill fort. His hackles rose as he gazed through the mists of time at bloody battle scenes. Rough battlements would have protected the Tanoa defenders hurling spears, shooting arrows, throwing missiles with deadly accuracy. What better site to spot attackers from down river? What better site from which to repel them?
© B M Allsopp 2021
For More Information & Free Books
To find out more about B M Allsopp and her Fiji Island Mysteries, visit her website at www.bmallsopp.com. Her website also includes a gallery of beautiful photos of Fiji and a section of useful resources.
If you join her mailing list at www.bmallsopp.com, you can even get two free ebooks!
Next month: join Helen Hollick for a piratical journey around the Caribbean!
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