I’m sure I’m not the only writer who suffers from the winter blues. In some ways, I suppose it’s the perfect frame of mind to write a story that is, in places, as dark and harsh as the weather.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the section I’m writing at the moment is set in Jordan, in merciless sunshine and 40-plus-degree heat. Hot countries provoke a different way of looking at things, and a very different way of life, to temperate climates like the UK. Can't imagine the Romans built many open-air amphitheatres while they were here.
Our weather here can be rather wishy-washy. Warm-ish in the summer, cold-ish in the winter, any extremes invariably take us – and our infrastructure – completely by surprise.
Not that they don’t experience occasional freak weather in Jordan. When I was last there I remember tales of tourists being snowed-in to the town of Petra, home of the famous ancient Rose City, and being taken in by local residents for over a week until the roads could be cleared.
And in the desert at Wadi Rum, temperatures at night dropped surprisingly low. Sleeping out under the stars, I was thankful I packed my foil hypothermia blanket, after reading about the experiences of British soldiers in the Iraqi desert during the Gulf War.
When I came to setting part of my story in Jordan, I wanted to get across as much flavour of the place as I could, without turning it into regurgitation of a guidebook.
I chose Madaba as one of the places I wanted to use. Known as the Mosaic City, it boasts some of the finest ancient mosaic art, and is home to many present-day artisans.
I spent a little time in Madaba and had pictures of the streets lined with gift stores, could still smell the hookah pipes and hear the amplified voices of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.
I remember, too, being saddened by the amount of litter everywhere.
And surprised by the half-finished buildings, with rebar sticking out of upper storeys. This, I was told, was so that the owner could put off paying tax on the property as it was still under construction.
Yes, there were camels.
Gracious, rather dignified animals with incredible eyelashes and solemn expressions, who only made noise when they were disturbed, and then sounded exactly like Chewbacca from the Star Wars movies.
Not sure I have call for camels in this story, except to mention them as part of the landscape. I don’t see Charlie Fox giving chase on a ship of the desert, though.
Maybe next time …
This week’s Word of the Week is wayzgoose, which was a holiday given by a master printer to his workforce around the time of St Bartholemew’s Day in late August. It usually marked the end of the summer and the beginning of working by candlelight. There have been suggestions that the word originated because the master printer would give his people a feast, at which would be served a goose fattened on the stubble fields after the harvest – wayz being a bundle of stubble or straw. So, in modern parlance, if your computer printer isn’t working, it’s wayzgoosed!