Sunday, February 26, 2017

Above the Clouds: Writing in Bulgaria

At long last, the new book has reached its final stages and the action has moved from the deserts of Iraq and Jordan to the icy mountains of Bulgaria. To the ski resort of Borovets, to be precise, which is 1350 metres (4430 feet) above sea level in the Rila Mountains, about 73 kilometres (45 miles) southeast of the capital, Sofia.

I was there about three or four years ago and took a load of pictures precisely so I had a feel and a flavour of the place for when I reached this stage of writing. It’s been very useful to look back over them now.

Take this shot, for instance, up a mountain in Borovets. I’d completely forgotten that, at somewhere around 7700 feet, for quite a lot of the time you were above the clouds, it was like looking down on a misty ocean.

In fact, the highest I went was 2369 metres (7772 feet). The highest peak locally was Mount Musala at 2925 metres (9600 feet).

The only way up is to take the gondola lift. I think the 1315m is the distance up it travels.

You certainly get the most amazing view as you slowly crank your way upwards. Not quite as much snow on the trees this far up, though – there had been too much sunshine that winter.

Down in the resort itself, though, there was the icing sugar coating effect on the trees, which was a beautiful sight.

Despite Borovets reputation as the booziest place to ski in Europe, there were plenty of entertainments for smaller visitors, like this mini dog-sled ride …

… or varying sizes of very small pony. I wasn’t quite sure about the handlebars and the horn, though.

pic from

And for the grown-ups, there was also the sleazier side to Borovets. Bars and the occasional strip club line the main street.

Hog roast is a traditional dish, and most of the restaurants had an outside spit going.

Also to keep the grown-ups happy were night snowmobile rides through the forest, which was an amazing experience and gave me all kinds of ideas.

As did some of the very unusual ‘souvenirs’ on offer in one of the local stores. Didn’t think I’d get any of this lot back to the UK on a plane. Not as carryon, anyway.

Outside the resort, the architecture had a very Soviet feel to it, like this apartment block on the outskirts of Sofia.

But elsewhere there were old tsarist palaces and places like this royal hunting lodge, the style and layout of which I have borrowed for plot purposes.

And I’ve also mixed in the location of this fortress at Veliko Tarnovo. That’s the nice thing about creating your own world, you can take reality and mess with it just enough to keep things believable. After all, we’re trying for realistic, rather than real.

This week’s Word of the Week is actually a list of words connected with snow, courtesy of the Encyclopedia Arctica from Dartmouth College Library:

Anniu – snow intended for melting into water for drinking or cooking

Apun – snow that’s been lying on the ground long enough that it can be cut into building blocks

Ballycadders – ice formed from salt-water along the shore at different levels depending on the state of the tide

Calf – a piece of ice that’s broken away from the front of a glacier or iceberg

Canopying – interlocking flakes of snow

Congelifraction – the shattering or splitting of rock due to the action of frost

Corn snow – grainy snow formed by cycles of freezing and thawing

Debacle – the break-up of ice in rivers in springtime

Duff – organic matter covering the ground in a forest, such as dead leaves, which helps preserve permafrost

Firnification – the process by which new snow becomes hard-packed glacial ice

Fonn – eternal snow


  1. Zoe, I cannot wait to read this book and find out what gorgeous and terrifying adventures you have in store for us. I had no idea this place existed. Thank you for taking me there with your words.

    1. Thanks, Annamaria. Bulgaria is fascinating, and I wanted to set a piece of the latest book there so I could relive the experience.

  2. Wow! Putting this on my list of places to visit. Thanks, Zoe!

    1. You're welcome, Lisa. Great skiing and not wildly expensive. What's not to like?

  3. Y've got m'shiverin' in m'timbers, Zoë. I'm ready for SPRING!

    1. Sorry, EvKa, it seems that Punxutawney Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter ...

  4. Well I do say 'Ballycadders to that!' I am going to use that as my polite swear word from now on.

    1. Sounds as thought it should be Scottish, doesn't it ...?

  5. I'm memorizing your words of the week so when I head off to Borovets I'll feel right at home in the firnification part of town making apun here and there without getting knocked on my duff by one of the local ballycadders.

    1. Bravo, Jeff, although I'm sure you could have squeezed a few more of those in if you'd really tried ...

    2. It was late, and I had to help the Oscar folks get the right award announcements into the correct hands.