Okay, I’m a purist. If a story isn’t factually accurate, it doesn’t fly with me – except maybe against the nearest wall. I can take a little fudging, especially when the actual facts aren’t known, but egregious transgressions against time and custom and known facts make me livid. That means I do a lot of research.
All too many times research means a lot of dry swotting in libraries (preferred) or on the internet (oftimes unreliable), but occasionally the gods smile and I get to go and do. Like in March of this year.
My dear friend Dr. Dirk Huyge, who was such a help when I was writing THE EGYPTIAN FILE, is Director of the Belgian Archaeological Mission to El Kab. We joked about setting a murder mystery in the dig house, which is reputed to be haunted by its builder, Somers Clarke. Not surprising, since his grave is in the courtyard. Then he asked me and The Husband to come visit, so we could actually see the dig house to make the book realistic.
Civilians are NEVER invited to stay at dig houses. To allow us to come, Dirk had to get permissions from the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo and the Aswan Governate, which he did, so on a few weeks’ notice we were off to Egypt. (It will take a long time for our budget to recover, but we simply could not decline!)
Staying at the dig house was wonderful. The crew there were incredible. Scholars all, most with an alphabet soup of degrees after their names, they all but fell over themselves to answer my questions and suggest ideas. (Thank you, Stan Hendrickx, for coming up with the perfect murder weapon!) All this was heady stuff for a simple scribbler of novels whose only degree is a DHW with an HSD. (In case you didn’t know, that means Dallas HouseWife with a High School Diploma.)
We were given permission to go about on the dig site itself (a huge place as big as many, many soccer fields) and Dirk took a day to drive us to places back in the desert that tourists never get to see. One that sticks in my mind is a plain little stone building in the middle of nowhere, but which in ancient times sat on a way of sacred pilgrimage. Outside it looked like nothing, but inside was a nearly perfect jewel box of a temple to Amenhotep III, the paint still bright after three and a half thousand years. Another place we stopped that day was an enormous rock – also in the middle of nowhere – covered with rock art thousands of years old. Sadly, pieces of it had been chipped away, presumably for sale to unscrupulous buyers. There just isn’t enough money to protect these all Egypt’s national treasures, and there is a low class of humans who will steal their heritage and history to sell for a small amount of money.
After our all-too-short stay at the dig house was over, during which I actually started writing on A KILLING AT EL KAB, The Husband and I went to Luxor where we rented a luxury holiday flat on the West Bank from my beloved friend Jane Akshar (flatsinluxor.co.uk). Three bedrooms, two baths, lounge, dining room, kitchen (in which I made tea and nothing else) and a glorious balcony overlooking the Gurnah Hills, where Deir el Bahri and the Valley of the Kings are. We are not wealthy people, and I must tell you that all this cost just about the same per day as a standard hotel room in a mid-star hotel on the East Bank.
One of the benefits of traveling on your own is you can do exactly what you want. We spent days at the temples of Karnak and Luxor, most of a day in the Luxor Museum and several days just prowling the town. We did a sunset cruise on the Nile. We were fortunate enough to be invited to Jane’s birthday party, where her husband arranged Sufi dancers to entertain – not the famed Whirling Dervishes, but an esoteric and seldom-performed ancient war dance. We were the only non-residents of Luxor there and no one had ever seen this kind of performance. Since we’ve both toured the Valley of the Kings several times each, we didn’t go there, but spent most of a day at Hatshepsut’s temple Deir el Bahri, or Djeser Djeseru as it was known in ancient times. We had tea at the famed Winter Palace Hotel. Every Egyptian we met was wonderful, from the street vendors to the dig house staff to the museum staff.
Every bit of it counts as research, and it has all paid out. A KILLING AT EL KAB is going very well, so well I hope to be finished with it in a couple of months and have it out by the end of the year. I also believe in paying back; a quarter of the proceeds of this book will go to the restoration fund for the dig house. An architectural marvel, it is registered with the Ministry of Antiquities as a national monument and has been submitted to the World Monuments Fund for inclusion of the Watch List of Endangered Sites. I am proud to have been allowed to visit it.
(all photographs ©Janis Susan May Patterson 2015)
Sounds like y’all had a GREAT stay! Egypt is on our “Bucket” List! Maybe one day!
Linda, now is the perfect time to go – or maybe in the fall, when the temps are less. Summer can be brutal! Right now there aren’t many tourists, the monuments aren’t crowded and the prices are low. The Egyptian people are always sweet and wonderful. When you decide to go, contact me and I’ll give you what information I have.
I am lime GREEN with envy! Wonderful pics!
Very cool trip! And your photos are wonderful! I love visiting new places and learning of their history. My sixth grade students study ancient Egypt in their social studies class, and as their reading teacher, I read a book called Children of the Lamp with them. It’s a fantasy story, but a good part of it takes place in Egypt and includes some Egyptian culture and history.
Sounds like fate intervened and you were able to do a dream trip. The pictures are great and it all ends up in a story. I understand the pull to see the area where the story takes place as I’m doing a trip for that very reason. Looking forward to the new book.
Beautiful pictures, Janice. In 2010 I went on a Nile Cruise to research for my historical fantasy, Osiris’ Missing Part. We visited Louxor and Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, the colossus of Memnon, Hatshepsut temple, the temple of Seth in Kom Ombo, the temple of Isis in the island of Philae. Both of these characters are in my book. And then we continued to Aswan and later to go to Abu Simble which was incredible. A memorable trip. So glad you enjoyed yours.
What an incredible trip! Love the pictures. Next time you go to Eqypt, please take me with you. I’ll carry your bags, make your tea, saddle your camel, anything you need.
Thank you for posting these wonderful pictures. How lucky you are to have had this adventure. I’d love to visit.
I loved this post! What beautiful pictures. Can’t wait for the book!
WOW! Lovely photos. Thank you. Marlys
Great photos! Research via travel is a wonderful way to collect authentic info.
I’ve been wanting to visit Egypt for years and the photos and description of your trip have just about pushed me over the edge. Got to talk to that travel agent soon!
Great post, Janis.
Great photos, fascinating trip! Must go someday!
What a fabulous trip. Thanks for taking us along. And loved the pictures.
Stunning pictures. And as someone who has devoured every Elizabeth Peters mystery, several times, the place names you mention sound like old friends. I can’t wait until your novel is released!! 🙂
What a wonderful adventure – thanks for letting us travel along! I’m looking forward to the book.
Great post. What an opportunity for research. And the images were stunning.
Susie, A trip of a lifetime. An adventure only experienced by a rare few. The kind of trip I like to take. Maybe you are the person to write the “perfect ancient Egyptian novel”. I must read this one about El Kab. Your wit and imagination will make it wonderful.
Dawn, thanks for the compliment. Coming from an accomplished artist like you, it really means something.
AJ, I’m so glad you’re teaching Ancient Egypt to the children. It’s a magical world.
BA, thanks for writing. Research is fun, isn’t it?
Mona, we love the same places. We spent 2 days in Karnak alone. I am so jealous about Abu Simbel – I’ve never been there.
Earl, I’d love to take you with me, but don’t think it would set well with The Husband!
Stephanie JM and Marlys – thanks for the kind words. It was a wonderful trip, and I’m glad you liked my snapshots.
Jacqueline, thanks so much for coming by. I always appreciate your comments.
Allen, now (or maybe fall, when it’s cooler) is the perfect time to go.
Dee and Triss, thanks so much for writing – I appreciate your comments.
Luana, I too love Elizabeth Peters (and am speaking on her at the Historical Novel Society in June) and one of the most memorable moments of my life was when someone said if they liked Elizabeth Peters they would like my book THE EGYPTIAN FILE. It took me weeks to come down!
Cheryl and Helen, thank you for the nice comments.
Greg! The Husband and I were talking about you just yesterday. Great minds? Anyway, thanks for the kind words. It was a simply splendid trip, and the book is going well. (And you are most defintely a flatterer!)
Janis, I loved the photos! I love to travel with The Husband also…it’s so fun to share the experience with our other “halves” 😛