Ten years after his daughter Justine’s death, an anxious Fergus embarks on a cruise with his wife. On board, he meets a myriad of characters and is entranced by some, irritated by others and disgusted by one. These turbulent feelings, combined with a sequence of bizarre events, only lead to his increased anxiety.
In a series of flashbacks, Justine enjoys an ultimately short romance, a woman concludes she killed her and an investigating police officer is drawn into her idyllic world. Fergus, haunted by poignant memories, withdraws in search of answers.
Back on the cruise, Fergus reaches breaking point, fearing he has done something terrible. By the time the ship returns, his world has changed forever.
“Times and Places” spans Atlantic islands, the Chiltern countryside, Cornish coasts and rural Slovenia, all of which provide spectacular backdrops to a humorous and moving tale of quiet spirituality.
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GUEST POST FROM THE AUTHOR!!
Setting a novel on a cruise ship
How can you find a setting for your novel where your character meets colourful people and visits evocative locations? Answer: set it on a cruise! I cheated further and only placed mine on the ship in alternate chapters, with the rest of the book flashbacks and forwards to other “times and places”, such as the Isles of Scilly, Slovenia and the Chilterns. Nevertheless, half my novel is at sea.
We take cruises for different reasons, in the case of Fergus (my protagonist) and his wife, Sylvie, they hope to recharge their spirits on deck, gazing across a beautiful ocean. They are bemused by the countless activities on offer indoors: from simply lounging in the ship’s pub until the next oversized meal, to bingo, quizzes, dance classes, even presentations by a guest criminologist on the likes of “rigor mortis and the science of body decomposition”. They half wish they too could enjoy such activities, but know these are not for them, even foregoing the endless line of passengers waiting to shake the Captain’s hand at the Welcome Party, in favour of a quiet nightcap in a mellow atmosphered bar.
Amongst the passengers they meet are a kindly old couple who repeatedly mistake Fergus for a cleric, an urbane former diplomat and his wife with whom, against his expectations, Fergus gets on rather well, and Mrs Huffington, an elderly widow whom Fergus repeatedly runs into and from whom he receives knowing lectures, occasional wisdom and, at one stage, a poignant gift. Others however grate: three raucous young men who lounge endlessly in the spa bath, whom Sylvie nicknames “the three caballeros”, and one loudly dominant woman two tables away from them at dinner, who begins to fray Fergus’ nerves.
In the main, the staff are consummate professionals, from their maid who perfectly makes up and turns back down their two beds (and twenty eight others) each day, to the homesick waitress serving them coffee and the waiter who counts down the near endless meals to be served before his own holiday. They “transcend their roles through grace and good humour, despite working far from home”. Fergus worries at the hours they work and feels uncomfortable that the passengers are all white but the crew invariably not, the only exceptions being the genial Captain, his officers and the Show Troupe, to two of whom Fergus feels drawn: a dancer who reminds him of the daughter he lost, and a wistful singer who appears hauntingly sad.
The cruise ship is therefore a microcosm of the world and the cruise company itself ripe for satire, providing idyllic holidays but very much a business, selling to passengers at every opportunity. The smile of the “professionally jolly” cruise hostess, one suspects, drops with the curtain. Communications are poor, conjuring up nonsense excuses for skipping ports and cancelling tours, to the extent that when, on a calm day, an announcement forewarns passengers that the engines will shortly be shut off to perform tests, Fergus frets that really there is an engine room conflagration and misses the idyllic minutes his calmer wife spends drifting on the sparkling Atlantic.
Fergus develops insomnia and finds himself wandering the ship at night. Lounges, decks and bars, crowded in the daytime, are now deserted, the Atlantic is black and inky, the ship’s corridors long and spooky. Fergus is fascinated by this eerie atmosphere (accompanied by strange creeks and groans unheard in the day) but is also a little scared.
Including a cruise in a novel opens the world, allowing authors to visit wherever they like, in my case the sub-tropical islands of the Azores, Cape Verde, the Canaries and Madeira. I take readers on tours beneath palm trees and a hot sun, to giddying vistas and exotic beaches, and we meet and are sometimes touched by the local people who, despite Fergus and Sylvie’s wariness, often show kindness or quiet humility. Visiting one church in Praia both:
“felt humbled by the local men and women who came in and genuflected before the ornate statues, spending a few moments in silent prayer, before slipping out again into the bright sunshine and their anonymous Cape Verdean lives”.
As a setting for a novel, a cruise therefore traps your protagonist in company they would not normally choose, with surprising results, and allows them to visit exotic locations, opening up opportunities for beauty, humour and satire, but also for tension… all the author has to do is weave the plot.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keith was born and brought up in the Chilterns, to where he returned after studying French at university in Aberystwyth and a subsequent spell living in west London. He has a love of nature, both in his native Buckinghamshire countryside, but also in Cornwall and wherever there is a wild sea.
Keith has been lucky enough to spend time living in France, Spain, Belgium, Serbia and Croatia, as well as being a regular visitor to Germany, and languages were the only thing he was ever half good at in school. Since graduating he has worked in government departments, but between 2005 and 2008 he was seconded to the European Commission in Brussels and, thanks to a friend from Ljubljana he met there, has travelled regularly to Slovenia, getting to know that country well.
Keith’s other great love is music and he plays classical and finger picking blues guitar, though with persistently limited success. He has always enjoyed writing, including attempts at children’s fiction, and in 2016 he began work on his first full book with “Times and Places” the end result: an accessible, observational story, mixing quiet spirituality with humour, pathos and gothic horror, and setting it against a rich backdrop of the natural world.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/KeithAnthonyWS
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