~ By Samantha Tonge
My current romantic comedy, Game of Scones, is set in Greece and another of my books, From Paris With Love is set in the French Capital. I have a passion for writing about food – but also love setting my stories in exotic locations. I’ve mulled this over, and think my interest in unfamiliar surroundings comes from my childhood, when I visited most of Europe, including Scandinavia, and also went to Florida.
I was lucky. My parents were super- adventurous for the seventies, and would plan budget holidays abroad, just taking the car, a tent and a compass. Or we would simply cross the channel, Dad would ask us to stick our finger anywhere on the map, and off we would head, relying on small motels. One night we parked by a haystack and slept in the car! We visited scorching Spain and Italy, and flatter Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Next, the very different Denmark and Norway. We enjoyed countless lovely holidays in the South of France and I have strong underwater memories of snorkling. By not staying in fancy hotels, we really got a taste for the local customs, culinary fayre, and people, some of whom have kept in touch with my parents after almost forty years. Friendships for forged and good times had. I’ll be eternally grateful to my mum and dad for opening my eyes to a part of what the world has to offer.
And these holidays led to my interest in speaking foreign languages. I studied French and German at university, and was lucky enough to live for six months in romantic Paris and six months in picturesque Bavaria. Working as a translator has certainly helped me pay attention when editing the sentences my novels now! I look back on those carefree, exciting days with great fondness.
I am fascinated by different peoples’ customs. Last year I went on a dream trip to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, and am sure, at some point, this will produce a novel. Such polite people. Such exquisite temples. Such scenic mountains. And the stunningly presented food! The incomprehensible language! The traditional Kimono clothes! The wacky television! Can anything in this world be more stimulating for an artist, than indulging their senses in the different experiences outside of their comfort zone? Um, not that I was brave enough to try the Sushi!
So travelling has heavily influenced my writing, when it comes to setting, characters and subjects I want to share with the other people. Of course, readers can be taken on journeys in books with the most familiar, usual setting – one of my Christmas books, Mistletoe Mansion, is set in the town I grew up in. But writing about an environment dissimilar to my own makes the whole process for me, the author, I don’t know, in a way more exhilarating. I had huge fun writing my debut book, Doubting Abbey, which is set in a stately home. The research was a real eye-opener as I didn’t know much about just how hard it can be for aristocratic families to maintain these buildings nowadays.
I guess that’s another reason why I love writing about different environments. The research process expands your knowledge and widens your mind. My next book is a standalone sequel to Game of Scones, and involves a Greek wedding. It’s been fascinating learning all the different traditions and rituals for a Greek Orthodox ceremony, compared to the Church of England’s.
So, if you’re a writer, why not consider setting your next novel somewhere a bit more exotic? Or at least book a trip abroad – say it is necessary for, um, *coughs* professional reasons!
Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire, England, with her lovely family and two cats who think they are dogs. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Samantha loves writing about food and Mistletoe Mansion is for fans of cupcakes! Game of Scones is out now. Its standalone sequel, My Big Fat Christmas Wedding will be out in November 2015.