I have made no secret of the fact that places are very important to me. They were the inspiration for my very first books, and still inspire my stories.
I mostly write about real places, and love to visit them. Usually, I will have been there before and have felt something special there which makes me want to enshrine them in a book.
But I also love travelling for holidays too. I’m no good at lying on a beach or sitting by a pool reading a book. I want to see things, to fill my memory with new experiences, new places. So we mostly go on sightseeing holidays, usually with an historical or archaeological interest. I am not intending to write a book about these places, but you never know. Once places exert their hold on your imagination, anything can happen.
This year took us to the Lycian coast of south-west Turkey, to see ancient Christian sites. We started with Myra, where St Nicholas was once bishop. He is said to have secretly given dowries to enable poor girls to marry and is thought to be the origin of the present-giving Santa Claus. Is it OK to say that I have seen Santa Claus’s tomb?
A highlight of our tour was the fabulous city of Ephesus. A huge complex has been excavated, but is only 5% of the whole. You can see the great open-air theatre where Paul provoked a riot of the silversmiths. He preached the faith of Christ, which meant abandoning the worship of the goddess of prosperity Artemis, of whom the silversmiths sold countless images.
Ephesus is also said to be the town where John the Evangelist took the Virgin Mary, following Jesus’s request on the cross that these two should henceforth be as mother and son. There is the Church of Mary, which hosted the Ecumenical Council of 431 and nearby the Church of St John, with a tomb in the centre which is said to be that of John the Evangelist.
You can still see public baths, communal lavatories, and recently-excavated opulent town houses, with their own bath suites, marble banqueting hall and rooms decorated with frescoes. It all brings to life this teeming, affluent, cosmopolitan sea port to which the early apostles came.
Then it was up into the hills to the fabulous limestone terraces of Pamukkale, like a petrified wedding cake. We swam in the hotel’s natural thermal pools and attended a ceremony of whirling dervishes. They dress in tall hats, symbolising the tombstone of the ego, and white skirts for its shroud. Each stage of the dance is preceded by a sacred reading. They dance out the journey of the soul towards wisdom and truth, and then back into the present world, to serve those of every race and faith. It’s a sacred ceremony, and photography was not allowed. But when it was over some of the monks came back and danced again, without the religious readings, so that we could take photographs.
On a previous trip we had gone up to the hilltop ruins of Laodicea nearby. St John the Divine reproached the church there that they are “neither cold nor hot”. This comes to vivid life and you stand amongst its fallen stones and look out across the valley to Hieropolis on the hill opposite, with its hot springs where Cleopatra bathed, and then the other way to the ice-cold river that comes flowing down from the snows of the Taurus Mountains.
Travel nourishes the imagination in ways which may produce results we cannot guess.
Fay Sampson (UK) is a writer of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction, including A MALIGNANT HOUSE, #2 in the Susie Fewings series, a British Crime Club Pick.