Sunday, 1 February 2015

Italy: a country that never was

As part of my research for Ghost Flight I travelled around northern Italy and southern France - travelling solo because the character concerned would be too.

"This is work," I had to keep reminding myself. I had to eat and drink lots of lovely stuff, make notes about the wonderful sights and sounds, and realise half way through the trip that I'd just made a terribly stupid mistake.

Yet it had all seemed so perfectly fine on paper...

My character would travel to Marseille and Toulon, then along the coast to Nice (I decided it wouldn't break the bank if I popped into the Hotel Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais to have a coffee). The last part was a fast getaway on the train across the border to Genoa (or possibly Pisa because, as it happens, Ryanair flies there from Dublin).

So that was my - and my character's - main travel axis: Nice to Genoa, with several important sea ports either side and in between.

After returning to Ireland I happened to be watching The Day of the Jackal for the umpteenth time, as you do, when I suddenly realised:
  1. Edward Fox? Now that was inspired casting! Roger Moore or Michael Caine wouldn't have worked half as well
  2. As film adaptations of blockbuster books go, this one is so smart that you have to keep coming back to it (even though you know the ending of course)
  3. Oh sugar! The Jackal made the very same journey. From Genoa to Nice! And Nice back to Genoa if I remember right! 
Drat. Five vital chapters at the very heart of my draft novel had just been derailed, with many casualties. They needed to be jettisoned.

How could I have been so stupid? Was it a subconscious pull towards these very locations from an old film I love?

So those chapters had to go, despite all that time I'd taken, all those air and rail tickets and restaurant meals, the day trip to the port at Livorno, the sights and sounds of a slow train to Genoa via La Spezia, the four euros for the coffee in the Hotel Negresco, all those snotty looks by the hotel's waiters as I dumped my rucksack on a seat...

I'd been particularly proud of two scenes in a couple of humble Italian restaurants along the way. I took the five chapters aside - metaphorically speaking - brought them to a quiet corner of one of these very same trattorias from my draft novel, and gave them the worst: "Sorry lads, I know, I know. It's my f*** up but you'll all have to go."

So basically that's what I did. Killed people, crashed planes, faked passports, picked locks, eliminating whole chapters and an entire country with the cold ruthlessness of a paid assassin. Ah well...