One of the perks of being an author is that I get to travel the world scouting for locations for my novels.
Well, kind of.
You see although many people think becoming a published author is a road to riches, the reality is that for most writers it barely covers the cost of an annual bus ticket. Fortunately, however, we now live in an age where I can explore any part of the planet without leaving the comfort of my armchair. The internet, Google Maps and Google Street View mean I can research any location then swoop down to travel down a street, take a bird’s eye view of a scene, spin 360 degrees around my feet – just about anything. And we are only a small step away from full immersion virtual reality becoming affordable – even to authors!
Now of course it would be better to actually visit these places in reality – to get a sense of the people, the smells, the tastes – but last time I tried using my annual bus ticket to get to Moscow the driver of the bus, from just outside my local corner shop, just looked at me and spat on the floor.
The places I have been in my internet travels have been amazing. And after spending weeks researching a place and inhabiting it virtually it really does feel like I have been there. For my latest novel, An Android Awakes, two of the locations I scouted out were the island of Fuerteventura off the coast of Africa and the Teatro Degollado theatre in Mexico.
The island of Fuerteventura was the location used in The Lost Moments of Consciousness which is one of the seventeen stories by the android writer: the fictional artificial intelligent robot that ‘writes’ An Android Awakes. On the island there is a gothic house called Villa Winter. Built in the nineteen-thirties for the German engineer Gustav Winter and rumoured to have been used for secret Nazi experimentation, it was the perfect setting for the story of two welsh astronauts that mysteriously disappear after their voyage to Mars. With a courtyard lined with banana trees and bullet holes and rumours of an underground submarine base, the location had all the ingredients for a James Bond style hideout which was a lot of fun to work with.
The Teatro Degollado theatre features in the second part of The Conspiracy Corrective in An Android Awakes where a Conspiracy Corrective Agent called Terrain hunts down and brutally kills those responsible for spreading conspiracy theories. On the outside of this beautiful building are Corinthian pillars, whilst inside there are crystal chandeliers and an opulent auditorium with balconies ascending towards a great stained glass lamp set into the top of a dome. I almost felt as if I should be in my best suit as I wrote this, although the protagonist Terrain sits in the theatre rather awkwardly dressed in a vintage NASA white spacesuit.
I think one day though when I can upgrade my bus pass after my books have been optioned by Hollywood (sigh – taps his fingers waiting for the breakthrough) – one day I would love to actually visit the places in my novels. Certainly it would take me all over the world from Latvia to Belgium to the city of Dubrovnik, The White House – I’ve been to them all, scouting them out and sending virtual postcards back in the form of the stories in my novels.
Perhaps I’ll approach the BBC and pitch it to them as a programme idea.
You know what? I like that idea.
I’m off to pack my suitcase – I’ll meet Michael Palin at the airport – maybe I’ll buy a novel before boarding to read on the plane.
About The Author: Mike French’s debut novel, The Ascent of Isaac Steward, the first book of the Dandelion Trilogy, was published in 2011 and nominated for a Galaxy National Book Award. The rest of the trilogy, Blue Friday and Convergence, were published by Elsewhen Press in 2012 and 2013, respectively. His latest, launched at The Film & Comic Con Brighton in November last year, is An Android Awakes, which is a hybrid graphic novel and sci-fi novel. For more, check out the website, and follow Mike on Twitter and Goodreads.