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Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Aurora Borealis from the Clarendon Hotel, Quebec and much more...

Bonhomme   Tristesse   l'Amour  Malhomme Cirque du Soleil Caribou

Kicking off the series of winter-themed novels, we start with WINTER WONDERLAND by Belinda Jones. You can feel the chill factor from the pages, as Krista finds herself in Quebec, and briefly in Montréal, her mission to bring the Winter Carnival to life on her  own travel website Va-Va-Vacation. From the etiquette of the do,s and don'ts in an Ice Hotel (do not wear any cotton because if you sweat it freezes, not good), to sledding with huskies in ice cold temperatures, to ski joring... (what's that? it involves horses and skiers, that's what) a real Winter Wonderland is brought to life in this terrific book!

A great style that bowls along at a cracking pace and some really interesting snippets of info. Would you ever had known that the Inuit made their sleds out of two lengths of frozen salmon wrapped in animal hide? Have you seen the Balto statue of a husky in Central Park  as a tribute to his help in a diptheria outbreak (I know, not exactly relevant for Quebec per se - but I bet you will keep your eyes open for it when you are next in the Park!); The Pink Panther was filmed in Cortina...It takes 32 litres of maple sap to make one litre of maple syrup...The Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Room 1724 is where Yoko Ono and John Lennon recorded "Give Peace a Chance".... the longest Cree chief's name is Ahchuchhwahauhhatohapit (that would be great for a spelling bee!)....

So, as you can see "Every City has its Story". And at the end of this tale, you have Krista's Do's and Don'ts, the essential message when planning a trip is "more research = less regret". Click on the cover to buy.

And here is an exerpt if you need any persuading to visit Quebec: "If ever there was a place that looked like it had been designed as a set for a movie, this is it. There's not one building that jars the charm, or makes you think: "Now why did they have to go and ruin it all with that eyesore?" Every rooftop, every awning, every window display is evocatively characterful and pleasing to the eye. Even the souvenir shops look appealing, with rugged-knit  hats and scarves in the Canadian flag combination of red and white".

We will leave you for now to enjoy a bit of "window licking"...

But now to the main part of this post. Belinda Jones, author ,was happy to be interviewed and has answered the questions we were dying to put to her:

1. You have set your books in wonderful and very varied locations. How has this come about?

I'm a travel writer at heart! I never expected to write fiction (I was a journalist for ten years prior) but it gave me a wonderful freedom to explore the possibilities of each destination. My first book (set in Vegas) was rejected initially because, at the time, most chick lit was UK based and it was considered too risky to take the story abroad! But then it became "my thing" and my publishers would actually say: "We think your next book should be a paradise beach resort!"  And of course I'd grimace and stoically oblige. I've tried to mix it up - ziplining through the rainforests of Costa Rica for CAFE TROPICANA was way out of my comfort zone but all the better for it! And I still want to do a book set in Russia! I think that would be completely different again and I already have a working title: KISSING IN THE KREMLIN.

2. How much research do you do into the featured location and how much is personal experience?

As a former journo, I really like to have experienced everything first-hand. Of course the ideal would be to write the entire thing on location (on some shady terrace with a view!) but in reality it's more like a couple of intensive weeks. I used to do two trips - one for inspiration and story ideas and then a second six months later when the bulk of the book was written to make sure I'd got every last descriptive detail right. Quebec was a one-shot though - 10 days sealed the deal as, for once, I had the whole story in mind prior to the visit. Really want to go back for the 2013 carnival in February. Care to join me?

3. Which is the location you have had most fun researching?

I'm torn between two polar opposites - Cuba and Quebec! Havana was a sweaty-salsa-thon with the most charismatic, joie-de-vivre party people in the world, whereas Quebec was so elegant and refined but with a real fairytale quality to it. I had never experienced snow so deep - literally up to your waist! - it was such an adventure. Particularly spending the night on an ice bed in the Hotel de Glace and mushing my own team of huskies!

4. You clearly travel a lot. What do you read to while away the time?

I really have very little reading time when I travel because I'm always in note-taking mode but my ideal is to read something set in the location I am visiting - so you can see my affinity with! For my last book CALIFORNIA DREAMERS, which is mostly set at Hearst Castle, I read Marion Davies' autobiography THE TIME WE HAD: Life with William Randolph Hearst. It really enhances your visit to a destination. For Italy-lovers I highly recommend  Marlena de Blasi's A THOUSAND DAYS IN VENICE

5. Do you have a favourite book(s)?

My all-time favourity book is THE LOST CONTINENT: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson. It was the inspriation for my one non-fiction adventure: ON THE ROAD TO MR RIGHT - A Search for the American Dream Guy. Bill Bryson's books are so jammed with unusual facts and insights and then he absolutely slays me with his humour - full spluttering hoots as I read! I interviewed him once over lunch at the historic Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado and I just couldn't believe that with all his millions of book sales he still travels economy. He is the definition of down-to-earth!

6. How do you come up with the names of your characters?

I've never been asked this before! With the current book, WINTER WONDERLAND, I wanted a name for the heroine that sounded suitably wintery and Krista put me in mind of twinkly-crunchy snow! I said my first heroine (in DIVAS LAS VEGAS) was named after The Bionic Woman - Jamie Summers. That may have been because I saw the real actress in an I-Hop pancake house in Santa Monica the week before! I have popped a few best friends in there - Felicity in the PARADISE ROOM and Lara in THE CALIFORNIA CLUB - but mostly they are just names that I hope are a good fit with the character.

7. You pepper quite a few interesting facts into your books. In WINTER WONDERLAND, for example, you share the story of Balto the husky, whose statue is in Central Park. This adds such an interesting dimension - can you tell us a bit more about that?

It would be more than peppered if had my way! I can get a bit carried away with the fascinating facts I stumble upon as I'm researching. When I was learning flamenco in Seville for LIVING LA VIDA LOCA I found out that Rita Hayworth's father was a flamenco dancer and her middle name was Carmen (same as my heroine!) and she'd been in several abusive relationships (a theme of the book) and I would have gone off on a tangent pondering her entire torrid marital history if I hadn't been reinged back in!! Then there was Sophia Loren's romance tips in THE LOVE ACADEMY and now, with next year's book THE TRAVELLING TEA shop, I'm getting all into the history of the Vanderbilts, which has significant connections to Downton Abbey! I can't help myself! My intention is exactly as you say - to add an extra dimension by studding the story with little gems!


Get into Winter and buy Belinda's new book, discover all the other locations she has been to in her other books (from Bora Bora to Amalfi, Las Vegas to Buenos Aires) - and let us know in the Comments Box which are your favourites.

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