Sunday, 13 January 2013

Why the Minnesotan connection in TOPAZ EYES?

Why did I add Minnesota to the plot of TOPAZ EYES?

Ask an author a question about decisions made while developing a storyline and they may not be able to give a simple answer. What is quite clear, though, for me is that I do add details that have some relevance to my own life experiences.

The main task in TOPAZ EYES is for my main characters to locate a fantastic collection of jewels that are scattered across world-wide locations; the jewels having been shared out by an Amsterdam woman - Geertje Hoogeveen – back in 1910. Yet, though the jewellery collection was divided up in Holland, I wanted them to be found in many more places around the world, since the progeny of Geertje Hoogeveen have also scattered to more countries than European ones.

I try to use places I’ve personally visited, whenever possible, in my novels and decided that the US would be a reasonable place for at least one of Geertje’s grand children to have emigrated to. At the point where I was choosing to have someone live somewhere out of Europe it seemed realistic to have family members move from the trouble torn Europe of the late 1930s and emigrate from Holland to the US.

It was expedient to also have my main protagonists - Teun Zeger and Keira Drummond - be on the eastern coastal states of the US so that travel to Europe via London wouldn’t take too long. Those decisions made, I decided that Minnesota would be a perfect state to use since I made a trip there many years ago. Cities change a lot over a few decades, so the internet was invaluable for ensuring that any specific locations I wanted to use were still relevant, and up to date.

What did I remember about Minnesota that I could include in my writing? What would a visitor like Keira Drummond, from Edinburgh, see now?
My own Minnesotan trip started in Rochester, the home of the famous Mayo Clinic. My host lived in Rochester and worked at the Mayo; hence the reason for me being in Minnesota. The clinic may have added some new buildings recently, but essentially it remains an immense centre where specialist treatment and research takes place. Although Teun Zeger, one of my main characters, is a research chemist I decided not to base him at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. That might have been suitable, but I wanted him to be peripatetic between California (San Fransisco), Massachusetts (Boston) and London UK - his laboratories being widespread.  

It was easy to tie in his association to Rochester as the place of his birth, though not necessarily where he was brought up. That was going to be California, Sonoma, another place I’ve personally visited.

Much of Rochester, that isn’t taken up by Mayo Clinic buildings, is filled with leafy suburbs of mainly medium to large homes, sprawling wide in large plots. Years ago, it seemed to me that rather than fully cultivated garden plots some of these yards were more like a small parkland with a fringe around the house of specialist plantings. The Rochester house I’ve created in TOPAZ EYES, for Teun’s Uncle Adam, is a fair sized one in a normally quiet estate. Though his uncle is currently living in the house in TOPAZ EYES, it was a perfect location for establishing that the house originally belonged to Teun’s grandparents – his grandmother being the direct link to Geertje Hoogeveen. 

When deciding where some dangerous action could take place I thought back to my own Minnesotan trip. Where else would I include in TOPAZ EYES?

Being towards the south of the state, Rochester was a good location to drive to the other main cities – the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and St. Cloud. Though the drive time is long the land is pretty flat and driving straightforward – so long as it isn’t in the depths of winter. I was fortunate to visit Minnesota in late August into very early September. The autumn turn hadn’t quite happened in Rochester but by the time we drove up to Duluth the September bite had descended, the fall was beginning, and the colours of the woodlands were totally fantastic.

It was a great trip even though we had a thirteen month old child to entertain and I was a pregnant lady of five months. Although we did some walking around Lake Superior it was not quite as much as I would have liked to do. However, we did manage to see many of the best tourist vistas in Minnesota and visited lots of attractions. Duluth just had to feature in TOPAZ EYES. aerial lift bridge - Duluth

Driving over state lines into North Dakota and north into Canada, to Winnipeg, was quite an eye-opener for me since I’d never been anywhere in the world that was so flat for endless miles, and had such enormous field areas. Hailing from Scotland, we’d been warned the landscape north towards Canada would be very flat- perhaps even boring - but until I experienced the vast prairie fields I had no real concept of what the endless stretches were like. At the time of my Minnesotan visit I wasn’t actually living in Scotland – I was living in Holland. Holland is also very flat but so compact and extremely built-up. At that time comparing the tiny farmland strip fields in Holland with the immense field areas of the prairies was something I’ll never forget.

So there you have my reasoning for including Rochester and Duluth in my novel TOPAZ EYES, and perhaps why it all begins and ends in Holland!

To find all the rest of the links and to work out the mystery TOPAZ EYES is available at only £1.99!

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