In the case of The Sapphire Widow, I was trawling through possible locations on the internet and my what if began with a seductive photograph I spotted on a travel site. I couldn’t stop staring at the atmospheric narrow streets of the 300-year-old, red-roofed, walled town of Galle. And the thought in my mind was, what if I were to set this new book there, at a time when Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon? The beauty of the location stunned me, and I hoped my readers would love it too. I read up on Galle and its surroundings: the fabulous blues of the Indian ocean, the gorgeous palm-lined beaches and the deeply scented cinnamon plantations. The place enchanted me so much that I just knew this would be my starting point.
But the inspiration itself isn’t what really matters, as it could be anything, it’s what you do with it that counts. I think of the initial thoughts, ideas, inspiration – whatever we want to call them – as seeds or germs and what arises from them as the pieces of a jigsaw that will eventually become a plot and then a story. There were three seeds that gave rise to The Sapphire Widow.
My first seed then, was the setting. The second seed arose from something I was told about an apparently happily married friend of a friend. Only it turned out the marriage was not what she thought it had been. And that inspired the building block, or premise, of the book: After a marriage built on lies can you ever learn to love again?
And what if the depth of the betrayal experienced by my character, Louisa, is a result of the fact that she truly loves her husband. And what if, while in the utter depths of grief over his sudden and unexpected death, she slowly uncovers the truth about the mystery he has left behind.
The third seed came in the form of characters, when I wondered what if it might be fun to bring back a few of the characters from The Tea Planter’s Wife – also set in Ceylon – just in a small way. And finally, what if a man with a chequered past, who owns a spell-binding cinnamon plantation (where Louisa’s husband had an interest) is the only one who seems to know the truth. Louisa will be forced to turn to him, but is he to be trusted? And there you have the three sources of inspiration behind The Sapphire Widow.