I've been to quite a few countries and learned some interesting things about different cultures with UK-based author Kate Furnivall.
In her novels, she has taken me to Malaya and the South China Sea aboard The White Pearl, to Russia with The Jewel of St Petersburg and in her latest novel, Shadows of the Nile, I've been transported to Egypt.
Shadows of the Nile is set in 1932 and tells the tale of Jessica Kenton and the search for her brother, who has vanished. In her quest to find him, she meets ruthless men who would think nothing of killing. Luckily, she has someone watching her back.
The story goes back and forth in time and is totally absorbing. There is a character named Georgie in this story who is truly captivating. There's romance, danger, wealth, poverty and unconditional love.
I asked Kate some questions.
How did you research Georgie's character?
I struck lucky. Around the time that I was developing my ideas on Georgie's character, autism became the flavour of the month in the British media.
So I watched a series of in-depth documentaries on young people with the condition, and their comments and behaviour patterns were immensely revealing, invaluable to me. I had read books about it, learned about their need for order, their logical minds, their aversion to being touched or to certain colours. But to see the daily struggle they and their families face was deeply touching.
For first-hand experience I visited a special school and spoke to carers, teachers and parents, as well as to the pupils themselves.
It was enormously important to me that Georgie, like these children, should not be defined by his autism. I wanted him to be a lively and interesting character in his own right who just happened to have autistic tendencies, in the same way he happened to have blond hair and blue eyes. He became very real to me and I grew to love him dearly.
What comes first when planning a novel - the characters, the plot or the setting?
Place comes first for me. Closely followed by my main character, and then the plot. Place is dominant in my books, a living, breathing presence.
How important do you think characters' names are?
Very important. The name has to conjure up the person. Some names are soft, some hard and spiky, some playful. Georgie's name came to me instantly, as did Jessie's, but Tim's and Monty's eluded me for some time.
How do you choose their names?
Trial and error. I try a name for size on a character and see if it fits. If not, I trawl for more, particularly through the credits of television programmes.
Sometimes characters arrive fully formed with their names already tattooed on their forehead. But that is rare. Names have to be easy on the eye on the page as well as on the ear. I tend to choose ones that have no connection with real people for me. I like them to be fresh inside my head.
Describe a typical day when you are in the middle of writing a book.
I hate to admit it, but I do much of my best writing in bed. I know that makes me sound bone idle, but it's all the unconscious stuff that has been churning away in my head overnight I need to transfer to the page while still in bed, without being distracted by dishwashers or mice entrails that the cat has sicked up. I leave domestic details to the afternoon.
I start between 6am and 7am, working intensively. At 8am, my husband brings me herbal tea in my special Siamese cat bone china mug - no other cup will suffice if I am to write. But once I've got the words flowing, I shower and move to writing at my desk.
My study has a huge window that catches the morning sun and looks out on my magnolia tree and the village church. So I often work to the sound of church bells. I have a light lunch with my husband, play with the cat and then in the afternoon I continue work for a couple of hours, but the intensity has gone. Sometimes I just fiddle, revising what I've written that morning and jotting down ideas for future scenes. Or I just stare out of the window. Worse, I waste time messing about with emails. About 4pm I take myself off for a walk along the beach, even in the rain. Inspiration often strikes on those solitary walks on the sand.
Evenings are meant to be for relaxing, good food, friends, wine, a book, or maybe the cinema, but often I end up wading through yet more research books. When I'm in the middle of writing a book, it's hard to let go.
You are obviously well travelled. Tell us where you have been.
I love to travel, to immerse myself in new places and in ideas and lifestyles that are poles apart from my own. It is part of a writer's insatiable curiosity about people and the world around them. Before I took to writing, I'd knocked around most of Europe and had driven coast to coast across America. I particularly love to travel by road or rail. It's the best way to really see a country, stopping off at unexpected places. My 2000-mile [3200km] trek by road through eastern Europe and Russia provided me with a wealth of material for my Russian books. It is truly a different world, even now. My trip to Egypt was also breathtaking when I was doing research for Shadows on the Nile, especially as I landed in Cairo slap-bang in the middle of the 2011 revolution, which added a whole new dimension.
But the area of the globe that I have yet to visit is New Zealand and Australia. I would adore to explore their abundant delights and I hope to do so on a book tour one day soon.
What is the first book you remember reading?
Proper grown-up book? No pictures? It's Heidi by Johanna Spyri, closely followed by What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. Strong feisty girls, tomboys at heart, who learned from adversity. I spot them popping up in my own heroines.
How do you celebrate when you finish a book?
I celebrate by doing nothing. Literally. My brain goes on strike and I laze around blissfully in my dressing gown for days on end, watch any rubbish on TV and grovel to my friends for having neglected them. Oh yes, I also discover that I have a husband in the house, too.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I walk beaches. Paddle miles. Collect debris from the sand. The incessant sound of the sea both soothes and excites me. The salt air cleanses the clogged passages of my mind and makes me want to own a dog again.
But I also like to get out there and meet my readers. Book-signings I love. Readers' comments focus my mind.
What's next on the agenda?
I am very excited about the next book. It is set in the Bahamas in 1943, when the Duke of Windsor was Governor and the brutal murder of one of the world's richest men occurred in Nassau under very strange circumstances. My heroine, Dodie, fights to clear the name of the man she loves, and is dragged into a dark and frightening world.
A research trip to the Bahamas?
A hardship, I know, but someone has to do it!
Shadows of the Nile
by Kate Furnivall,
We have one copy of Shadows of the Nile to give away. Send your name and contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 14.