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Beautiful settings, dark deeds – PAXOS, Greece

26th July 2023

Beautiful settings, dark deeds - PAXOS, Greece#TalkingLocationWith…. Jane Shemilt, author of All Her Secrets. Paxos, Greece.

Beautiful settings, dark deeds….Paxos, Greece

Two years ago as the pandemic loosened its global grip, like thousands of others, I was in search of a sun filled destination. It wasn’t for escape, I needed a setting for my sixth psychological thriller, All Her Secrets, and I knew just where to go: Paxos, a Greek island in the Ionian sea just south of Corfu. I’d been once before on a family holiday. I’d spent most of my time under an olive tree in the back courtyard, editing a draft of my first book Daughter, but I remembered that turquoise sea, the villas with blue shutters and faded orange walls, the taste of those tiny green grapes and the smell of thyme and dry grass. That pink morning light, the blue of the evenings and the pretty village of Loggos where we stayed. I was relieved to find the second time round that Paxos hadn’t yet been spoilt by tourism, people were still friendly and there was peace to be had. The old Greece lingered in the olive groves and in the quiet lanes and churches.

Together with my brother-in-law I swam in the heat of midday and at night, feeling the chill in the air as the wind freshened Beautiful settings, dark deeds - PAXOS, Greeceand the sound of the cicadas vanished, registering the moment when the waves began to slap against the shingle. I wanted to know how the evening beach might seem to Sophie, the young Greek girl in All Her Secrets, who finds herself alone on the deserted shore one night, faced with two drunken adolescents, who felt entitled to take exactly what they wanted, changing her life forever.

The island is criss-crossed by ancient donkey paths which became the tracks Sophie uses to skip home in happier times, hand in hand with her little brother. We took a boat trip around the island, and I spotted a huge villa, complete with tower and private beach; in my book that became the house of the wealthy industrialist who visited in the summer months with friends and guests, bringing danger to Sophie.

Echoes of the island’s soul are there in the silent landscapes of the interior, in deserted villages and ancient Ipaniti church, drowsing in the heat, and even in Martha’s bakery in Loggos where we bought our lunch time sandwiches of feta and ripe red tomatoes.

It was easy to imagine ancient Greek myths coming alive, in olive groves where the trees are thousands of years old, the tale of a rapacious Apollo pursuing a nymph who changed herself into a tree to avoid harm – a story embedded in All Her Secrets.

Islands are the perfect places to instil unease in a narrative, that feeling of claustrophobia, where everyone knows everyone else’s business and where help might not be easily at hand should it be urgently needed. A Greek island is a place where we expect to be happy, but a thriller can break that assumption and gain by so doing, the unexpectedness of horror somewhere lovely enhances the shock but also mitigates it; we aren’t expecting darkness in the midst of sunshine but the sunshine helps us deal with it. Readers enjoy the echo of warmth, the scent of thyme and lemons and the taste of sun-dried figs even as their skin crawls with dread.

I’m not alone. If it’s unfair of me to take my reader to a lovely destination only to instil fear, I’m in good company. Ian Beautiful settings, dark deeds - PAXOS, GreeceFleming’s James Bond found danger waiting for him in a variety of fabulous locations, settings which have been gloriously exploited by the producers of all the Bond films and enjoyed by fans world-wide. In The Beach, Alex Garland’s young protagonist Richard, finds himself in paradise but the situation goes steeply downhill when he realises he can’t escape. Patricia Highsmith lures us to the French riviera in The Talented Mr Ripley for a sun-drenched story of deceit and murder; the unsuspecting Dickie, doubtless lulled by the heat and dazzled by the glittering Mediterranean, is fatally deceived by Tom Ripley. The stunning backdrop of the Cornish coast is the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s haunting masterpiece, Rebecca, and let’s not forget Jaws by Peter Benchley, translated into a film by Steven Spielberg which made the most of a beach in a carefree little seaside town called Amityville off Long Island, New York.

In my own books, Daughter is part set on the fabled Jurassic coast in Dorset. I take readers to sun baked wilderness in Botswana for The Drowning Lesson, my story of child abduction, to the Scottish island of Jura in my Macbethian drama How Far We Fall and to ancient Peloponnese for Little Friends an incestuous tale of families and secrets. I explored Van Gogh’s landscapes in Provence so I could write about them for The Patient. Paxos is the latest of all the wonderful locations I have visited for inspiration.

I hope that as you read All Her Secrets, you will fall in love with that beautiful Greek island just as I did, even as chills run up your spine.

Jane Shemilt

Catch Jane on Twitter @Janeshemilt

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