The Cheltenham Literature Festival – 5th to 14th October 2018
#TalkingLocationWith… Author M P Tonnesen
10th November 2017
#TalkingLocationWith… author M P Tonnesen, who, in her novel Desert Skies, Rebel Souls, transports her readers to Egypt, Israel and Jordan
It’s been 20 years since I touched down in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, but the memories of living and travelling in the region have stuck with me forever – and inspired me to write my new story: Desert Skies, Rebel Souls.
Israel is a country of contrasts as I describe in the opening chapter: “orthodox believers in black; military believers in green.” From the quiet, rural kibbutzim to the buzzing city of Tel Aviv. From the sandy beaches of Ashqelon and Eilat to the barren shores of the Dead Sea. From the fertile lands and mountains of the north to the desert of Negev in the south.
Like Olivia, the protagonist, I was in awe of the history and the beauty present everywhere as I travelled through Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Jerusalem in particular – the cradle of three major religions and the source of so much conflict – was overwhelming. No guide books can prepare you for the emotions this place evokes in you, regardless of whether you are spiritual or not. The magnificent gold-plated Dome of the Rock, the peaceful Western Wall, the mystical Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The contrast of the ultra-religious and conservative community of Mea Shearim to the surrounding modernity was an eye-opening experience, as was meandering through the lively Muslim quarter on a weekday versus the quiet Jewish quarter on the Shabbat. I’m not religious, but experiencing the pilgrims walking along the Via Dolorosa, standing myself in the rock-cut tomb of Jesus and on the spot of his crucifixion are quite convincing encounters and fascinating from a historical perspective. There is an eerie magic to the whole city.
Petra took my breath away too. Watching the sunlight dance on the red rock face as the Rose City unveils itself to you in the middle of the barren desert. Walking through the secluded valley surrounded by rugged mountains, taking in the wonders of the Nabataeans and their awe-inspiring skills. You can understand why this lost city was hidden from the world for hundreds of years – and why it is now one of the top tourist destinations of the world.
In Jordan, I also discovered the ancient ruins of Jerash outside Amman. It is the most impressive archaeological site I have ever seen – even giving Rome a run for its money. It was (and hopefully still is) so well preserved with a full-blown amphitheatre, a hippodrome, a forum, a temple and colonnaded, paved streets – an entire city giving a lifelike impression of how life in Greco-Roman times would have been. There were no other tourists around when I explored this splendid sight, which made it an even more authentic experience to walk between columns and carved fountains, each sand-coloured stone oozing of history.
Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to go back to any of the locations I depict in Desert Skies, Rebel Souls. I hope to show it all to my children one day, and to experience the sights and culture through their eyes, as well as my own more mature ones now.
As my memories are 20 years old, I had to do a lot of research to confirm and trigger them further. Google provided me with images and maps. Old and new Israeli friends helped me fact check. I read non-fiction books like “Cursed Victory” by Ahron Bregman on the creation of the Israeli state and the numerous peace process negotiations, as well as fiction like “The People of Forever Are Not Afraid” by Shani Boianjiu to understand the human side of situations upon which I only touched briefly in real life. Then my imagination took it from there and played with reality and make-believe.
I hope my novel will help more people appreciate the beauty and wonders of this region, and particularly Israel which is often the centre of negative publicity. To round off with another quote from Desert Skies, Rebel Souls: “A country which seemed to have everything – sea, mountains, deserts and oases – except peace.”
I do hope that peace will prevail one day in this beautiful place on planet Earth.
A journey into the unknown. A rebellion against family, culture and society. A love against all odds.
From Scandinavia to the Middle East, a young woman travels to discover herself and finds a world of passion and history, war and peace. A whirlwind romance takes a dramatic turn, leaving Olivia caught between countries, belonging nowhere, and with the love of her life in danger far away.
From the award-winning author of The Cosmopolitan Islander comes an uplifting tale of adventure, conflict and reconciliation that never shies away from brutal reality, yet sparkles with the sheer love of life.
Desert Skies, Rebel Souls is a bittersweet coming-of-age story set under the desert sky against the backdrop of music and key events of the nineties – to be enjoyed by adventurous globetrotters and readers longing to escape.
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