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Talking Location With author Catherine Cooper – THE MALDIVES

20th October 2023

TalkingLocationWith … Catherine Cooper, author of The Island – The Maldives

Readers have come to expect luxurious settings from my books – the first three featured a high-end ski chalet, French chateaux and an enormous cruise ship – and for my fourth book, I wanted to ramp the luxury even further.

As a travel journalist I’d often received press releases about the Maldives and written about the fantastic facilities they offer in round-up pieces – Michelin-starred restaurants and heavenly spas, not to mention the pristine beaches and clear blue sea. I loved the fact that you arrive by sea plane or speedboat – glamour from the word go.

Catherine Cooper

The Spa at Huvafen Sushi

For the previous books, I’d already inadvertently done a lot of research – for The Chalet, I am a keen skier and have been lucky enough to visit several high-end hotels and chalets over the years on press trips. I live in France (not in a chateau but I have friends who do) so I already knew a lot about living as a newly-arrived Brit in France. I have been on a couple of cruise press trips many years ago (one was on the Costa Concordia which later sank!) and I was keen to get on a ‘laid up’ ship to see how it felt being on an enormous vessel with only a skeleton crew, but no one would let me. So I contented myself with reading crew memoirs, scrutinising virtual visits on cruise websites and watching YouTube videos for the ‘below deck’ element.

So even though I felt I already knew quite a lot about the Maldives, there is never any substitute for actually visiting, so I was really keen to go. I managed to arrange a visit to Huvafen Fushi as part of a press trip. It was the perfect place for my research – a small resort, with just 44 villas, including the overwater villas which I’d invented for my own imaginary island.

Catherine Cooper

Inspiration for Claire’s villa

After getting off a long flight, I was whisked away on a short speed boat ride while I sipped coconut water, before being handed a refreshing cold hand towel and a glass of champagne as I landed at the island. There is no physical reception desk (this is something they binned during covid and decided not to reinstate – this small detail made it into The Island), instead, anything I need would be dealt with by my personal butler Yoonus.

As well as being on hand to arrange anything I needed, Yoonus also kindly gave me a tour of the island. My villa was beautiful, with a huge bedroom, terrace with day bed, plunge pool, a bathroom of dreams and direct access to the incredibly coloured sea, but it was fascinating to see the ‘top level’ villa which had several bedrooms, a vast terrace, an indoor/outdoor pool and a glass section of floor so that you could watch fish swimming beneath. Claire’s villa in the book is based on this one.

The level of service was incredible and this was something I hope I got across in the book. The staff clearly kept in touch with each other to ensure my experience was the best possible – Yoonus would let the housekeeping staff know when the villa was empty and would often appear as I finished dinner to see if I wanted a lift back. He also showed me the mosque (I couldn’t think of a reason to include in the book, but I thought it was interesting that there was one) and patiently answered my legions of questions.

I’m not a diver, but I had a brilliant snorkelling trip with resident marine biologist Hamid, who showed me colourful fish, coral and even sharks! Reassuringly there has never been a serious shark attack in the Maldives, but there are plenty of poisonous sea creatures and it was incredibly useful to chat about this. Dive master Antonina explained how the dive equipment worked and helped me come up with the best way to sabotage it, and over dinner with Marketing and Communications Ankita, we talked about communications on the island, whether it would be easier to cut off an island reached by boat or by seaplane. She also told me that every island has its own doctor, so I had to factor this into the book (mine hadn’t yet arrived!).

In some ways, Huvafen Fushi was exactly as I had expected with stunning accommodation, amazing food, beaches which are so beautiful they barely look real and unsurpassable service which is not only faultless but also friendly. But in other ways, actually visiting really helped me get a proper feel for the atmosphere, and the level of space and privacy afforded by resorts like these. Hopefully I have brought the atmosphere of the Maldives to you in The Island but if you ever do get the chance to go, jump at it.

CATHERINE COOPER 

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The Island was published by Harper Collins on Oct 12 2023

For more information about Huvafen Fushi visit their website

Catch the author on Twitter @catherinecooper / IG @catherinecooperjournalist 

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