Talking Location With author Graham Hurley: BAKU
Talking Location With author Phoebe Morgan – BOTSWANA
14th April 2021
#TalkingLocationWith... Phoebe Morgan, author of The Wild Girls, set in BOTSWANA.
I wrote the majority of The Wild Girls in Spring 2020, when the UK was going into a national lockdown (that would end up being the first of three and counting!). I honestly think that writing the novel saved my sanity in those first few months when everything was closing and COVID levels were rising – the chance to escape into my writing every day was something I will always be grateful for. And not only was I escaping into the writing – but I was going to Botswana, Southern Africa, in my imagination: a far cry from the four walls of my North London flat.
I had the idea for setting the book in Botswana during a pre-pandemic brainstorm with my brilliant literary agent – my first three books had been set in London, Essex and Suffolk respectively, and I knew this time that I wanted to try something different, something that felt a little bit bigger and more exciting. I began researching Botswana and found an amazing website showcasing luxury Safari lodges, which I kept open throughout the writing process and referred back to a lot. Some of the lodges out there are stunning – really opulent and luxurious, surrounded by this beautiful scenery, and I literally described what I could see online for some key scenes in the book. I also watched videos of people travelling through Botswana airport, so that I could make the girls’ arrival feel realistic, and read up on the landscape and the kinds of animals that one might find there, and did my best to immerse myself in it as I wrote. There will be inaccuracies; sadly, it’s not somewhere I was able to visit, but I hope that the book captures some of the feel of being out in the wild, stranded in a lodge as the four women in my book are.
When writing about Botswana I knew that I wanted the overall feeling to be very claustrophobic – the girls are in one location – the Deception Valley lodge complex – for the majority of the book and so I focused on making that as realistic and interesting as I could rather than exploring the surrounding landscape or culture – they do not interact with anyone aside from a taxi driver, because the point of the book is that they are isolated and that they have only each other to turn to. It would definitely be really interesting with another book to explore further afield, but for The Wild Girls I wanted the focus to be solely on the lodge and its immediate surroundings. I loved writing about the heat, the smells, the bright flashes of the flowers and the dusty ground – it felt like a hugely evocative place to write about and I really hope readers get that sense too. I also really enjoyed adding detail and colour to the lodges themselves, giving each of them a theme (Cheetah Lodge, Lion Lodge etc) and then making the décor match that theme, it felt like a fun way to differentiate between the women and make each of their experiences distinctive.
I also wanted to draw attention to how each of the four women – Grace, Hannah, Felicity and Alice – respond to the setting – Grace for example is frightened of the unknown having not left her flat for a long time (you’ll find out why if you read it!) and is constantly jumping at the skitter of a lizard across her path or the sensation of fronds brushing against her skin, whereas Hannah is keen to understand their surroundings a bit more; she’s excited to see the game animals and she’s done her research, too. Alice embraces the feeling of heat and the sense of freedom that comes with being abroad, away from her emotionally abusive partner, and Felicity is the one that chooses Botswana as her ideal birthday party location. Having the lodge be a really luxurious place as well is intended to highlight the differences between the girls’ backgrounds – there are undertones of jealousy that Felicity can afford to book such a place, and each woman responds to the obvious wealth of the lodge in a slightly different way, which in turn helps to expose the cracks in their friendship.A lot of writing advice follows the ‘write what you know’ mantra, but in this particular case I took real joy in writing about somewhere new, and I really hope that my readers will embrace this with me and enjoy the ride – it’s a bit of a wild one…
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