Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ancient History research for a modern contemporary?

Seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But not when your WIP romance is set in Egypt and you’ve decided your hero is an archaeologist in the famous Valley of the Kings, the burial place of dozens of Pharaohs.

My first ‘research’ for this story came about when I asked a new friend on our Nile cruise ship last October whether it was possible to vault the rails from one moored ship to another.

I had no idea that this was going to lead me into some detailed research into one of the tombs in the KV. And that was one of my first discoveries, that Egyptians call it the King’s Valley and all the tombs there are prefixed with the letters KV and then a number denoting the order of discovery.

On a flight from Luxor to Cairo, I read an article in the flight magazine about the excavation of a tunnel which led from the burial chamber of one the Pharaohs. Hmm, maybe this was something I could use, or at least adapt, in my story.

Back at the hotel in Luxor, I scoured the bookshop, bought 3 books about the Valley and the tombs, and read them from cover to cover while I was sunning myself on the hotel terrace overlooking the Nile (and with a distant view of the hills on the West Bank which surrounded the Valley).

Internet connection was too expensive in the hotel for any website research, but once I got home, I searched for all the information I could find about the tomb, its layout, its wall and ceiling paintings, and particularly about the tunnel. It was quite exciting to find photos and even video footage of the tunnel itself.

In ‘real life’ the tunnel has proved to be a dead-end, but I decided ‘my’ tunnel was going to lead to an exciting discovery. The iron supports they had to put in to strengthen the crumbling walls and ceiling gave me another idea.

At the beginning of February, the Egyptian archaeologist who explored the tunnel was due to give an illustrated lecture in my home city about his research in the KV. How exciting was that? I booked for the event, only to receive an email a week before saying it had been cancelled. Why? The revolution had broken out in Egypt and he couldn’t leave Cairo. Most inconvenient of the Egyptians to have a revolution at totally the wrong time for me!!

As well as the ancient history research, I’ve also had to check or find out a lot of other facts. How I wished I’d made more notes during our cruise up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, as I recalculated how long it took to get from one place to another. And I wished I’d asked our tour guide a lot more questions about his job, since I’d decided that was going to be my heroine’s job. Instead I had to find and study tour guide training manuals.

Once I got home and searched for Egyptian names, how I wished I’d written down all the names of the male and female staff at the hotel and on the cruise ship, and all the different foods we’d had at the buffets, and all the flowering shrubs on the hotel terrace, and more details about the hotel décor. As it was, I had to rely on my memory or my photographs, or else resort to googling – yet again!

I checked out flight and train times/durations from Aswan to Luxor, and from Luxor to Cairo. The first time I tried this was when the revolution was taking place and most flights were cancelled – duh! I was even looking up details about apartments in Luxor at that time too. Needless to say, I could have made a reservation for any of them at cut-price rates!

I’ve two or three chapters more to write, but I’m sure I’ll be researching more facts right to the very end.


  1. Your brainstorm, and subsequent research, is what makes this WIP exciting, Paula. I may never get to go to Egypt, but I can piggyback on your travels in my mind. Take me away!

  2. LOL, Ana, where would you like to go next? Personally, I think Ireland might be beckoning!

  3. Hi,

    Ah, the curse of the Pharaohs blighting research. The latter the diamond in the desert! ;)

    I reckon it'll be a cracking good read.


  4. I so love how you came up with the idea for this book! Researching the past for the present is a lot of fun, isn't it?

    It sounds like you came up with some great historical details and some exciting scenes for your novel. I can't wait to read it!

  5. I love when a place inspires me to write about it. I bet it will also make that trip even more memorable for you. And there's nothing that beats on-site research (even if there was more info you wished you had gotten). Sounds fascinating!

  6. Thanks all! Hope the finished product lives up to expectations!

  7. Sounds like a great time. I love research and when it's coupled with a great location even better.

  8. Awesme analysis! you are completely right!