As Summer starts to arrive in the UK, so do the Summer choc-lit books and where best to start? By talking to Chris Penhall, about the research that goes into her books especially her newest The House on the Hill – A Summer in the Algarve.
The books I have written are all set in places I know very well, and I feel the locations are characters in the stories. So, when I frivolously say I research my books when I’m on holiday, I sort of mean it and I sort of don’t.
The landscapes, sounds and smells of Portugal and the south Wales coast are so imprinted on my mind that I call on them when I want to for a particular scene. In my new novel, The House on the Hill – Lagos, where its set, is very much a part of the action. I feel it’s my second home, and as with all of the places I write about, because I only visit for short periods of time, my experiences when I’m there are always intense and very vivid.
There is a lot of yoga, meditation, Zumba and a bit of dancing in this particular book too, and although not an expert in any of them, I do all of them regularly. So, once again, I have used my own knowledge of participating in classes, although I have never taught any kind of sport, exercise or dance. I’m just there to enjoy myself…
There is also one small scene set in a radio station. I cannot reveal what it’s about, but suffice to say that most of my working life has been involved in working in radio in some way or another, so something was bound to seep into one of my books at some stage. This particular bit is entirely fictional, but, honestly, it really could happen.
When I’m writing – and I’m sure this is true of many authors – things that are going on around me can also find their way into the story. For instance, I did sunset beach yoga for the first time in October 2021 in Lagos, and after experiencing the real joy of watching the sunset on Porto Do Mos Beach, with only the sound of the gentle rolling of the sea next to me, It fed into the book somehow. Not in a big way, really, but that’s often what happens – these things often add extra layers to the story.
I think what I’m trying to say is that I subconsciously gather images and ideas wherever I go, and when I allow my imagination to run free, some of those memories find their way onto the page. So, I have been accidentally researching my novels for a very long time, and I never even knew it.
Layla is calm, in control and is definitely not about to lose her serenity for the man next door!
Surely it can’t be hard to stay peaceful at one of the oldest yoga and mindfulness retreats in the Algarve, surrounded by sea, sun and serenity? Mostly, owner Layla Garcia manages it – with the help of meditation and plenty of camomile tea, of course.
But keeping her grandparents’ legacy alive is stressful, and Layla has become so shackled to the work that, for her, The House on the Hill is fast becoming ‘The Fortress on the Hill’.
Then writer Luke Mackie moves to the villa next door, bringing with him a healthy dose of chaos to disrupt Layla’s plans, plus a painful reminder of a time when she was less-than-serene. But could his influence be just what Layla needs to ‘dance like no-one’s watching’ and have the fun she’s been missing?
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Chris’ other books can be found here.
You can find other blog posts with Chris Penhall HERE