Virtual voyage around the Med – with Robin Hood

When I write historical fiction, I try to be as accurate as I can about the places where my heroes have their adventures. If possible, I like to go there myself and “walk the ground”, doing what I grandly call “optical research”, ie, having a bit of a look at stuff. But that can be prohibitively expensive so, more often these days, it’s a virtual voyage of discovery via the internet.

When I was writing Robin Hood and the Caliph’s Gold, I knew my gang of Sherwood hard-cases would be visiting a number of different countries and I could only realistically afford to go to one of the places – truth be told, if I was stinking rich, I’d spend a whole summer in the Med on my super-yacht with my family visiting them all. But . . . oh well, a novelist can dream.

So I decided to go to Crete for a week. Not only is it a lovely place to spend a few days doing research, but I also have history with that part of the world and the south coast of the island; particularly the village of Kokkinos Pirgos, near Matala (pictured below), which occupies a special place in my heart.

I lived in Kokkinos Pirgos for about six months when I was 19. It was a time between school and university – I actually took three years off between those two institutions but that is a story for another day. I lived on the beach, mostly, and sometimes in the empty, half-built houses that abounded then in Crete. I was usually penniless and quite often hungry.

And I had a whale of a time. At least I remember having a lot of fun – memory is wonderful like that. There were days of unbearably hot, back-breaking labour in the massive plastic greenhouses, clearing out the tomato plants (which knacker your hands). I worked in a cucumber factory, packing the fruits for German supermarkets. I did a bit of labouring on buildings sites in the baking heat. Now that I think about, it was brutal.

But that’s not really what sticks in my memory. I remember all the fun I had, the friends I made, the tourist girls I tried to sweet-talk, the long boozy days of sunshine, sand, swimming and silly jokes. I was 19 – and I probably have my rose-tinted specs on now looking back from the ripe old age of 54.

Anyway, Kokkinos Pirgos is Greek for Red Fort and I discovered when I was there more recently that there used to be a medieval tower around which the village was based. The castle is long gone, nothing remains, and the site is occupied by a fish taverna (below) called The Red Fort.

Red Fort fish taverna in Kokkinos Pirgos is one of the places in The Caliph’s Gold

When I discovered there had been a medieval fortress there, I knew I had to include Kokkinos Pirgos in one of my books. And now it is – Robin, Alan and Co, attack the Red Fort in The Caliph’s Gold and slaughter a bunch of brutal pirates. Crete used to be a notorious haven for Arab rovers at this time.

The other fortress in the book – Ulldecona in eastern Spain – I have not had the pleasure of visiting in person, and doing my “optical research”. One day, perhaps. I had to learn all about that from digging around on the internet. These days, with a bit of detective work, you can get a really good sense of what a place it like just by looking at pictures online. This (below) is the Hospitaller castle that Alan and Co defend at the end of The Caliph’s Gold.

The castle of Ulldecona, which was on the border between Moorish and Christian Spain

Until I can afford my own super-yacht, I will continue to use a combination of “optical research” and diligent internet investigation to research my stories. And, in these days of lockdown, I hope my work, the adventure tales I write, will transport you, if only in your imagination, to the sunny/stormy Mediterranean at the end of the 12th century, at least for an hour or two.

You can buy a copy of Robin Hood and the Caliph’s Gold here.

Comments (0)

Comments are closed.