My guest today is Noelle Clark whose latest book - Let Angels Fly - is a romance, laced with a healthy dose of mystery and suspense. It's also set in an unusual location - Cambodia - and here's Noelle to tell us why...
I’ve been canvassing other authors and readers lately, about how they rate the authenticity of a location in a book. It seems that, overwhelmingly, the richness of a location is rated extremely high, even to the point where readers and authors see the location as a character in itself. I was heartened to read these responses, as it is exactly how I feel.
In each of my books, I choose a location – usually exotic, but not by design – of which I have a first-hand, intimate knowledge. It’s not just about the cities and towns. I like to infuse my stories with the cultural, religious, and language characteristics of the location. Then there’s the food – what story would be authentic unless the characters cooked or ate local meals? The weather and terrain are also very important. But above all, it’s the characteristics of the local people that must be authentic.
In my recently released book, Let Angels Fly, my heroine goes to Cambodia, a small South-East Asian country with a history dating back more than a thousand years. Cambodia’s major claim to fame is the UNESCO World Heritage listed Angkor Wat Park, one of the top ten ancient temples in the world.
The friendly Cambodian people star in my story. Still living with the horrific legacy of the 1970s Pol Pot-led atrocities, the local people embrace tourism and are gentle, helpful people, keen to show off their country. Plagued by landmines, extreme poverty, harsh living conditions, and exploitation, the Cambodians show how strong they are, enduring decades of hardship by pulling themselves out of poverty and into the world of international tourism.
Most of the major hotels sponsor the poor locals in some way. Many are affiliated with orphanages and schools which protect the children from homelessness and exploitation. The strong affiliation of the hotels with local community organisations, was evident during the devastating Siem Reap floods in September 2011, where they provided practical assistance to the local people by helping sandbag and by providing food and other necessities.
While the hotels are five star, the abject poverty of the locals isn’t far away. Only a short drive from the centre of Siem Reap town, whole families live in bamboo and banana leaf huts, some with no walls, many with barely a floor. No electricity, no clean fresh running water. They mostly grow their own food in little vegetable plots in the marshes under their houses, they fish, they have chickens. It is subsistence farming at its most basic. Yet the little children wave and smile broadly as we pass.
One charity organisation is the Green Gecko Project which educates, protects and provides love and shelter for homeless street children in Siem Reap. The Green Gecko Project also assists the wider community with initiatives in education and training. They produce a Cambodian Cook Book and, at only $20 (available from their web site), the book is a welcome addition to my bookshelf, and I am working my way through all the authentic recipes.
I found the food in Cambodia to be delicious, and enjoyed many wonderful Khmer meals at local restaurants. Delicious local dishes such as Lok Lak and Fish Amok now rate amongst my favourites.
So, Abbie, my heroine in Let Angels Fly, falls in love with the Cambodian people – as well as the hero, Craig. She learns how to cook some Cambodian dishes, and embraces the unique Cambodian culture.
Craig, too, is a compassionate humanitarian, helping the locals. Could I have set this story anywhere else? No – because visiting Cambodia was the inspiration for writing the book. My characters, Abbie and Craig, love Cambodia as much as I do, and the rich, exotic backdrop of Angkor Wat is perfect for two people to find each other - and fall in love.
Beef Lok Lak: Khmer style beef steak cooked in a zappy Kampot pepper sauce, served with a green salad, garden tomatoes, and beautiful brown Ibis rice at the side. From Nyum Bai Cook Book http://gifts.greengeckoproject.org/products/nyum-bai-cook-book/642/1
Now here's the blurb and an extract from:
Let Angels Fly - by Noelle Clark
Life’s full of surprises the second time around
Arriving in Cambodia to volunteer at an orphanage, Abbie finds a warm welcome with the owner of her hotel, the handsome Craig Nelson. Craig is everything her ex-husband wasn’t—warm, compassionate, and a generous humanitarian dedicated to helping the local people. But after raising a family and being devastated by the end of her bad marriage, the last thing Abbie needs is complications. She’s on her own for the first time in many years, and it’s time for her to spread her wings and fly free amid the people and culture that have always fascinated her.
But while exploring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, Abbie overhears odd noises and sinister conversation that raise her hackles. Turning to the only person she thinks may be able to help—Craig—she realizes she’s witnessed tomb raiders—art thieves stealing frescoes to sell on the black market. Unable to let the pillaging of the beloved temple continue, Abbie goes back to investigate and finds evidence that proves her theory. And in the meantime, she finds herself falling for Craig.
Yet change isn’t easy for either of them. Both carry scars, and neither is ready to let go of the past. When Abbie is attacked in the market place, it’s clear her presence in the temple wasn’t overlooked. When Abbie agrees to help the police stage a sting operation to catch the thieves, things go from bad to worse. And Craig might be powerless to help…
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One Friday evening, as Abbie was hurrying to the Old Market to buy some fresh chicken and vegetables for her dinner, she stopped off at the ATM to take out some cash. She joined the long queue, and took out a pen and piece of paper to write down her shopping list while she waited. Trying hard to remember the ingredients for chemhay moan sleek crey—a gorgeous chicken and lemongrass soup that was one of her favorites—she started writing. Galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves… Suddenly, Abbie stiffened, drawing a sharp breath. The pen slipped off the scrap of notepaper and drew a blue line across the palm of her hand. A whining, Cockney London accent, coming from right behind her, froze her to the spot.
“Hans, that just ain’t fair. They told me fifty-fifty—and that’s what it’s gonna be, old mate.”
“You get what you deserve, imbeciel. You have ze brains of a monkey.” Abbie heard him hawk and spit. “You deserve peanuts.”
“Just you watch it, you fat bastard. Without me, you wouldn’t have ended up with a tenth of the stuff we got.”
Still frozen to the spot, Abbie didn’t notice that the ATM was now free. She jumped as a sharp finger poked her shoulder.
“Hey, come on, love. ’Aven’t got all day, ya know.” His mousy little face with vacant hazel eyes came into her focus, as it loomed in front of her, inserting itself far too closely into her personal space. She smelled his bad breath, saw the ginger whiskers glistening in the late afternoon sun, and watched as his eyes narrowed, revealing recognition.
“Fuckin’ ’ell! It’s you!”
Abbie felt as though her feet sprouted wings, just like Hermes, and she ran, shaking, away from the horrible men. A cacophony of horns and shouts assaulted her as she raced across the street, narrowly avoiding being hit by tuk-tuks, bicycles and motorbikes, and headed for the Old Market. She entered the dark labyrinth, knocking over a stand displaying hats and crashing into a table full of pirated DVDs.
She heard the abuse of the stallholder, but kept on running inside, into the dark aisles, hoping to hide from the men who, she was certain, were hot on her heels. From somewhere far off, she heard vendors yelling at her. The dark, narrow passages were barely wide enough to walk through, and running was impossible. Abbie banged into displays of T-shirts, pashminas, and brass Apsara bells, causing the vendors to hurl torrents of angry words at her.
Breathlessly, Abbie emerged from the darkness of the general merchandise area into the fresh produce aisles, which were wider and quite well lit with natural light from the roof above, and from electric bulbs strung along the rafters overhead. Oh my God, she thought. Where the hell was she going to hide? She turned right, the smell of fresh fish catching in her throat. Highly pitched Cambodian voices, all seemingly talking at once, blotted out any other sound. The fish area seethed with late Friday afternoon shoppers. The smell, even though she was getting used to it, was overwhelming. Her heart beat rapidly as she desperately tried to force her way through the crowd. She was afraid to turn around—afraid to see those cold hazel eyes set in the vacant face. She caught her breath as she rounded a corner. Big glassy fish eyes stared at her from shiny silver bodies, lying on beds of crushed ice. Cane baskets of green prawns adorned the tables, their wiry tendrils draped over a mass of black, closely set eyeballs. Her heart racing wildly, Abbie vaguely noticed vendors weighing out fresh produce and serving customers in the hectic, noisy market.
A ruckus erupted behind her. Raised Cambodian voices, high-pitched and angry, pierced through the buzz of the traders and customers. She heard an
argument breaking out from somewhere not too far away. Horrified, she heard crass English swear words—an outburst of profanity—responding to Cambodian voices, raised in affront. She felt her eyes sting when sweat rolled down her forehead and crept into the corner of her eyes.
“Get outta the bleedin’ way!” His ugly, common voice, shouted at the shoppers and vendors.
Pausing in her flight, Abbie quickly turned to look over her shoulder. A mob of petite Cambodian women, yelling and screaming like warriors, swarmed on the man. Armed with legs of pork, wooden rolling pins, and big, meaty femurs, they raised the heavy lumps above their heads and brought them down hard on the man. Abbie watched in amazement as he crumpled into crouching position, his hands over his head, trying to deflect the blows. She looked beyond him into the crowded market, and saw the fatter man, his pallid face shiny with sweat, eyes bulging. Two young Cambodian men held him firmly by the scruff of his hideous Hawaiian shirt, a huge, pointy meat hook hovering only inches from his face. She saw his eyes cross as he stared at the vicious barb so close to his ugly mug.
Abbie cried out as two strong hands grabbed her by the shoulders and dragged her into the darkness of the narrow aisles. Hands pushed her along in front of them, stopping only when they arrived at a wooden door. Abbie couldn’t breathe.