An ocean, a lake, a river, a brook – these are what draw me in any view, their pull magnetic. I see in them all the blues of an artist’s palette; I see nature untamed; I see the personification of human emotion, from the restless, furious churning of a stormy sea to the still depths of a pond.
I grew up in a house in Alexandria, Egypt, overlooking the Mediterranean; as long as I can remember I have been standing at windows, in gardens, on paths, looking towards the water. The water is home. The water is solace. It is as the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in a letter to his wife, Clara (1903):
I will not worry and will think only good things. When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused. And much is so.
Water is a force to soothe the soul – and to stir it. To inspire. To energise. It is beauty; it is life.
Naturally, then, it is an integral part of every story I tell, every landscape I paint with words. Here are some views of the water in my novels, from river to lake to sea.
The Nile: Song of the Nile
From here the view was breathtaking: the slow-moving Nile lying like a pearlescent sheet, so still it seemed as though you could walk across the water to the farthest bank, where the pink hills of the Valley of the Tombs rose up, changing colour as the sun rode the sky. During the day, feluccas, the romantic gull-winged sailing boats used since antiquity, skimmed over the surface of the river like big white moths.
The river was flowing timelessly between its banks, grey and tranquil amid green rushes, papyrus and other water plants. It had a romantic magic that was all its own – tranquillity plus mystery, ancient yet untouched by time – a magic that had surrounded Aida for the first eighteen years of her life. And now she was back and it was as if she had never gone away.
Lake Como: Concerto
Under bright sunlit skies the view of Lake Como was wondrous to behold. A deep sense of serenity overcame her as she stared in rapture at the expanse of blue that lay before her. The lake was the finest of mirrors, never reflecting exactly what was above but converting it to an image so beautifully smudged and broken.
Although Catriona had been tired she found the slow and leisurely ferry ride over the lake exhilarating and almost heart-stopping in its beauty – a lyrical gouache of colour stabbed at intervals by the solemnity of the stately cypress, a tree very much native to Italy. On both sides of the boat the magnificent rocky shores were studded with the gardens of Italian belle-époque villas, crowded with a wealth of rare trees, exotic flowers and broad lawns, with narrow pink or mellow yellow stone staircases that went down to the edge of the lake. As the ferry glided past, her vivid and romantic imagination conjured up bygone scenes of gentlemen in striped blazers, flannels and straw boaters, accompanied on deck by ladies in long dresses, side-buttoned kidskin boots and holding parasols.
Towering over all, and filling half the round of the horizon, reared the mighty Alpine chain with its base wrapped in a robe of imperial purple, flinging its countless crests towards the blue heaven like the defiant arms of the mythic Titans. In the warming rays of the afternoon sun, fragrant blooms were launching their scent on the balmy air while the boat rocked to the liquid ripple of the lake in the infinite silence.
Gulf of Cadiz: Legacy
The afternoon sun was still high and hot in the sky when Luna closed her laptop and looked out over the beach. The white-gold heat of it was vibrating, the colours startling. The beach was fawn and amber with patches of white foam; the sea a deep blue, calm and silent as a lake, a few sails sprinkling its scintillating surface.
Nothing’s going to stop me from having a swim, she thought, gazing at the water lapping limpidly on the burnished sand.
In no time, she had slipped on her bikini and made her way down the dunes to the water’s edge. She stepped into the sapphire water, which, further on, shadowed to cobalt beneath the rocks of the wide bay. As she looked back, the peninsula of Cádiz appeared in all its splendour, outlined on the horizon, a white dream of domes and towers, thrusting out like a pearly hand into the dark blue Atlantic.
Aegean Sea: Aphrodite’s Tears
By now the boat had skirted a headland and had moved closer again to the shore, following it in parallel. Gentle gusts of wind were filled with a briny tang as they made Oriel’s hair flutter across her face. The sea was translucent and she gazed through the blue water at the little silver fish that darted in shoals, first one way, then the other.
Looking up, she caught the glare of brilliant whiteness between the two bands of blue. There was the deeper one of the water, moving in a dance of lights and shadows, and the great upper band of the burning blue sky above the hilled islands they were passing by. It made the white structure of the little cliff-side villages, with their white walls and roofs of reddish tiles, their ridged slopes rich with pines, olives and pointed cypresses, stand out in such a picturesque way.
Indian Ocean: Burning Embers
Today was one of those particularly fine days — a sapphire sort of day, when the sky and the ocean blended. Coral ran down to the beach after a light breakfast. The sea was divinely calm and transparent, looking like cool liquid silk, and she spent most of the morning going in and out of the water to avoid the glaring sun. She could see the beaches of an island that had intrigued her since her childhood glittering across the smooth expanse in the distance. It did not look so far away, and Coral felt like this was the perfect time for an excursion. Fully armed with her usual paraphernalia, she set out in her rowing boat to the isolated reef…
It was not long before Coral reached her deserted island, which now appeared overgrown with a jungle greenery of tall palms and luscious shrubs. She pulled her boat onto the beach next to a heap of mossy rocks that appeared to mark the entrance to a cave. Pools of turquoise water dotted the stretch of tawny sand, creating curiously shaped coves and secluded creeks. This was a place to relax, she thought as she threw herself onto the shore, thrilled with her discovery.