Morocco with Annabelle Thorpe
Off to Morocco today – well Marrakech and Taroudant to be more precise as well as a short jaunt to Qatar. So strap on your seatbelts, sit back and get ready for a literary ride. Annabelle Thorpe, author of What Lies Within is about to take you on quite a journey!
I’ve always wanted to set a book in Morocco. It’s been something of a love affair ever since my first visit, around fifteen years ago, when my sister and I went to research a travel article on what the city was like for two women travelling alone. I found it overwhelming that first time; the tangled streets of the medina crammed with people, bikes, mopeds, donkeys, delivery carts – a true assault on the senses that was unlike anywhere I’d ever been before. But it also fascinated me, and since then I have found myself drawn back again and again to this vibrant, enigmatic country.
When it came to writing What Lies Within, Marrakech seemed the obvious choice. I wanted to write something quite intimate; the study of a marriage breaking down and the betrayals hidden within that, but I also wanted to set it abroad. I’m fascinated by how different we become when we travel – away from the social constraints and norms that we normally live by.
I’ve been to Fez – and loved it – but I felt I didn’t know it well enough to draw a really accurate picture. And Marrakech has more of an expat population – something I wanted to explore – many of whom have built riads (old townhouses) in the medina, and converted them into hotels and B&Bs. I read several books written by people who have done exactly that – most notably Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House – and it struck me as a hugely challenging, but rewarding process. I wanted to put one of my characters in that situation, and explore the difficulties and issues of trying to get things done in a country with very different traditions and social mores.
Over the years I’ve travelled quite widely in Morocco, and it was wonderful to be able to use some of those adventures in the book. One of my favourite trips was with my sister, driving over the Atlas mountains from Marrakech to Taroudant, stopping on the way at the mountain village of Imlil, in the shadow of the imposing Mount Toubkal. Both the places we stayed – the Berber guesthouse in Imlil, and the riad in Taroudant – make it into the book. I found Taroudant so utterly different from Marrakech – much less touristic – that it seemed an ideal place for the book’s most dramatic revelations and plot twists. And Imlil – where I sat on the terrace of the guesthouse and watched dusk creep up the valley – remains one of the most tranquil places I have found in Morocco. It seemed an ideal place for Freya to visit, a key moment in the journey she is undergoing.
But Marrakech had to be the heart of the book; almost a character in itself. Although I’ve been many times, I went for a few days on my own when I started writing What Lies Within, and it gave me the opportunity to collect all sorts of details and moments that made it, unchanged, into the book. I was chased through the souk by a vendor shouting ‘Hey London, buy my shoes,’ and spent a lot of time on the lovely chilled out terrace at Kosybar, above the Place des Ferblantiers, that doubles as Larousse, the scene of the pivotal dinner party in the novel. My day at the Beldi Country Club – a gorgeous country estate a few kilometres out of the city – became La Vie en Rose. And La Mamounia is exactly as I’ve described it. Like Dame Edith, it really is the grand dame of the city.
Perhaps the place I’ve taken most liberties with is Villa Merteuil, home to the louche Jean-Charles and Sabine. Whilst I’ve never been to that sort of party, I did visit a hotel in the Valley d’Ourika, about twenty minutes’ drive out of the city, that was owned by a French ex-banker and coterie of friends that definitely had the sense of being the kind of place where those sort of things might happen. It was less of a hotel, more of a super-luxurious guesthouse, with works of art and antiques dotted around large, dimly-lit rooms.
Yet in all my visits to Morocco – from Tangier in the north, through Fez, Rabat, Essaouira and Taroudant – I still feel like Freya, that I haven’t truly got to the heart of this unique country. Moroccans are incredibly friendly people, and yet they remain somehow unknowable. Even after fifteen years and countless visits, I still find Morocco a bewitching enigma. The perfect place, then, to set a book.
Many manythanks Annabelle for taking us on quite the tour!