I have started to think about the village which will be the setting for my new novel. The war photographer will not physically spend much time there, but it will be a place that he will remember often in the future. Once he has visited it, his life will never be the same, and he will never forget the things that happen there.
So, it is important to get the terrain and the people straight in my head. The Vietnamese teacher has been taking me out around Kon Tum on his motorbike, and slowly but surely, a sense of the imaginary village is starting to form.
I want it to be surrounded by mountains, deep green, and to have a wide brown meandering river running through it. The village will back onto the river. The land surrounding it will be many shades of green, and there will be rice paddies on the far side of the river bank. It will be remote, and the roads will be little more than orange dirt tracks, surrounded by overgrown green bushes which trespass onto the paths.
The main house of the action will have a wooden frame with natural plaster daubed in between (see below). It will most likely have a thatched roof, not a tiled one like the one in the it picture below.
I am currently writing a short story for a publication Picador will bring out later this year for its 40th Anniversary celebrations. I have been using the short piece to start to draw out the village in my mind, though the story I tell is very different to the one in my new novel. The short piece is about a Vietnamese village where a group of American soldiers are living with the villagers, protecting them from the Viet Cong, and trying to teach the Vietnamese police how to run the village. It is called ‘Forty Feet’.
This village is a place I will go back to often while writing the novel, and I am enjoying watching it grow now. I am lucky enough to just step out of the door of the hotel and find inspiration and I know I will long to be able to do this when I am far from here…