• In Other Words

Researching the Landscape in FROI OF THE EXILES

March 22, 2012
Mar 22, 2012
“Lumatere had always been a feast for Froi’s eyes. Even during the years of little rain, it was a contrast of lush green grass and thick rich silt carpeting the Flatlands and the river villages. But Charyn was a kingdom of rock and very little beauty. Here the terrain was a rough path of dirt, pocketed with caves and hills of stones.” —FROI OF THE EXILES

Landscape is just about everything in a fantasy novel, and when I decided that I was going to write one, I knew I had to travel to get the setting right. Most of my FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK research took place in the Dordogne area of France as well as Umbria, Italy. I wanted the kingdom of Lumatere to look lush, much the same as the French and English country side. But when I sensed there would be a sequel, I knew that the neighbouring kingdom would have to be the complete opposite.

My research for a setting usually begins with Google or a travel book. I picture a place in my head and then I go searching for it. I found the town of Matera in the editors’ picks of a Lonely Planet guide. I instantly fell in love with the idea of my characters living in caves, so in March 2009, when the first spark of Froi came to me, I went to Central Italy in search of Charyn, the enemy kingdom where most of the action of FROI OF THE EXILES takes place.

Two important words came to my attention while I was in Matera: one was the Citavita (in Italian the words mean “city and life”) and the other was the Italian word for ravine—gravina. My photos don’t do justice to how mighty the gravina that splits Matera into two is, but I knew that somehow that chasm had to feature in the geography of the enemy capital and act as a gulf between people, brothers, lovers, and dreams.

In the photo above, you can see a church made of rock. On one side it looks over the ravine and on the other side you can see people’s homes. Across the ravine is a winding road. For my novel, I made the gravina much more narrow. Across from it, where the road curves, I placed a castle where Froi lives for part of the story.

“Froi walked to the door that opened to the balconette. Across the narrow stretch of the gravina, the outer wall of the oracle’s godshouse tilted toward them.” —FROI OF THE EXILES

Despite my trip in March 2009, FROI proved to be a difficult novel to write and I plotted it in my head for a long while before I began physically writing it. In September 2010, I was ready to truly get started. The action between the palace and the godshouse in the Citavita only takes up part of the novel, and I had to work out the rest of Charyn’s physical landscape.

Years before, in a FINNIKIN scene, I wrote about a view in France having ten shades of green and it took my breath away. We were in the middle of a drought here in Australia and I hadn’t seen that type of lushness for a while. But in Turkey, especially in Cappadocia, I got to see 10 shades of grey and it was equally as breathtaking. I wanted to contrast the kingdoms of both novels, and especially use the description of Charyn as a way of describing the spirit of its people. When Froi’s revulsion towards the Princess of Charyn turns into something more, he describes her as being every shade of Charyn stone.

Cappadocia was also used to describe the beautifully decadent province of Paladozza. I remember being on one of the flat roofs trying to Skype my sister back home and holding up my lap top so she could see what I was looking out at. It was a bad connection, but she caught a glimpse and couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

“In Paladozza a peculiar world of color existed on the roofs of people’s houses. Unlike Lumatere, with its lush greens and golds, here the strange landscape of stone cones and cave houses was coloured in shades of light pink and soft brown and white. Once upon a time stone had been stone to Froi.” —FROI OF THE EXILES

One of the major settings of FROI is a valley between Lumatere and Charyn. It was easy to visualise, but difficult to write and I was desperate to find the real thing. As usual, I found bits and pieces of it and created my own idea of the valley. Most of the detail comes from the Valley of Ihlara outside Cappadocia.

“...The valley between them had always fascinated him. Lucian caught sight of the gorge below. On the side where the mountain met the stream was woodland and a world that looked easily like Lumatere. But on the other side of the stream was a strange landscape of caves perched high.... He reached the stream and could see the Charynites up in their caves looking down at him suspiciously.... Farther along Phaedra of Alonso was bent over in what looked like a vegetable patch....” —FROI OF THE EXILES

This is how I imagine the stream seen from the Lumateran side.

This is where the Charyn refugees were camped in caves on the other side of the stream.

This photo shows the type of vegetable patches that still thrived in such terrain. As haphazard as they look, they still managed to feed people in hiding. I loved the true stories about how those who hid in the Ihlara Valley thousands of years ago had to find a way to fertilise the soil. So they carved little holes in the outer cave walls for pigeons and then each day they’d collect the droppings.

This final photo is a fun one. I was in Troy and they had this re-enactment photo of the invasion and apart from the fear of what the second man was forced to see looking up the first man’s skirt, it gave me an idea of how to get Froi into a room I was desperate for him to get into. And just to prove that not all research comes from the most profound of places.

“He climbed out to stand on the ledge with his face pressed to the outer walls, his fingers feeling for grooves, his toes gripping stone. Slowly he made his way up to the window above. Despite the short distance and Froi’s expertise...in climbing all things impossible—all things impossible took on new meaning when there was nothing beneath him but unending space and the promise of death.” —FROI OF THE EXILES

Melina Marchetta is the acclaimed and award-winning author of JELLICOE ROAD, which won the Michael L. Printz Award; SAVING FRANCESCA, and its companion novel, THE PIPER'S SON; and LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI. She lives in Australia, where FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK, her first fantasy novel, won an Aurealis Award. Her latest novel, FROI OF THE EXILES, was released in the U.S. earlier this month. You can visit Melina online at http://www.melinamarchetta.com.au/.

© 2013 Text & photos: Melina Marchetta. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

5 Questions With... Melina Marchetta (JELLICOE ROAD, FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK)

Flights of Fantasy Book Reviews
Annual ConferenceJoin Us!Engaging the Adolescent LearnerResource Catalog