As an author of fiction, I am often asked, “Have you been to the places you write about?” I am extremely fortunate to have travelled to many places in the world—you could call it an objective of mine. Generally, then, the answer to the question, for me, is yes.
Do I think you must have visited the places you write about as a fiction author? No. We have imaginations and the internet. So long as you can make a reader believe in the world you write, you’ve done your job as an author.
But I like to write about places I have been. For me, there is a greater sense of authenticity—whether simply in my own mind or whether it translates to the page. More than this, however, is my desire to revisit the places I have experienced through my characters. To understand or remember how I felt about them. To reflect on my time there and how those places have enriched my life, broadened my views and altered my opinions.
Globe-trotting, though subtle, has become a feature of my work. The first trilogy I sold to Harlequin, Vengeful Love, was set between London, Rome, Dubai and the Caribbean. My first standalone novel, Scarred by You, featured England, Bahrain, Dubai and Brazil.
"Carter’s debut romance trilogy combines suspense, sensuality, and glamorous international settings reminiscent of Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon."
- Book Riot (Most Anticipated Reads of 2016)
My most recent series of standalone romances from Kensington Publishing is the Brits in Manhattan series. The series comprises three books—Balancing the Scales (1), Playing to Win (2) and Hedging His Bets (3)—and, as the series name suggests, is largely set between England and New York. But the third book in the series, Hedging His Bets, has allowed me to revisit South East Asia and Australia, drawing on some experiences of other places, like Fiji, too.
Hedging His Bets is a romantic comedy with the theme of friendship as prevalent as the romance. The hero, Jake Harrington, is a high-flying investor, working for a lucrative hedge fund in London. The heroine, Jess Walters, is a woman trying to figure out her place in life.
A high-flying investor
New Yorker Jake Harrington loves a lot of things about living in London. His lucrative hedge fund job. The way British women melt at the sound of an American accent. His just-sex arrangement with his gorgeous roommate, Jess. And, oh yes, being thousands of miles away from the girl who betrayed him.
His sexy British flat-mate
Jess’s deal with Jake suits her fine. No commitments, no risk of being hurt again, just friendship and mind-blowing pleasure. And friends do each other favors, like agreeing to go on a trip to New York where Jake will have to face his past.
And a vacation that will change everything…
What friends shouldn’t do? Suddenly find themselves feeling something much more complicated than simple lust. When “no strings” is no longer enough, will Jake be willing to take the ultimate gamble?
Though Hedging His Bets is largely written from Jake’s point of view, Jess’s past drives the story and her relationship with Jake. The way he understands her better than she understands herself and how deeply they love each other, is why readers will root for this couple.
After Jess is orphaned as a child, she is taken into the care of her hippie aunt, who lives a nomadic lifestyle, backpacking around the world. Through Jess’s chapters, we get to see and feel her exploration of life and cultures in different countries and we see how those experiences have shaped Jess and brought her into the path of Jake.
Jess’s character is complex and thoughtful. A free spirit and inquisitive, yet desperately in search of roots in her life. As a writer, being in Jess’s mind-set was emotionally draining and exhilarating all at once.
Through Jess, I got to travel back to Asia and experience her wet and uncomfortable barge journey down the Mekong River from Thailand into Laos.
“The sun was setting over the Mekong River as I looked back in the direction we traveled from Thailand. […] I hoisted my luggage higher on my back and tightened the padded straps across my shoulders.”
I was reminded of the first time I wandered through padi fields.
“I walked along the river until I came to paddy fields. I watched workers going about digging up rice, fascinated, since I had never really thought about where rice came from. I had seen it in boil-in-a-bag packaging. I had never appreciated the world made it.”
One of my favourite scenes in Hedging His Bets is Jess’s flashback to the Alm’s Giving Ceremony of monks in Luang Prabang and the effect this has on her appreciation of the different lives of others.
“I asked [my aunt] to wake me before sunrise and I went down to the ceremony. I stood next to a local lady who barely spoke English, as we waited in a line along the street the monks would traverse. She tugged on my baggy pants and kaftan, which I wore to cover my knees and shoulders. She pointed to her feet, which were naked, then to mine, which were in sandals.
Understanding her, I took off my shoes and followed her lead as she sat on the ground and tucked her legs beneath her.
The sun began to rise and heat my body. I felt the warmth of the new day and the warmth of being part of something.”
Some of the less obvious scenes in the book also sprung from my own travels. When the cast of the series sit by a fire on the beach in the Hamptons, playing music and sharing stories, I cast my mind back to sitting out on a beach in Fiji doing a similar thing.
“After dinner, Brooks, Kit and I clear the table and load the dishwasher. It’s the least we can do, given we’ve contributed in no other way. We decide during that time that we should make a fire on the beach. Like the cavemen hunter gatherers that we so obviously are, in our tailored shorts and shirts, the three of us find wood and other scraps to make a fire on the beach. Unlike cavemen, we light the fire with half a box of matches and a bottle of lighter fuel. […] I sit on a rug, with Jess by my side…in the circle we have formed around the small flames.”
But the most important thing my travels taught me, and what I hope readers see in Jess, is her acceptance of the unknown and the different. Her thoughtfulness that has come from time spent contemplating her travels. That she really does aspire for a life of calm and happiness.
The true wealth of travel, for me, lies in this exploration of and empathy with other cultures and walks of life.
So, grab your passport and see the world through Jess’s eyes. Get lost in the story of her friendship and romance with Jake.
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