Walking through ancient history: A photo tour of Ephesus


At the end of March, Smarty Pants went to an academic conference in Izmir, a port city on the Aegan in south-west Turkey.

I’d never been to Turkey, so I joined him – not for the conference, but for four days of relaxing and wandering around the city searching for the best cafe.

On our last day, we went together to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. Many people will know of Ephesus from the New Testament book of Ephesians, which claims to have been written by Paul (though biblical scholars debate this).

Whether Paul wrote the book or it was written in his name later, Paul was almost certainly involved in setting up the Christian church in Ephesus.

But he’s not the only important historical figure who once strode through the ancient city. It was a Greek city under the rule of Athens, then Sparta. Alexander the Great won the city from the Persians. It was later ruled by Egypt, then Syria before becoming Roman.

The city was lost for centuries, but about 100 years ago it was discovered again and excavations started. It’s under constant restoration now, and it’s a stunning site to be able to walk around. It really is like living history.

I hope you enjoy this little tour!

Temple of Artemis
Temple of Artemis

This column is pretty much all that remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Behind it to the left is a local mosque. Behind to the right is the Basilica of St John, where John is said to be buried. Amazing to see pagan, Muslim and Christian buildings so close to each other. The column is now the home of storks (check out the top – you can see their nest).
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Dublin’s best museum: a must-visit for writers and readers

Back in March, I was lucky enough to spend a weekend with my husband’s Irish cousins in Dublin.

For my husband, his dad, and his cousin, it was a big rugby weekend. The men in my family are big Ireland rugby supporters (I can’t bring myself to tell them the hero in my novel First Aid for a Broken Heart plays for England), and that weekend Ireland smashed Scotland.

But tickets are expensive, so I watched the match on TV with my mum-in-law and cousin’s wife. You get much better close-ups of players getting their shorts ripped off that way.

Chester Beatty LibraryAnyway…the day of the match, my mum-in-law and I had a girl-date. As a belated birthday treat for me, she took me to the Chester Beatty Library, and I’ve been urging people to go ever since.

Here’s the story:

Chester Beatty was a New Yorker, born in 1875. He studied mining and started his career shoveling rock in mines before going on to become an engineer and then consultant.

But Chester’s main passion was collecting. As you’d imagine, he started off with minerals as a kid, but as an adult he branched out into European and Persian manuscripts.

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Three countries I’d like to set a book in

Bird statues next to Charles Bridge in Prague

Our mutual love for travel and books were the two things that brought me and my husband together. We both had literature degrees (I’m an American with a degree in British lit; he’s a Brit with a degree in American lit) and our love of language and adventure led us both to teach English in Prague, where we met.

So it’s no wonder that one of my favorite things to do when starting to write a new novel is deciding on where to set it.

Sometimes the setting is immediately part of the story. The plot of the manuscript I’m revising, All Things Easy, sprang into my head one night as I was thinking about uncomfortable things I witnessed as a child in the small town my uncle lived in in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in California.

But more often I come up with a plot that could happen almost anywhere and I have to figure out the best place for the action to happen. This usually involves a trip to the library and a dozen Lonely Planets – or, as I think of them, travel porn.

Here are three countries I’d love to set a book in:


This is a bit of a cheat, because I actually am writing a novel set partly in Bosnia. My husband and I are going there later this spring so I can gather some research. The war was one of the first I remember seeing on TV. It happened just as I was becoming more aware of world affairs, and I remember being distraught by some of the images I saw and stories I heard. This new manuscript I’m writing required a place that’s still recovering from war, particularly a war where civilian women were directly targeted.

It won’t be the cheeriest of books.

South Africa

I’ve wanted to go to South Africa for a long time. One of the novels I plan to write needs to be set in a country with close historical ties to Britain, that’s susceptible to natural disasters, that is rugby mad, and has areas of outstanding beauty. Australia’s too far away. Time to save up some money…


Himeji castle
Himeji castle

My husband and I visited Japan in November, and one of my favorite experiences was taking a tour around a castle and learning about life in feudal Japan. I took roughly 500 photos and had ideas for two novels. I’d love to do more research into feudal Japan, but these are books I’ll probably never write unless I spend a few years living in Japan. I’m not familiar enough with the culture and I’m wary of creating protagonists whose culture I don’t understand well. There are so many cultural nuances that influence behavior, and I’d hate to get it wrong.

Instead, I’ll give you this photo of part of the castle. This is actually one of the storehouses, since the main castle building is under renovation.

What three countries would you like to set a story in? Have you written novels set in a country you don’t live in? Were you able to visit them for research?