British author’s research trip to Croatia
- by croatiaweek
- in Entertainment
British women’s fiction author, Eva Glyn, recently spent time in Croatia to research her summer 2023 novel which is set in and around Dubrovnik.
“Why do you always write about war?” my husband asked me. He has a point. My books may be aimed at the holiday reading market, but I love history and as they’re set in Croatia, it is very hard to ignore what happened in the country during the twentieth century.
Nor do I want to. There are important stories to be told. In fact it was the experiences of Dubrovnik based tour guide Darko Barisic growing up during the conflict that inspired me to write about the country in the first place. Well, that and the beautiful scenery, warm and generous people and fascinating culture. Not to mention the food, the wine, the olive oil and some of the best coffee in the world.
So in June and July I was back in Croatia to research my summer 2023 release, which as well as looking back to the Second World War has an important character who was a Dubrovnik Defender. The book was already drafted so I had a precise list of where I wanted to go; Lopud (in particular the old monastery), Trsteno Arboretum, Mount Srd and within Dubrovnik old town an eclectic mix of locations important to the story.
Basing ourselves on Sipan for the first few days it was an easy hop across to Lopud on the ferry. The monastery is now high end holiday let and event space, Lopud 1483, but thanks to the efforts of the general manager I was able to squeeze in a visit between guests and felt privileged to see inside such a wonderfully restored building.
What had drawn me to the place originally was the knowledge that some of Dubrovnik’s Jewish community had been interned on Lopud in 1942-3 by the Italians and I figured the monastery was one of the few places large enough. When I saw a video of the master suite, where there is preserved graffiti that reads ‘il duce’, I was convinced I was right.
It took a visit to the island for me to find out I wasn’t, which is why it is so important to go to the locations in a book, walk the ground and talk to local people. Also internet searches work differently when you are in a particular country and new avenues of information open up. I discovered the Jews had actually been held in the Grand Hotel, an icon of 1930’s architecture now crumbling behind security fences, which entailed some rewriting, but worth it to get the facts right.
Onto the mainland where first stop was the Museum of the Croatian War of Independence on Mount Srd to find out as much as I could about the Siege of Dubrovnik. While the museum itself is fascinating, I struck really lucky by booking a driver through Dubrovnik 4U Transfers to take me there. Kresimir Pehar lived in Dubrovnik during the siege and readily told me what things were really like in the city, sharing his own and his family’s experiences.
Having grown up in a country where there has been peace throughout my lifetime I am always awestruck by what the Croatian people went through and their resilience. Watching Kresimir photograph the rippling flag next to the 6th December 1991 monument almost brought a tear to my eye. Talking to someone who lived through an historical event brings it to life more than any museum ever can.
He wasn’t the only veteran I encountered as I wanted to discover how the old town had been affected by the war. Determined to find someone who was a veteran of the conflict to show me around I booked guide Mato Knego, who had told me he could tailor the tour to my exact requirements. He was good to his word, and from the first moment we simply walked and talked, drank coffee and talked some more. About the miracle (my word, not his) of 6th December 1991, about the struggle to feed and arm those left in the city, about the refugees who arrived with nothing – and the long term effects of the fighting too.
It seemed almost incongruous on a bright sunny morning with the old town thronged with tourists and laughter filling the air, but it just goes to show how in thirty years Dubrovnik has moved on to once again become a thriving holiday destination. But when you learn what to look for you can find the scars of war everywhere and to me it’s vitality important the sacrifices made should never be forgotten.
I guess this is why I include these conflicts in my books, and choose to do so through the medium of commercial fiction that has the capacity to reach a wide audience. I love the thought that someone on a cruise around Dalmatia, or staying at one of Opatija’s seafront hotels, picks up holiday reading that not only entertains them, but teaches them something about Croatia too.
Eva’s hidden gems:
Konoba Tri Sestre in Sudurad, Sipan. Wonderfully friendly family run restaurant with great views and fabulous food. Pre-order the peka – it’s amazing.
The View apartment, Cavtat, available through Airbnb. Talking of views, perched on the hill above the town this place is stunning. A stylish home from home.
The Jewish Museum in Zudioska Street, Dubrovnik. In the same building as the synagogue it is both tiny and fascinating with really friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Villa Orsula, Dubrovnik. We were upgraded from the hotel next door, probably because it was my husband’s birthday. They certainly knew because they brought a cake to our room. Impeccable customer service delivered with professionalism and warmth. Worth saving up to stay there if you can possibly manage it.
Eva Glyn’s books are published by Harper Collins and are available on Amazon worldwide, through Znanje in Croatia, Barnes & Noble in the US and Waterstones and other good book stores in the UK.