Switzerland & Ireland Merge in The Falcon Strikes

My friend, Gabrielle Mathieu, makes her home in Switzerland, but not too long ago she visited me (and the west of Ireland) to research her latest novel, THE FALCON STRIKES. The story, set in Ireland in 1958, is part of a historical fantasy series. 

Traumatized by hallucinogenic voyages to the world of the dead, Peppa Mueller would like nothing more than to spend a quiet life together with the man she loves. But she doesn't trust herself--or her powerful falcon totem. So she hunts. 

Peppa’s search for weapons dealer Sylvia de Pena takes her from a terrifying encounter in Dublin’s finest hotel, to a wretched hovel on the outskirts of Galway, to a smoky pub that doubles as a secret meeting place for the IRA.

Will she be able to set things right? Or will she die trying?

Gabrielle loves traveling to new places. Here, she chats a bit about how her journeys have influenced her writing:

"I think of myself as a traveling bard, and so there’s a lot of motion in my series. My heroine Peppa has been described as always running away from something, or to something. Not for me, the claustrophobic stage of a family drama, coy mysteries set in damp British villages, or poignant literary novels about quiet suffering. There’s a roaming peripatetic quality to my writing, combined with a curiousity about how societies work—under what common agreements they thrive. And then of course there is my fascination with those excluded by the social contract, forced to seek validation elsewhere. In THE FALCON STRIKES that’s the character of orphaned chemistry nerd Peppa. Then there’s her falcon totem, a magical guardian that makes life even more challenging.

I returned to Europe myself seven years ago, starting over in a small town in Switzerland, after an absence of more than forty years. Our last home had been the chillin’ metropolis of Austin, Texas, an oasis of Mexican martinis and liberal politics in a red sea of Budweiser. I rediscovered old crushes at idiosyncratic coffee shops and lost new “best friends “as soon as the shine was off. I felt at once charismatic and inadequate, compelling and bewildered, weighed down with ennui and then, unreasonably excited.

Switzerland is a land of few and quiet dramas in comparison to the USA, which was certainly helpful for parking myself behind a desk most evenings and actually writing, as opposed to going out for chips and novel drinks someplace entertaining and colorful. As in most of Europe, the smaller towns are a mixture of older and newer neighborhoods. The old houses were built to last, and they still line the streets where I live, reminding me of the past days of this conservative society.

I wanted to somehow connect my heroine Peppa to an actual Swiss hero of science, pharmacologist Albert Hoffman, who just recently passed away, having lived to be over a hundred despite his experimentation with LSD. Albert, named Alex in my novel, is Peppa’s guide to the mysteries of the botanical poison that awakens her protective falcon totem.

What easier way to connect them, than to make Peppa Swiss, with an Irish mother. Once I hit on this contrivance, I was off to the alps of the Appenzell, searching for a quaint village to host the moonlight massacre that kicks off the first novel in the series, A FALCON FLIES ALONE. A walk along the beautiful promenade of the Rhine river in Basel helped me visualize Peppa’s comfortable childhood home, before her father’s ambition and guilt take them abroad to Boston and Harvard. A research visit to Munich helped solidify my gentlemanly villain’s sophisticated tastes. A professor of anthropology, Ludwig lives in a lemon-colored villa adorned by cherubs, where he eats entrails for dinner, and conducts sinister experiments in the cellar.

Having had so much fun traveling to research my first book, I decided to look further abroad for the setting of THE FALCON STRIKES. With a prematurely deceased Irish mother, the stage was set for the introduction of “the old wagon,” Peppa’s grumpy grandmother, who lives in a castle near Galway. Peppa travels to Ireland with the sole intention of stopping the sale of the botanical poison as a terrorist weapon. Irish politics quickly prove to be too complicated, and she takes refuge with her grandmother, at the fictional Brandford Castle, loosely based on Cong’s Ashford Castle. Fiona Claire took us sightseeing, and helped me brainstorm. I found myriad approaches to the castle, which would enable Peppa to sneak up on the paramilitaries who invade the castle. Galway’s bookstore had the perfect book “Galway City: Snapshots through Time”, which helped me visualize the boarding house and pubs where Peppa spends her time as she tries to infiltrate an IRA splinter group. A visit to Belfast completed the research; luckily, unlike Peppa, I didn’t have to travel on the Go Quickly, the German moped that she rides all the way back to Galway in her desperation to escape a sadistic Scottish detective. My setting was perfected; my grasp of history and various political factions is still evolving. I’ve posted some thoughts

The third book, THE FALCON SOARS, set in India, Nepal, and Tibet, will be published in 2018. Our unforgettable trip to Annapurna Base Camp is documented on my blog

Where to next?

Since my upcoming new epic fantasy series takes places on the continent of Heartland, in a country called Trea, I’ll have a real traveling challenge ahead. I’ll have to close my eyes, put on some downtempo electronica, and use my brain as the vehicle.

Cheaper, though more of a challenge to blog about.