Romancing the Middle East
I'll never forget heading to Sydney Airport to board my flight to take on what ended up being my last corporate job. One of my main fears was that I would make make a never-ending string of unforgivable faux pas as I navigated my clumsy way around an unfamiliar culture.
Well, I definitely had my fair share of foot-in-mouth moments over the next three years, but my new Arab Muslim colleagues were unfailingly generous, patient, kind, and good-humoured, and never made me feel like the dolt I undoubtedly was.
The truth is, I was intensely interested in everything about my new place of residence and its people, and because of that, my new friends and colleagues were quick to unlock a piece of their world for me. My questions were answered, all kinds of experiences were offered to me, and I was accepted in ways I hadn't even dreamed of. Looking back I'd say those years were characterised by a sort of poetry (and I did, in fact, come to understand that poetry is intrinsic to life in the UAE) and I hope that some of that feeling will stay with me always.
It was inevitable that I'd end up writing a book to celebrate that period of my life. In fact, I started tapping out the first chapter of Now You’re Mine while I was still living there. I'm glad I put it aside, though, because hindsight has made me appreciate those memories even more.
In a way, it's a romance in more than the usual way - my own love story for a land I will never forget.My heroine, Jenna, sees herself as a very ordinary girl from Boston, but when she gets lost in the Abu Dhabi desert and meets the beautifully exotic Kalan Al Talyani she starts to transform into a woman she doesn't recognise - a woman she is almost scared to know...
Now You’re Mine is a story about two worlds colliding, about exploring who you are and what you're made of, about searching for something even when you don’t know what that something is, and about finding your place to belong.
What I'd like to do here is give you a behind-the-scenes look at the book by sharing Ten Fast Facts...
1. The book's original title was Kalan and the Kiss, because the first time the hero, Kalan, kisses the heroine, Jenna, is a landmark moment...
Kalan . . . and the kiss. That was how I’d always think of that moment, when the world opened up for me and I was beautiful and desired, a woman who could be his, even if it was only for one night.
2. The hero was originally intended to be a Bedouin vampire! In the end, he turned into just your regular run-of-the-mill reclusive billionaire - the kind any girl could stumble upon when she's lost in the Arabian desert.
3. There are various conversations in the book between the hero and heroine that were prompted by actual conversations I had with my Arab Muslim friends - including this discussion about four wives v. four husbands...
Visions of sex slavery danced into my head. Me in a marble room full of luscious women, wearing something gauzy, floaty, diaphanous. Being singled out, cut from the harem herd. 'The master wants the blonde one prepared for his bed. Fetch the unguents and oils . . .'
'And no,' he said, 'I'm not going to abduct you for my harem.'
I started. What the ‒ 'Did you just say harem?'
'Did you just think it?' A low chuckle – very sexy. 'Don't worry, we don't keep harems anymore. We can have four wives – that is quite enough.'
'You can ‒? Four?' I squeaked, my diaphanously-swathed doppelganger re-forming into the real Jenna Martin, journalist, in a jarring instant. 'Do you really have four wives?'
'No. I don't even have one.'
'But you can have four?'
He inclined his head. 'Theoretically. Does that shock you?'
'Well . . . yes, actually. But I'm kind of interested, too. About the . . . the practicalities, I guess. I mean, with four wives, what would you ‒? Or four husbands, if it came to that.' I laughed. 'Four husbands. Polyandry. Well, why the hell not, right?
Clearly, I was experiencing jetlag – people said jetlag did strange things to you, and this conversation was way strange. Four husbands! I couldn't even keep Mick-Missionary-Position interested, and the five months I'd spent with him had been my longest relationship.
'Why would you need four?' he asked, seeming to find the concept just as interesting as I did.
'To cover all the bases. Like a division of duties. One, a provider – well, duh! Two, a friend – who doesn't need one of those? Three, bring on the handyman – because I'm so in need of some creative storage solutions for my tiny apartment. And four, of course, is ‒' I broke off as my brain engaged. One did not talk to strange men in foreign lands about sex, did one? Unless one wanted to end up axe-murdered and buried in a sand dune?
'Four is . . .?' he prompted.
'Not nothing, I think.'
I racked my brain for a safe answer but nothing came darting into that recalcitrant organ. I looked cautiously into his eyes, which were regarding me with a sort of rapt amusement, and intuitively knew he wasn't the kind of guy to wield an axe. Even minus my own intuition, I couldn't picture blood spatter being allowed to mess up his immaculate kandura. And really, he could have axed me already if he was so inclined. So I thought, Well, hell, why not go for broke? – that's jetlag for you!
'As a matter of fact, number four is the most important,' I said daringly. 'Number four would be my lover.'
4. When I designed the hero Kalan Al Talyani's palatial desert home, I kept in mind a resort I was lucky enough to stay at out in the Empty Quarter (the Rub' al Khali in Arabic) which is the largest contiguous sand desert in the world...
5. When Jenna first sees Kalan, she describes his hair as having a 'mink-coat-must-touch' quality. Well, even though my hero is not based on any specific person, his hair is definitely based on that of one of my friends. Emirati men generally wear national dress - the kandura (usually white) and headscarf (ghutra) but there was one time when my friend was bare-headed and his hair really did look amazingly thick like a pelt, so I asked hm if I could touch it (yes, I may have consumed a little wine) - and he said yes, even though (as a strict non-drinker) he must have thought I was completely insane!
6. The real me makes a cameo appearance in the book. (Hint: I am not the heroine.)
7. Even though I didn't actually write Now You're Mine until 2016, I had the characters in my head and the first chapter jotted down before 50 Shades of Grey hit the shelves. My heroine's name was Anna - damn! - but even though my girl was a two-n Anna, I decided discretion was the better part of valour and deserted E L James's field. I had a list of names that I tried out by reading dialogue to myself over and over, and chose "Jenna" because it rolled of Kalan's tongue the best...
8. After I finished the first draft of Now You're Mine there were various references to Kalan saying something in Arabic. I was incredibly dissatisfied at the vagueness, so I decided to include the actual Arabic (phonetically, not script, for obvious reasons). Now I'd had two years' private Arabic lessons while I was living in the UAE, but I'm sorry to say I was not an able student (ie, I sucked) so I had to call on one of my friends, a former colleague and highly qualified translator, to help me. Here are just a few phrases, if you're interested...
You are my paradise and bliss
Anti janti wa na’emi
انتِ جنتي ونعيمي
You are my happiness and inspiration
Anti sa’adati wa elhami
أنت سعادتي وإلهامي
You are my sun and light
Anti shamsi wa diay’i
أنت شمسي وضيائي
9. I was in love with the cover from the moment I saw it...but it took my husband saying something about 'the girl' on it for me to realise the smoke was actually in the form of a naked woman!
10. The book's title is based on a line Kalan says to Jenna: Alan anti li wahdi. It's the first time he indicates to Jenna that what they've shared in the desert is not a one-night stand, and she finds it too much to handle and basically flees. But Kalan isn't going to let her get away for long...