To Write I wrote a Novel
Setting and Protagonist Came Together
In September of 2011 I was in a town called Jericoacoara on the north coast of Brazil, which, despite its remote location is very popular with tourists. There were no pavements or roads there, only sand, and the main form of transport was your feet or a beach buggy. A massive dune stood next to the town, and I would join other tourists in hiking up to watch the sunset. It was rather cheesy, but we’d all applaud as the sun dropped below the horizon.
The streets weren’t lighted at night, so a torch was a useful tool for getting back to the guest house after a few cocktails at the carts they set up at the end of the street. There were lots of restaurants with great food, bars with cheap booze and live music, and all of them were busy.
There was a charming old church in the town, made of real stones of various shapes and sizes held together with sand-based mortar, buildings were rarely higher than the tree line, and during the day local workers were developing a small town square. There were beaches facing both east and west and a bay where colourful fishing boats lay beached. The town was surrounded by nature. One afternoon I took a tour around lagoons, mangroves, and dunes over a hundred metres tall, we saw seahorses in a calm estuary, windswept trees clinging to the sand with claw-like roots and drove over the town of Tatajuba which rested underfoot, having been buried after losing its battle against the shifting sand.
For anyone that hasn’t been to Brazil or met a any Brazilians, I can say there’s something in their culture that makes them easy to talk to, passionate and interesting. Jericoacoara was full of such people as well as hordes of young backpackers from all corners of the globe. During my week there I met a range of people who gave me an insight into their lifestyles, ideas and ambitions.
In the town were people from all over Brazil and South America who sold Makramé and craft jewellery for a living. I met one guy who made amazing wire models of insects and animals, and remember a beautiful girl with light brown hair who would walk around the tourist areas with a plywood board covered in jewellery. I didn’t have the courage to talk to her.
As I sat drinking a beer at one of many beachside tables one afternoon, I noticed a ragged man walking between the tables and chairs trying to catch anyone’s eye. It was obvious he was looking for someone to take advantage of. Nobody would return his gaze, except me. He sat down and asked the waiter for a beer and a cachaça. The waiter looked to me for approval, because we both knew that I’d be the one paying. I couldn’t understand much of what my guest said because my Portuguese ability hardly got me from A to B, but he interested me, as did the old spiderwebbing tattoos over his arms and the white lines he’d drawn himself using acid from cashew nut shells.
Here I was on the other side of the world, in a spectacular setting, drinking beer with someone I’d never otherwise have met. This was what I’d been looking for since I set the goal of writing a novel. This was where it would be set and here was my protagonist. From then on I couldn’t think of one without the other.