An Absolute Deception – Locations
An Absolute Deception begins in one of Africa’s most beautiful, desolate and unspoilt countries, Namibia. The novel begins in 1948, on a remote farm in the north of South-West Africa (as Namibia was formerly called), Germany’s prized African colony. Hannelore von Riedesal is an only child, a precocious, cheeky eight-year, living on her parent’s farm to the north of the capital city, Windhoek, and dreaming of becoming a fashion designer. From Okahau to Cape Town, Berlin and London in the 60s and the fashion capitals of the world in the 90s – London, Milan, Paris and New York – the novel follows one of the world’s most celebrated fashion designers whose past is a secret no one can guess at.
Windhoek (which means ‘windy corner’) is the capital city of Namibia. It’s a quiet, quaint city of about 250,000 people – three cars at a traffic light and it’s a ‘jam’ – with sweeping views of the Khomas mountain range visible from almost every point. I was lucky enough to spend a year there almost twenty years ago and (as you can tell), it’s stubbornly remained in my imagination for all that time. It’s genuinely multicultural with a quirky mixture of all the cultures that make up modern Namibia – Herero, Ovambo, German, Afrikaans and English . . . throw in a few world-class hotels, the excitement and lure of the unspoilt wilderness just minutes from its centre and you’ve got one of the most marvelous destinations in Africa
Few cities conjure up such a potent mixture of politics, power and passion. Berlin has seen it all – from the wars and the Wall to reunification and its current position as the capital city of Europe’s most powerful economy. To get a feeling of what life must have been like for a young woman from the African colonies arriving in Berlin in 1958, I went back to Berlin last November and spent a wonderful three days walking the streets that she would have walked – from the Ku’damm to the little side street around Humboldt University and the glorious walks along the Spree’s edge. Of course, everything’s changed, especially the architecture. It’s bold and gleaming and utterly cutting-edge but in the small squares and cobbled-stone streets of the former East, you can still get a glimpse of life in the ‘old’ Berlin. It’s a city with soul, and heartache too, and it’s that unique mixture of past, present and pain that makes it so compelling. No wonder Anneliese heads there just as soon as she can.
St Bart’s, CARIBBEAN
I’ve got to confess that I’ve never actually been to St Bart’s – I can’t afford the requisite wardrobe, let alone the hotel bill – but hell, I’d love to! When I was thinking about where Anneliese would escape to for that unusual mixture of glorious weather, unspoilt landscapes and privacy, it seemed to be the right – and only – choice. And from the pictures I’ve seen . . . she’s right. It’s got a colourful, rich and exotic history. Saint Barthélemy (as it’s known in French) is the only Caribbean island to have been a Swedish colony – it’s capital, Gustavia, is a reminder of that portion of its past – and it’s now home to about 10,000 people, many of whom live on the island for only part of the year, and if it’s privacy and tranquility you’re looking for, there’s (apparently) no place like it. One day, maybe . . . ?
Croombe d’Abitot, ENGLAND
A ‘coombe’ (or ‘cumb’), in Old English, means a valley and perfectly describes the gently rolling countryside near Worcester where Anneliese maintains her English country home. After seeing Valentino’s beautiful mansion outside Paris in the wonderful ‘Valentino: the Last Emperor’ film, I made up my mind to give my fashion designer an equally gorgeous home, and as it’s a part of England I know quite well (I spent two years at a boarding school just outside Malvern), I drove around one afternoon until I’d found the perfect spot. The D’Abitot family have been in the area since the reign of Edward the Confessor – one illustrious ancestor, Robert D’Abitot is mentioned in the Pipe Roll for Worcestershire in 1165. It seemed the perfect spot for Anneliese, whose fear of her own past contrasts sharply with her interest in history and detail.