[novel extract: Earlier in the day, the two older men who met outside La Fontaine café in Nice were obviously very pleased to see each other. They looked like any other travelers enjoying this quiet, leafy oasis on Place Magenta – a wide pedestrian strip connecting Rue de la Liberté and Rue Massena. It was home to several popular cafes and restaurants.
After their warm greetings they sat down on the red chairs, ordered coffee and biscotti, and then began to engage in conversation. ]
They update each other, and share the personal threats they have both received, before returning to this curious meeting that Jak scheduled…
[novel extract: “What did your last message say?”
“ It said, ‘Meet 3×5 + 2 at La Fountain rouge, Nice, urgent.’”
“Hmm. Mine was the same,” David added, “I thought it was really clever of Jak.”
Pierre held up his hand to interrupt David’s explanation.
“Yes, I soon realized that the name ‘La Fountain’ was a misspelling – just in case someone else got hold of the code by mistake. They would think that we were meeting at the large fountain near Place Massena – the main square. But the café and chairs here are red, so it made perfect sense once I thought about it.” ]
David thinks he is being followed as he makes his way on foot towards the Negresco hotel via the back roads of Nice. At one point, a car pulls alongside him, and a camera is pointed his way. However, David is sure that it is just a tourist – or is it?
[novel extract: “All good,” he thought when he finally reached Le Musée Masséna. Its lush vegetation looked welcoming and he was pleased that the gardens were still open and much less crowded than the busy streets. He used the shortcut through the grounds, taking time to admire the tall trees and rich-green, mature magnolias.
At the front of the ornate museum the ‘red, white and blue’ French flag struggled to unfurl fully, while a group of children played happily on the soft lawn – enjoying a game with a ball and some sticks. It was a pleasant oasis from the relentless roar of rush-hour traffic, so David sat for a while on one of the garden benches under the cool shade of a grove of sub-tropical palms.
“It’s so nice to relax in these quiet gardens after the urgent plane trip to get to Nice, but I still think that Florence is a better place to live,” he quietly noted. “But, now I have a taxi to catch.” ]
Pierre and David split up to make their way to the Negresco hotel via different routes.
[novel extract: Pierre decided to walk from the café through the park at Jardin Philippe 1er. He had always enjoyed the fountains and green spaces here during previous visits to Nice and today was no exception, although he was in more of a hurry than usual. Pierre recalled an old picture he had once seen that showed that the park connected to a seaside pier, much like those in the south of England.
“It must have been a posh destination back then,” he thought as he began to walk towards Le Negresco Hotel along the Promenade des Anglais. He imagined the landed gentry visiting Nice from all over Europe during its heyday – the delicate parasols, colorful dresses and rounded cloche hats. In fact, he was so distracted that he was caught completely off guard when a car pulled up alongside – a plain white Citroën. A friendly voiced called out,
“Excusez-moi monsieur, is this the way to Cannes?” ]
As it turned out, the busy promenade was probably not the best choice for Pierre!
Ah, the Hotel Negresco in Nice! What an appropriate place for David and Pierre to meet just before they catch a taxi to their all important meeting with Jak. As one reviewer – in the UK Telegraph – noted, this is no ordinary hotel. It is an icon…
“My favourite hotel in France? No idea. There are too many contenders. But the most memorable hotel in France? No contest. It’s the Negresco in Nice – at once cultivated, frisky, magnificent and a little disdainful. In a hundred years, no-one has ever missed it on the Promenade des Anglais. The façade rises white and imperious to the pink roof, and pink dome allegedly inspired by the breast of the architect’s mistress. (But they say that about almost every dome in France. This tells you more about the French than it does about domes.) “
[Novel extract: Pierre was busy checking an app on his phone. “Perhaps, but let’s first check to find a taxi rank nearby. Yes, here is one at Hotel Negresco. I’m not sure if we are being followed but, with such an important meeting as this one, we can’t take chances. It might be safer if we split up and meet at the hotel. It is only a short walk and we can take the taxi together when we arrive.”
“Great,” David replied, “but where shall we meet in the hotel?”
Pierre knew the area well. “Wait for me in the main floor gallery – the Royal Lounge. You can’t miss it. It is a huge circular room that was once a fabulous ballroom. It’s often used for spectacular events and what could be more spectacular than the event we are meeting for?”
He laughed aloud before continuing.
“Look for the painting of the red lady. It is of Marie Leszczynska, who became a famous consort in France. She was married to Louis XV.”
David was fascinated. “How did you say her name?”
Pierre looked quite pleased with himself. “Les chenz ka! Now, I will take the promenade if you take the back route.”
He pointed across from the café. “Follow the Rue Massena. It joins on to Rue de France. Turn left when you go past the gardens at Le Musée Masséna or, if the museum is open, you can walk through the gardens. Oh, and remember to check to see if anyone is following. You can go into a shop or double back just in case. I know some places along the promenade where I can also change direction to shake anyone who might be on my tail. I am probably being paranoid about taking these precautions, but we don’t want anyone else finding out about our meeting, do we?”
“Of course not, especially after the careful measures that Jak has taken,” David replied. ]
Note: Perhaps Pierre wasn’t paranoid enough!
While Jak is flying to Milan, a rather unscrupulous and rough character called Romano is becoming frustrated. An important business contact is due to arrive in Nice and has not made contact with him – so, even minor things send him into angry outbursts.
[novel extract: Romano walked over to the window, still muttering under his breath. A soft onshore breeze fluttered gently along the French Riviera and pushed humid air directly into their apartment.
“And I hate these curtains! Nothing but lace and more lace! Why do I have to put up with this crap? Why can’t we buy this apartment and change the décor?”
Léo Osborn seemed unfazed by his boss’s changing moods. He moved his gaze out between the offending curtains and over the Promenade des Anglais – the prized jewel in Nice’s beachside location. He envied a group of distant sunbathers lounging in the bright September sun.
Léo thought it would be the perfect time of year to enjoy the charms of Nice, except for one problem – they were still waiting for their contact, and Romano held him personally responsible for the delay.
Romano’s secretary, Sasha, finally broke the tense atmosphere.
“Romano, the landlady said she won’t change them, remember? She loves lace, especially fine lace from Nice. And I have offered to buy the apartment, but it is not that easy.”]
I was asked (at a birthday party) yesterday, “Did you catch many trains while writing 3 WISE MEN?” To help answer this – yes, my wife and I caught 15 trains altogether, but not all were related to the novel. Some were simply for getting between places. However, as in the case of the journey from Nice to Paris, I did write the opening chapters during this 5 hour trip.
Trains and train stations do play an important part in 3 WISE MEN and, as some readers have noticed, Chapter 1 starts off with Jak catching a train in the seaside town of Antibes. The book also describes some important stations, such as the large one in Milan. Even smaller ones play a significant part in the plot as Jak Colins tried to make sense or escape his rather unfortunate circumstances. Given his delicate head wound, perhaps the trains in this novel help keep him on the right track?
Aha – the plot thickens! Well, so it should. I was once asked whether the plot for 3 WISE MEN was clear before I started writing, or did it grow as the word count increased? It is best to answer this in two ways:
- The two basic ideas were floating around in my mind for about 2 years.
- My wife and I visited locations in the south of France, but I did not start writing the book until we were taking the train from Nice to Paris a few days later. It may have been the sunshine, or the lovely swims in the Mediterranean that set the writing wheels in motion – or, it could have been the train wheels engaging with the writing cogs? Originally, I hoped to have the book largely written before embarking on the trip. This approach simply didn’t work for me. There are so many details that are needed for an authentic thriller, that I needed to see the main places firsthand. Here is one brief example of a cafe that we came across one day, but it was a Sunday and it was closed. So, we made a point of visiting it the next day, and it proved to be a great meeting place for Jak to catch up with an old teaching colleague of his. They both taught together at the University of Milan, which if the pinkish-red building on the left in this photo.
[novel extract: “His favorite café – the Bar Arcibaldo – was just across the street from the university entrance, and Jak was delighted to enter and finally shake off the cold air. Not only was this a good place to relax, but it was also an opportunity to enjoy the company of fellow university students and lecturers who frequently gathered here between classes and at the end of their academic day.] Note: “Nun Te Pago” means “Not paid.”
- When faced with a “what do I write next?” scenario, I tended to wait a few days until the basic ideas flowed. This was usually in the morning. Once I had the next step in the plot worked out I would type furiously to get it all down. Sometimes, things happened that I had not expected in the plot. Hopefully, neither will the reader be expecting them!
“Turbulence is a flow regime in fluid dynamics characterized by chaotic changes in pressure and flow velocity.” What a perfect way to describe the chaotic and dangerous journey that Jak Colins takes when he attempts to deliver his secret formula to the Galimard Company in Milan. And, just when he thinks that the turbulence is over, it seems to get worse! Of course, writers normally like their readers to be kept on the edge of their seat. In 3 WISE MEN, I would hope that my readers leave their seats – as happens when an aircraft strikes really severe turbulence!