Friday, 26 July 2013


I spent a few days in Montenegro earlier this month - researching the setting for "Cover Him With Darkness" of course - not on holiday or anything. Honest!

On the walls of the Old Town of Budva
"Where is Montenegro?" Well, you're not the only one to ask. My bank, when I rang them up beforehand, couldn't find it on their list of European countries. But I swear, go to Italy and head east, and after you've had a little swim in the Adriatic there it is: south of Croatia, and only about the size of Wales (or Connecticut, if you prefer). It's one of the nations of the Former Yugoslavia, but luckily escaped much of the horror of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.

The walls of Kotor old town, and the shortest river in the country - 300m from source to sea.
 But it was famous at one point - I have a book by a British woman traveller published 1904 which says "The road out from Cattaro [Kotor] has been so often written of that it is idle to describe it once again, nor can any words do it justice."

25 switchbacks, and took 3 hours to ascend in a horse-drawn carriage. That's why.
Here's the view I took from the top:

Montenegro ("Black Mountain") is, well, mostly mountain. And a strip of Mediterranean coast. It's beautiful. It has the southernmost fjord in Europe (the Gulf of Kotor) and the tallest men, on average, in the continent (and boy are they proud of that! - the local tour guides couldn't wait to reel off the heights of their historical heroes and current politicians).

Once you get away from the coast, the landscape is Alpine.

The "city" of Zabljak (pop.1937)

And in the high mountains, incredibly bleak:

This is where CHWD starts out! Yeeeeeees!

It's overwhelmingly an Orthodox Christian country so I went in as many churches as I could (RESEARCH!!). I did get to see the Right Hand of St John the Baptist, but sorry no photo.

"You're from England?" said the priest. "Where's that? Somewhere near Ireland, right?" Snrrrrk.

The cliff-face monastery of St Vasilija (Basil) at Ostrog:

The mummified body of the Blessed Ozana: visionary, shepherdess and defeater of the Ottoman Navy:

I got permission. Never piss off any saint who looks like she could get up and eat your brains.

Of course the research wasn't all dry and ecclesiastical. I delved deep into the traditions of Montenegrin cuisine too:

And picked up this local guy who hung out with me for a couple of days...

So don't feel too sorry for me guys. It's a tough life being a writer, but I'm up to the challenges :-)


Jo said...

God, how utterly gorgeous. Can I come next time? What a perfect and wonderful backdrop to your story. I'm blown away. Good choice!

Also, heh, England is a small island off the coast of Ireland, eh?

K D Grace said...

Wow! It looks like you had a totally amazing time, Janine! The pictures are fabulous, and I'm dying to hear all about your trip. And also, not nagging or anything, but hurry up and write Cover Him with Darkness!I can wait to read it!

Janine Ashbless said...

It's so strange ... I write this short story, pick Montenegro randomly as the setting just through a process of logical elimination (it had to be European, reasonably near the Med, mountainous, really remote) ... and two years later I'm going there, writing a novel, and learning all this stuff aout Balkan history. Life is ... unpredictable!

Jo said...

I must write a book about winning the lottery!

Janine Ashbless said...

Totally! It might work, you never know ;-)