DEBORAH CROMBIE: My friend Diana Chambers is full of surprises. She's written STINGER, acrackingly good spy novel set in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1986. The sights and sounds and smells of the setting leap off the page, so authentic that you think the author must have been there/done that.
But that is a mystery for another day, because Diana has other stories to tell--as do her souvenirs. Who would have thought a travel bag could hold such wonderful memories?
DIANA CHAMBERS: Sometimes in the dark of night, I wonder if I became a writer as cover for my secret passion—travel. Not that I don’t love sleeping in my own bed and hanging out with my dog, but there is a world out there that draws me.
The lure of a place has often led to a story. Research is the perfect excuse to pack my bag, although I don’t really need an excuse. Last summer, a big family birthday set me planning our travels through Europe by Train.
It was a grand whirlwind that left me with a severe case of jet lag. Once I emerged from the fog, I barely left my computer. Two months later, after sending off a book to my editor, I finally cleaned my desk. Then on a hidden hook, I noticed the cross-body bag I’d worn on the trip. I reached inside. My heart began pounding when I withdrew this map of Rome, our last stop. After a lifelong relationship with France, I fell hard for Italy.
The Bloomsbury Trail map sent me back to our first days in London, where Britain’s Literacy Trust had commissioned a series of author book benches.
One sunny day in the park, I found the Agatha Christie book bench, Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly.
Quite by accident, I discovered Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days in the basement of Stanfords, a treasure trove of books and maps since 1863. (Love those Victorian travelers!)
While my Fellow Traveler husband researched “The Cafés of Europe,” my daughter and I pounded the cobblestones, exploring vintage shops, bookstores, and old libraries, including the immense Klementinum in Prague and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
I was also unfaithful to Paris in Amsterdam, which I found seriously captivating and arty. We went to pay homage at the Van Gogh Museum.
In Florence, we ended our visit to the Pitti Palace and Gardens with an opulent costume exhibit, where we ran into Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld.
Our last museum was Rome’s Villa Borghese Gallery, and I still can’t get over this sumptuous Bernini sculpture.
In a zippered section of my bag, I found these pound and euro notes, some coins—oh wait, one of one of them is an Indian rupee (but that’s another story).
Great sense memories arise from the restaurant cards and matchbox (setting from an earlier book)—spicy Asian noodles in London, sublime roasted porcinis in Florence, yummy vegetarian in Prague (the owner a North Vietnamese architect). Gorgeous, plump house-made noodles at Fattoincasa, the site of our last dinner in Rome, right off the Piazza Navona.
The Navona is truly of Roman scale, breathtaking, and a lively place to hang out and enjoy a gelato after dinner. Or before. Or any time.
To finish things off, a mint—Swiss or Hungarian?
It’s funny how these odds and ends can evoke such real feelings. In French, souvenir means both memory and to remember. However much I admire minimalist design, my house is overflowing with books and travel treasures.
Dear Readers, what treasures do you have in your bags?
DEBS: I'm going with Hungarian on the mints:-) And next time Diana goes traveling, I'm stowing away in her suitcase...
Diana Chambers was born with a book in one hand and a passport in the other. Before long, she was wandering Paris cobblestones. Later, an Asian importing business led to Hollywood costume design, then scriptwriting—until her characters demanded their own novels. Her romantic thriller, Stinger, was recently released by Audible, with the sequel in production.
Diana lives in a small Northern California town with her Fellow Traveler husband, arty daughter, and steadfast mutt. She is a member of the Writers Guild of America, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime-NorCal board. Her bag is always packed. dianarchambers.com, facebook.com/DianaChambersAuthor, twitter.com/DianaRChambers.
About her novels
Stinger: When a shipment of Stinger missiles disappears near the Khyber Pass, CIA operative Nick Daley becomes entangled in an unusual triangle with a determined journalist and her former Berkeley lover, now an elusive Afghan leader with a price on his head. “A ripping good novel of page-turning suspense and plot-twisting intrigue.” — James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review.
The Company She Keeps: Back in DC, Nick recruits a new agent, Evelyn Walker—“E”—and sends her into a world of danger, from Europe’s grand boulevards to Iran’s Grand Bazaar. “A captivating and thrilling excursion.” — Randall Masteller, spyguysandgals.com.