In April I released my first young adult novel, a dystopian thriller which throws a teenage cast of characters into the different landscapes of the afterlife. In June I visited Madeira for the first time and realised that when I wrote the ‘heaven’ parts of my novel I had basically plagiarised an entire island…
Part of my concept was that lots of wonderful places, that don’t normally coexist, would be placed side by side to create the paradise that Eve and her friends find themselves in. So I thought of all the best things nature could offer. The forest that Eve and Gabby explore. The golden beach where Gabby feels most at home. The white beach where Hannah has her beach hut. The mountains where Joe climbs and the waterfall he falls over in book 2 (spoilers!).
Then I went to Madeira and there they all were- I even had a canine companion for my walk through the mountains, just like Joe and his dog Daisy!
I did consider the possibility that I’d died and somehow ended up in my own surreal version of the afterlife- in fact when I got back to London late on a Friday night and stepped in vomit on my way through Oxford Circus Underground, I did think I might have ended up in a hell sector (Oxford Circus does make a special guest appearance as a hell in book 2 – more spoilers!!!) But since I’m now at home and have done reassuringly mundane tasks like make my bed and cook some pasta, I’m relatively certain that I am still alive…
‘We are sitting at the edge of a stream that trickles alongside the forest path, allowing ourselves a break before we keep going. The clear water flows over smooth stones which shine brown and pink and grey.’
Did you know that Madeira is THE MOST exciting place in the world to be water? It flows through the mountains in small man made channels called Levadas that you can walk beside. It races down hills in pipes towards the rumbling Atlantic. It has the option (should the urge take it) to surge through big river beds, built through the major towns, which are currently completely overgrown with grass and trees. It also flows in streams alongside forest paths past endless trees.
‘To the south of the town is another beach, there the waves crash against golden sand.’
Madeira is not really known for its beaches. There are mostly rocky beaches which have black sand, which sounds romantic but looks like mud, hiding under the stones. They are still lovely to visit, you can always find somewhere to settle in and look out over the clear water. But I did visit one beach with golden sand in the town of Machico. The soft golden grains have been imported from Morocco. None the less it definitely counts.
‘Hannah looked around her beach hut. Decorated with the curtains from home her mum had picked out and her antique jewellery box, it had been like this when they’d shown her to it. It was as close to her room as it could be, whilst still being a luxury hut on a pure white beach.’
I am cheating a little here because I didn’t actually visit Porto Santos and technically it’s not in Madeira, it’s the island next to Madeira- but it’s really really close! Madeira tourism sites call it 'The paradise in paradise' (which would make it paradise squared?) That’s the trip to go on if you want an unspoilt white beach like the one Hannah finds herself on.
‘They’d been following the trails through the mountains for a few days now, getting gradually higher. Joe didn’t know where they were going but figured it didn’t really matter. He was on an adventure with Daisy, if he had been able to choose his heaven this is what he would have picked. He pulled on his pack.’
My second day in Madeira a lovely lady called Christina, who I’d met in a bar on the first night, came out to greet me as I started a Levada walk. A small dog, named Babalu, who Christina had adopted but who retained his street dog independence, also came out and decided that he’d do the entire Levada walk with me. That’s a four hour trek through the mountains and Babalu is a small dog, but we had a great time! And yes, there were waterfalls.
For the even more energetic you can hike up the tallest peak, Pico Riuvo 1800m+, and walk among the flowers above the clouds. Have I mentioned the flowers yet? They are EVERYWHERE. Imagine the most beautiful garden you've been to, now make it a hundred times better and spread it across the mountains, next to the roads, up the sides of cliffs... If I could bottle the scent of Madeira and sell it to Londoners I'd make a fortune.
‘The town stretches out in front of me; I can see our street, the hall and a simple church surrounded by trees blossoming pink… if I were visiting I would say it would take around half a day to take it all in, but I’m not visiting so I guess I’ll try to stretch it out.’
I stayed in Porto Da Cruz, my new favourite place. It was tiny and dominated by a white church that nosily marked the passing of each hour and broadcasted its service on Sundays whether you wanted to listen or not. It was at a crossroads between Levada walks, cliff walks, mountain walks and a beach where you could learn to surf. And if you didn’t want to do anything active there was always somewhere nice to sit and read and drink a cheeky poncha (see below).
‘People keep themselves to themselves here.’
This is where my version of the afterlife and Madeira part ways. In the ‘Paradise’ where Eve and Gabby end up, people are quiet and reserved and there is an undercurrent of fear…
Thankfully there’s nothing of the sort in Madeira! Everyone who lives there is lovely, possibly because they can surf or hike whenever they like, the food is incredible and the national drink is poncha (locally distilled rum mixed with honey and fresh fruit juice YUM!)
Just to confirm, Madeira is lovely, it is beautiful, I almost stayed there forever. My novel is less lovely, quite a lot less lovely, a reviewer called it ‘inventively nasty’ which is probably fair. But if you need something to read on your flight to Madeira it’ll keep you entertained…
Shout outs to:
Madeira Surf Camp where I stayed and learnt to surf.
Calhau Surf School who also helped me not to drown
And Vila Bela where I went for food everyday and still would if I could afford the airfare…