I had to do a lot of last minute research for Sandmancer to develop the settings. Fantasy is all about the setting, and Snowmancer especially is something I like to call wonder porn (full of crazy but wondrous settings like a peninsula entirely under snow all year round and flying fish), but Nuriya fell flat.
Not that I minded doing the research. More like my editor gave me the excuse. Our world is sometimes so much stranger than anything I could ever come up with.
But here are five things I had to research to get Nuriya just right. Some I used, and some were just really freaking interesting.
#1 Life aboard ships
First person accounts of travelling in merchant ships in cold climates were surprisingly hard to come by, never mind detailed diagrams that not just showing rows and rows of cannons, which my ship wouldn’t have.
Luckily, I found Between France and New France: Life Aboard the Tall Sailing Ships by Gilles Proulx, which while not perfectly encapsulating the journey, gave me a good head start with essentials like:
- how ships were loaded and unloaded,
- how long it takes to prepare a ship,
- the complete inability for non-sailors to write on ships, leaving them with nothing to occupy their time with for months on end,
- how sailors slept between-decks from hammocks,
- and that in cold climates like Lumi, the heat from the sailors’ bodies made below decks hot and humid, with condensation encouraging mould. Yikes.
#2 Colour Names
If Ilyas hadn’t found Jem, he would have married colours. But since he does have Jem, he refuses to allow Jem to settle for calling colours ‘blue’ or ‘green’. His partner should understand the beauty of all the vibrant colours of Nuriya, no matter how much Jem doesn’t personally care. Which means that when Ilyas describes anything, he picks the exact shade.
#3 Nuriyite food
This was one of the tastiest bits of research. In Snowmancer, we learned that Nuriya was so rich even the poor never go hungry. They’re also well known for their abundance of spices. Jem might only care about getting food, but Ilyas has been suffering on katara and snow tubers and is very appreciative of any opportunity to eat like a normal prince.
Ilyas’ favourite is mint tea, based on Moroccan mint tea. It’s a type of green tea combined with mint and sweetened with sugar, and requires pouring and repouring to gently aerate the tea. And this is only the beginning of the ritual. To learn the exact process, Honestly Yum has an excellent guide.
But let’s not stop there. We need snacks to go with the tea, like spicy crackers and almond pastries, also based on Moroccan cooking.
#4 Moroccan and Arabic decor
Pictures of Moroccan palaces generally show a fantastically rich, decorated and brightly coloured inside that would impress even Ilyas.
On the outside? Plain sandstone.
This juxtaposition is because Islam, the main religion of Morocco, places such high value on humility. Adding decoration on the outside walls is showing off. But by all means, the inside may be as lush as they like.
But Nuriya and their religion doesn’t place any value on humility. Nuriyites are encouraged to show off. So their outsides are as decorate as their outsides, although Jem remarks that the designs are so intricate that from a distance, they look like a mishmash of stone.
#5 Tree-climbing goats
Oh yes, the tree-climbing goats are real, and not something I made up to fit with the wonder of Nuriya. If you look at a Top X Things To Do In Morocco, the tree-climbing goats is at the top. These goats love the taste of Argania tree fruits, and they swarm on top of trees to pick them. And it’s all part of the process that renders Argan oil, which we use in shampoos.
And this is only the beginning. Want to learn more about the inspiration and research behind Nuriya and Sandmancer? Check out the Sandmancer board on Pinterest.
What about you? Do you prefer fantasy worlds rooted in real life or ones fathomed up out of the author’s imagination?