Roland Vernon: An innocent abroad

Roland Vernon: An innocent abroad

<p>Roland Vernon won his publishing deal with Transworld in the inaugural Daily Mail/Transworld first novel award last autumn. His fiction d&eacute;but, <em>A Dark Enchantment</em> (Black Swan, April), is the story of a na&iuml;ve young English photographer, Godwin Tudor, who goes travelling in Greece in 1869. <br />Intrigued by an eccentric British landowner he comes across, Godwin travels to the man&#39;s remote estate where he meets, and falls for, his enigmatic daughter Lydia, who poses for a series of increasingly revealing photographic portraits. Meanwhile, a political conspiracy is brewing in the locality, which will draw Godwin into grave danger, far from home.</p><p>Vernon began his career as a music scholar and opera singer, before writing a series of non-fiction titles for children, and then starting his own business in order to support his growing family (he lives in Somerset with his wife and three sons). He chose a marquee business, he says, to enable him to have spare time in the winters to write, and <em>A Dark Enchantment</em> was written over four years, in the winter months.</p><p>Greece is a country he knows well, he explains. &quot;Although I went to school in England, my parents lived abroad, and from the ages of 16 to 28 I spent about four months each year in Greece. My parents were in Athens, but I travelled all over the place.&quot; </p><p>He was intrigued by the tradition of the British romantic traveller in Greece, going in search of classical thrills among the ruins, and has read through numerous travel memoirs, of variable quality. &quot;Any literary person of means would write one and get them published, and they were often full of all sorts of trash and amateur scholarship. The travellers of that time were very well-educated, they had all that classical learning and were pursuing that gentlemanly search for knowledge, but they were terribly innocent&mdash;they would stand back and be dazzled by wonder. And they loved extremes of weather and light&mdash;very dark and gloomy landscapes.&quot; </p><p>There was also a frisson of danger to their travels: one high-profile group of English travellers was kidnapped by brigands and murdered in 1870. &quot;If you got out of Athens, you were very much at the edge of civilisation: it was still very dangerous. A lot of the travellers almost willed themselves to be set upon by brigands.&quot;&nbsp; </p><p>Vernon&#39;s protagonist is just such a young man: well-educated, disillusioned with the traditional edicts of British culture and Anglicanism, and looking for a new way, but na&iuml;ve and ripe for excitement and romance. Yet Lydia, the young woman who attracts him, escapes understanding: &quot;She is elusive and capricious to the last.&quot;</p><p>Vernon immersed himself in the world of early photography to explore Godwin&#39;s work, as he tries to capture Lydia and the wilder Greek landscapes through the lens. &quot;Photography was quite fast-changing, but Godwin is still in the wet collodion process, which is terribly long-winded and carcinogenic because of the chemicals they had to deal with. They took beautiful photographs, though&mdash;they got incredible atmosphere. Something about that chemical process did make a glorious tonal palette.&quot;</p>