Saturday, November 07, 2009

Research expeditions and Turkish baths - Michelle Styles

I like to visit places before I write about them. I know these days with the Internet, travel programmes, movies and lavishly illustrated books, a writer can get a pretty good idea of what a place is like. But I like to think you can get more out of a place by going there, eating the food, experiencing the sounds . Or maybe it is my excuse as I like to travel and researching a book can provide an opportunity to explore and discover things.

A few weeks ago, I returned from a research expedition to Istanbul. I am planning on setting a book (or two) there in the Ottoman Empire during the late Regency Period and it seemed like too good of an opportunity to miss. I did the things I wanted to -- namely visiting the Harem at the Topkapi Palace, the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar. Then my husband suggested a Turkish bath. Now because I have written about ancient Rome, and have walked through many Roman baths and have read about the experience, I thought I knew everything about them. And Turkish baths were just the successor of Roman baths. I was about to refuse but then thought better of it as where would be the harm. And I am very glad that I did listen to my husband because I was arrogant in my assumptions! Turkish baths do need to be experienced if at all possible.
After having one, okay two baths, I can understand why they were so revered and why people spent time in the bathing complex. The first bath I went to dated from 1584 and the second from 1741 and they do retain the layout as well as the bathing technique (basically sweating in a hot room before being scraped and massaged until your skin glows). They were places of community and help to explain why certain women travellers prior to the women's movement in Europe felt that the women of the Ottoman Empire were freer. It also helped me to catch a glimpse of what life in the Harem must have been like.

I can also understand why people put a Turkish bath in Istanbul on their lifelist of things to do before they die, something I had been slightly perplexed about before. Though personally I would give the Grand Bazaar (another listing of the 1000 things to do before you die) a miss unless you enjoy shopping in overly crowded conditions. The gold, silver and silks begin to look somehow all the same and almost like a Hollywood set for Aladdin's cave.

The experience proved to me why I like to travel places before I write them. You can have one notion in your head and get there and find that you have missed connections or ways to enrich your world. Hopefully, it will bring insight into the books and to make the world I want to recreate a richer, more vibrant place.
Has anyone else expereinced a Turkish bath?


As my latest book, The Viking's Captive Princess will be published on 1 December and is currently available from eharlequin, I thought to do a contest for a signed copy of the book. The Romantic Times gave it four stars and said Styles maintains the myth while adding sexual tension, nonstop action and spice.

If you would like to be in the draw: please email me the answer to the following question:

In what year does The Viking Captive Princess takes place? (hint read the excerpt)

Please put Totebags contest on the subject line so your entry does not get marked as spam. I will draw the winner on Saturday 14 November.
Virginia Campbell was the first name out of the hat. So a signed copy of The Viking's Captive Princess will be winging its way off to her. Many thanks to all who entered.


Linda Henderson said...

I've never experienced a Turkish bath. I can't wait to read your book.

Pat Cochran said...

Like Linda, this would be a new-
"style" read for me! I know it
will be interesting and the year
in which the story is set is 796.

Pat Cochran

heidi87 said...

Just in case, you said to email the answer to you so I'm doing both. the yr is 796. thanks

Mary said...

Nope, never did the turkish bath. Sounds interesting though. Glad you had so much fun.

Michelle Styles said...

Yes, you should email me at
with the answer. It just makes it easier for me to contact the winner after I draw names out of a hat.

I can really recommend Turkish baths. But they are not baths in the sense of sitting in a tub. It is sort of like a sauna with water. You sweat and then are scrubbed down with a cotton mitt with soap inside. After which you pour water from a tap over yourself. The bath attendant then washed and combed my hair.
For my daughter, she ended up feeling better about her body shape as she suddenly realized that without a top, and dressed in just briefs, everyone has flaws.

heidi87 said...

I went to a spa once in florida where they did something like that. I sat in a steam filled room with rocks and water boiling in the middle. then they came and took me to a big pool like bath and rubbed this salt like cream all over me then took a scrapper down my skin to remove it. then I rinsed in the water for a few minutes and then the massaged me. It was great after everything was done. I just didn't know that was like a turkish bath. I can't wait to go down to have it done again.

penney said...

I love Michelle's books. this was a great blog, thanks

penney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.