Our guest guest this week is Gigi Pandian, the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood, she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program in favor of art school. But adventurous academic characters wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series. Gigi was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant for her debut mystery novel, Artifact, which was released August 28, 2012. Connect with Gigi online at http://gigipandian.com/.
One of my favorite things about traveling is learning the history of a place. There are some settings that are so evocative of their pasts that it’s impossible to visit them without feeling that pull to the past.
Dunnottar Castle in Scotland is one such place. The first time I visited the ruins, I knew the cliffs where they stood would be a fantastic place to set a mystery—especially a mystery involving history.
Those cliffs along the eastern coast of the Scottish Highlands inspired more than dramatic fiction. They were the perfect place to build the strategic fortress of Dunnottar. Not only is it a remote location at the edge of the sea, but the land mass is actually removed from the mainland. You have to climb down steep cliffs and climb back up again to reach the castle.
In the seventeenth century, the treasure of the Scottish Crown Jewels was hidden at Dunnottar Castle. Going back even further in history, fortifications have existed on the site since Pictish times. The name “Dun” is Pictish for fort.
I first visited Dunnottar castle as a teenager, traveling with my mom on one of her research trips to Scotland. The sweeping landscape made an immediate impression on me, and I knew I’d be back for another adventure. Being there felt like traveling to another century, so it didn’t take much to imagine national treasures being smuggled into the castle as it once existed.
I love archaeological mysteries, so when I began writing a mystery novel, I started with the idea of a Pictish archaeological dig on the cliffs near the castle ruins. As I wrote more, the idea behind the mystery became more complex. I found myself weaving in history that I’d learned from my father, who’s from India, about Scotland’s historical connection to India via the British Empire’s occupation of India.
In Artifact, historian Jaya Jones travels from San Francisco to the British Library in London and on to a Pictish archaeological dig in the Highlands of Scotland, piecing together the secrets of a lost Indian treasure hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj.
The next book in the mystery series will take Jaya and friends on a journey from San Francisco to south India on another treasure hunt. The most fun part of writing this series is that it gives me yet another excuse to travel!