The opening to By the Time Dawn Breaks states, ‘This is a work of fiction … or is it?’ It’s a line designed to intrigue readers, but it isn’t inaccurate. By the Time Dawn Breaks is a work of fiction, yet it is one which is full of unusual details about the Canary Islands.
What is By the Time Dawn Breaks about?
By the Time Dawn Breaks is a story within a story. A young man seeking an off-the-beaten track spot on Tenerife in which to lick his emotional wounds stumbles across a mysterious journal. Within its pages, he discovers a fantastical account revealing an extraordinary side to the Canary Islands.
In one way, it could be viewed as an alternative guidebook to the Canary Islands, featuring the sort of information that doesn’t fit neatly into conventional guides. I’m going to confess a secret at this point, one which isn’t the best thing for a travel writer to admit. I sometimes struggle with sharing the juiciest bits from the destinations we explore. But travel is all about sharing, and there are fascinating things I’ve been itching to tell people about. One day, the lightbulb in my head sprang into light. What better way to do it than cloak it in a fictional wrapper?
This is partly what By the Time Dawn Breaks is.
Some of the facts are obvious – descriptions of traditional food, drink, and fiestas, including the detail in the clothes a main character, the storyteller within the tale, wears. The myths, magic, and folklore that weave their way through the novel is more problematic when it comes to separating reality, fantastic though it may be, from fiction.
Some locations that were an inspiration for By the Time Dawn Breaks
My travel experiences fed into all the tales from each of the islands, sometimes acting as prompts which led down the rabbit hole. The following is a snapshot of some of these. All are locations anyone can visit.
Fuerteventura: Have you ever walked across the tangerine hills of Fuerteventura when the wind is blowing a hoolie? It can be an unnerving experience, as if phantoms are assailing you, screeching in your ears, blotting everything else out. It is a sound which could drive a person insane; the sort of wailing that could awaken the demons within. After experiencing this first-hand, it was no surprise to learn about a strange tale from those hills.
La Palma: I used to read Edgar Rice Burroughs when I was a child, imagining one day I might find lost worlds. Los Tilos on La Palma could have come from one of those novels – a damp and humid verdant jungle of giant ferns and trickling waterfalls, literally a forest of the sort found on the planet a million years ago.
Lanzarote: Some volcanic tubes and caves on Lanzarote are popular tourist attractions; the underground lake at Jameos del Agua and the humbling Cueva de los Verdes can’t help but fuel the imagination. Even better are the others, the ones still to be explored.
La Gomera: Our friend Jo lives in a cottage perched on the hillside on the edge of Garajonay National Park. Her neighbours are few, dotted around a forested valley. It’s a spectacular and magical location, especially at sunset and sunrise when the rising/setting sun makes Tenerife’s Mount Teide look especially mystical (the photo on the cover of the book was from her terrace). Over the years, Jo introduced us to many ‘secrets.’ One of these was the magic springs in the book.
Gran Canaria: One of my favourite long-distance Canary Islands’ walking routes involves hiking from the south of Gran Canaria, crossing through the island’s centre, and ending on the shores of the north coast. There are many curious and unusual features along the way – sacred rocks; remote caves with fertility symbols painted on their walls; a troglodyte village; human-made reservoirs in the pine forest. Many trails existed to connect villages. Walking them prompted thoughts of who, or what, may have tread these paths in the past.
El Hierro: As anyone who has explored its hinterland should know, the island once thought to be at the very limits of the world exudes magic. It is found in the breeze blowing through the laurisilva forest, in the damp mist that obscures the British-type fields that look out of place on a subtropical island; and it can be heard in the rustling of the leaves on its bewitching juniper trees. It doesn’t take much digging to uncover mysteries on El Hierro.
Tenerife: Ironically, the island which is most popular with sun-seeking holidaymakers may also have the most fantastical tales the majority of visitors are unlikely to have heard. There were any number I could have used. The inspiration for the part set on Tenerife came from an intriguing old photo in a bar; an extract from a Victorian explorer’s journal; and us stumbling across an abandoned mining camp when we took a wrong turn while exploring remote ravines.
See, even now I’m being coy with information … which is why I found it easier to hide details in plain sight within the fictional pages of the book.
Because it’s a tale which covers all the Canary Islands, there is plenty within By the Time Dawn Breaks for fans of individual islands, especially those book-reading travellers who like to scratch below the surface of any destinations they visit. For me, it adds more depth to read a book in the location it is set – Anil’s Ghost in Sri Lanka; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin on a Greek island; Out of Africa in Kenya; The Shining while working as a night porter in a Victorian hotel that was closed for the winter. The last was a mistake. The people who read By the Time Dawn Breaks while in the Canary Islands might feel a greater connection to the story, look around them, and muse, ‘I wonder…’