Continuing our tour of Prime Writers’ inspiring locations, Jason Hewitt takes us on a journey through the Czech Republic.
From the moment when I realised that Devastation Road was essentially about a man who wakes up in a field and tries to make his way home through war-torn Europe, I also realised that I wouldn’t be able to write it without taking the journey myself.
It was for this reason that in May 2013 I found myself in a field in what we would now call the Czech Republic but which in 1945 many would have known as the Sudetenland. It’s a landscape that is not so very different to England. However, as Owen starts to walk he also begins to notice the discrepancies that combine to slowly make him realise that he is not at home. The forests he walks through might possess the stately atmosphere of English woodlands but in the distance, through the trees he sees the forested cones of extinct volcanoes or the slow rise of the Eastern Ore Mountains that give character to this region.
The BBC war correspondent Robert Reid described Europe just before peace was declared as having “a sort of Alice in Wonderland air” and it was this disorientating atmosphere that I wanted to create in the first quarter of the novel, as if Owen himself had fallen down a rabbit hole and woken too in a strange land. Get off the beaten track and the Czech Republic certainly has an otherworldly atmosphere to it – part everyday farmland, part Grimm’s fairy tale – and taking the same route as Owen not only gave me a better sense of the Czech countryside than I would have got trawling through the internet; it also provided me with locations for many of the scenes. An ancient dilapidated house, for example, a woodland lagoon with a campfire beside it, a field full of tree stumps like an arena of empty seats, and even a boulder with a snarling face painted on it, all made their way in to the early chapters. As did my own sense of often being lost in a country that I didn’t know and where I couldn’t speak the language or make myself understood. Just like Owen. The Czech Republic already has an ethereal beauty to it but only by experiencing it myself through Owen’s disorientated eyes did I see the true magic that lurks within this wonderful landscape.