Something to declare

Jilly Cooper travelled to Colombia to research her latest book?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
False. Even though part of Appassionata is set in Bogota, the capital of Colombia, Ms Cooper makes no secret of the fact that she preferred to avoid the place. In the acknowledgments for her latest "bonkbuster", she reveals that she relied upon the Lonely Planet Travel Survival Kit to Colombia for her research, and thanks the guidebook publisher from saving her a visit.

Yet by omitting South America's most misunderstood country from her travel plans, Ms Cooper missed out on a lot that could have enhanced her best- selling pages: the unusual system employed by customs at Bogota airport, for example, where you press a button and either a green or a red bulb illuminates according to some random pattern. A red light means you are going to be searched by some of the most inquisitive guards on earth; a green signal means you can walk out with anything you like concealed in your Gucci luggage.

For shopping, the scene shifts to Medellin. What should, by all natural accounts, be a modest, down-at-heel city in the middle of the Colombian lake district, turns out to be one of the richest places on the continent. Ms Cooper's heroine may not be taken to the cleaners, but plenty of dollars are laundered there.

The most worrying aspect of fiction relying upon fact for fleshing out detail is that Ms Cooper's idea could catch on in reverse. A timid guidebook writer, unwilling to risk a city where, on average, one murder per hour takes place, could rely instead on the information included in La Passionata - itself adapted from a guidebook. The recycling of fact as fiction and vice-versa does not bode well for the intending traveller; best stay at home and read a good book.

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