Back in the days when I was a student, my University had a secret. It was a place that more or less appeared on no maps. There were no signs advertising its presence. It was tucked away in a hidden courtyard at the end of an un-promising alley. If you did not know it was there, you would NEVER find it.
But it was a special place, a secret passed down from one generation of students to the next. It was a magical spot, something that lingers in the memories of everyone who ever passed through it, and they will all (even thirty years later) describe it to you in uncannily similar terms, like it had been preserved in amber.
It also made the best Irish Coffees on the planet, bar none.
It doesn't exist anymore; it's long gone, replaced by… other things. The secret courtyard and its treasures are no more, except in the mind and memory and spirit of each and every person who ever passed through it -- a place of trysts, celebrations, and sharing, a place where only truth might be spoken.
Its name was Spanish Gardens. And sooner or later it would find its way into the worlds which I create in my fiction. Spanish Gardens, the café itself, is as much of a character as any of the human protagonists in my new novel, "Midnight at Spanish Gardens". If you want a quick summary, I could offer you this:
"On the eve of the end of the world, 20 December 2012, five friends meet in Spanish Gardens, the café where they had celebrated their college graduation 20 years before. Over Irish coffees, they reminisce - and reveal long-held and disturbing secrets.
Each friend in turn is given a curious set of instructions by an enigmatic bartender named Ariel: "Your life is filled with crossroads and you are free to choose one road or another at any time. Stepping through this door takes away all choices except two -- the choice to live a different life, or return to this one...."
Each in turn passes through the portal and is faced with a new life and challenges. Their decisions show a new life -- or something far worse. At the end of the world, it's a chance for redemption, or a chance to learn something about themselves. Four of them return to their own lives, imperfections and all. One does not."
This is a novel that asks - and leaves open the answer to - one of the most powerful and poignant questions ever asked by a human mind: WHAT IF? What if you had made a different choice? How would it have changed your life?
Read the book. Play the game.