Shane Cox on the left and Andrew Cox filming at the Golden Pavilion

The Reality behind the Fiction

Story by J.E. Forman

Canadian Writer and frequent BVI visitor, Janet Foreman, tells how she transformed her time on Virgin Gorda into the murder mystery novel, Really Dead

Janet Forema
Janet Foreman

Travel writer Ria Butler has to outsmart a killer on the set of a reality TV show. Ria is supposed to be looking at blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos. Instead, she circumnavigates her unsettled relationship with investigative reporter Glenn Cooper and flies to the set of the TV show that her brother is producing in the British Virgin Islands. On location, she learns a production assistant has gone missing – only her tattooed foot has been found. While Ria tries to outwit a killer, Glenn tries to outlast Ria's commitment detour, and a producer tries to outplay the police. When the reality series goes to air, it really does have the most dramatic finale ever – and someone is Really Dead. From Really Dead (A Ria Butler Mystery) by J. E. Foreman

Twenty-five years ago, a young Canadian television producer stepped off a plane at Beef Island Airport, nervously anticipating her first foreign production shoot. Last year, a not-so-young Canadian travel writer stepped off a plane at Virgin Gorda Airport, unknowingly about to get involved in a murder investigation on the set of a reality TV show.

The television producer was me. I can still remember exactly what I was thinking as I walked along a beach on the first day of the production, waiting for the crew to finish setting up – I'm getting paid to work in paradise! I fell so head-over-heels in love with the BVI that I've kept coming back for more.

Really Dead by Janet Foreman
Really Dead by J.E. Foreman

The travel writer, Ria Butler, is the protagonist in a just-published murder mystery written by me – Really Dead.

It was on my fifth visit to the British Virgin Islands that the germ of an idea for a murder mystery started to form in my head. I was sitting on the verandah at the A Dream Come True Villa on Virgin Gorda, looking out over Savannah Bay and the beach where our cast and crew had spent two weeks shooting many years earlier. Memories from that production and my return visits to the BVI began to coalesce into the plot of the story I was about to write. I'd already done most of the location research by working and playing there.

The beignets that our crew devoured up at Skyworld Restaurant, up on Ridge Road in Tortola, were the inspiration for the beignets that appear on the craft services table for the crew on the fictional reality show. The delicious conch fritters from Sebastian's On The Beach, in Little Apple Bay, became a speciality of the on-board chef on the fictional private yacht. At the end of our real production, we held our wrap party/dinner at Peg Legs Restaurant in Nanny Cay – while the fictional reality show crew regularly dines en masse in a restaurant that sits up above the water.

I didn't want to tarnish any of the real British Virgin Islands with a murder, so I created the fictional island of Soursop and plunked it into the Caribbean near The Dogs. The hotel on Soursop is a mix of bits from the various hotels I've either stayed at or visited – the Prospect Reef Resort that our crew stayed at in the late 1980s, Fischer's Cove Beach Hotel, Peter Island Resort, and Rosewood Little Dix Bay. To get to Soursop the hotel staff and reality show crew take a private ferry, much like the one that takes guests to Bitter End Yacht Club. The late Bob Denniston had let us shoot on his perfect beach, Smuggler's Cove on Tortola, and I modelled one of the beaches on Soursop after it (minus Bob's honour bar).

A Dream Come True Villa, Virgin Gorda

A Dream Come True Villa, Virgin Gorda

Some places appear in the book just as they are. Captain Joe, from Patouche Charters, took me and some vacationing friends out to Norman Island and The Indians for a day of sailing and magnificent snorkelling; in the book there's a fictional boat captain who recommends the snorkelling around The Indians. Our real cast and crew spent so much time at the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour and The Bath and Turtle Pub that both spots had to get special mention in the book. I've stayed at the A Dream Come True Villa twice and, with owner Germaine Fritz's permission, one of my characters stays there for the duration of the reality show production.

And then there were the unforgettable chickens.

We had to shut down our real production for almost half a day when we were shooting at Pusser's Landing at Soper's Hole, Tortola, due to a poultry problem. A mother hen had been separated from her chicks and they were all chirping and clucking so loudly that our sound recordist had to take off his headset, put down his microphone, and join the rest of the crew in a major animal wrangling misadventure. I flew those chickens over to Soursop, put them on the set of the reality show and let the feathers fly.

A Dream Come True Villa, Virgin Gorda

A Dream Come True Villa, Virgin Gorda

Despite the years that have passed since my first visit to the BVI, the islands haven't really changed much. Sure, there are more hotels, and cruise ships now stop in Road Town, but being one extra step off any direct flight route has helped keep the islands unspoiled and truly "Nature's Little Secrets".

The BVI are unlike any other islands I've ever visited in the Caribbean. There are no swarms of tourists. Instead of struggling to find an empty beach you'd be hard pressed to find a crowded one. A visitor can find as much or as little to do as they want. The location, the climate, the scenery, and the people combine to make the BVI a magical vacation destination, where every visitor truly feels welcomed.

Only in the BVI could I find the scenery to inspire and the peaceful solitude to plot a murder mystery.

Really Dead (Dundurn) by J.E. Forman is available on and