I was four the first time I went on a plane. Understandably I don't remember much about the trip but every now and then I have a flashback of the hands of dark haired women stroking my fine golden locks, while sitting on a stool in an electronics shop in Hong Kong. My Dad was buying our first radio alarm clock, the type with spilt flat numbers that clicked as the minutes ticked over. The oriental women thought I was some sort of angel.
Another memory of that trip, is the smell of coal smoke coming out of a mysterious chimney that jutted from a field at the back of my grandparents home in the small village of Kilsby near Coventry in England. It's purpose was to release the emissions of the trains that were running in the railway tunnels beneath it. The acrid waft of coal makes me think of steam trains and Bert the chimneysweep from Mary Poppins' and the slope of that field as I ran, tumbling down it into the arms of my Mum watching me with delight.
At the other end of the sensory scale, in that same back garden, was a greenhouse where my grandad Harry, grew prize-winning tomatoes. Up unto this day, I have never smelt a tomato as fresh and earthy, the mere mention of it makes me nostalgic and desperate to bite through its shiny red skin, to feel the cool dribble of juice and seeds channel down my chin and onto my chest.
As a writer, I draw heavily on the experiences of my travels. Not that I am the most well travelled individual on the planet, but I dare say, I've been to a few more places than most average Joes or Janes.
The first romance short story I had published was based on a flight I took in the 90's. I was travelling with Royal Brunei airlines from London to Perth, (a service that no longer exists) and it just so happened that the guy sitting in the window seat of my row, was the pilot's son. He was in his early twenties, as was I at the time, and although there was no romantic sparks flying between us, like there was in my story, we did play cards, chatted about our lives, watched movies, compared notes and exchanged phone numbers when we got to the other other end. So as you can see while the story I wrote was greatly embellished, the seed for it came from that time.
Another story which will NEVER be available for public viewing, I wrote when I was in Year 9, it was called A Special Place for Me. I wrote it as a English project based on a visit to the farm in Austria where my Nanna was born. I wrote about the green hills, and how we picked apples for their annual cider making day, how I learnt how to use the manual corn-cobbing machine that spat out naked cobs from its back end, while the dried golden kernels poured into a wooden box at the front. Some of it was ground into cornflour while the rest was used as food for the pigs.
These sort of experiences can never be made up, and it is only through being there and taking it all in that we can genuinely regale the information.
In an interview with Natasha Lester, coming up next week, I asked her why it was important for her to physically go to the locations she had used as settings in her story. She talks about the unexpected rewards of a research trip and how much richer your writing is when you have breathed the same air as your characters.
While not everyone has the luxury of being able to travel to the destinations they've used as the settings, particularly if you are a science fiction author writing about life on a distant planet or writing about a bygone era, in our imaginations we can travel anywhere.
I guess my love of travelling and discovering new places, has influenced the topics and settings of nearly everything I have ever committed to a page. Both of my current works in progress are set in dual locations between Australia and England and when Serenity Press announced their next anthology collection was called Destination Romance and should include a holiday destination as part of the story, I near on spontaneously combusted with excitement.
I could go on about this subject for chapters, about the places I've travelled and how it is never about the end destination or the postcard landmarks, but more often than not, as Natasha pointed out, its the things I didn't expect that provide the most profound talking points.
It's the hours on planes watching the patchwork quilt of land beneath me, its the industry and nature flashing past me on a train trip, it's the roads not on maps, and the undiscovered towns along the highways to the end point.
It's the people you meet and observe in their daily routine, the same people we ignore in own backyards, but against a foreign landscape seem somehow more interesting. It's the food, and the clothing, the currency and culture, the things they commemorate and how they celebrate the meaning of life.
And never limit your travel to overseas trips. Some of the best moments in life are the ones spent not so far from home. We are so blessed in Western Australia to have an abundance of historical towns, pristine eco-friendly beaches, wild west mining communities, ghost towns and landscapes that could have once been the ocean floor or made up of ancient meteorite showers.
One thing is for sure, I'll never suffer writers block when it comes to a setting for a story.
Next week, I go on the road with Natasha Lester, stay tuned for a great interview full of writerly wisdom.