The Journey (Pt 1)
Because I am living in the Czech Republic which is in the middle of Europe, it is easy to travel to places that, when I was in Australia, seemed very far apart from one another (mostly irrationally because I was far far away from all of those places). It was almost impossible to believe that one could get on a train in Prague and travel to Russia or England or Italy or Belgium or Scotland or France or England. I am still thrilled by that potential every time I go to see someone off at the train station! That I could reach any of these places in a couple of hours by plane, including the airport queuing time, just seems inconceivable! So I thought I should punctuate this post, since it is about real as well as imaginary journeys - with a few photos from other places in Europe. I will try to mention any story or book influenced by a visit to that place, or if it was where I wrote something.
- This is a picture of Vernazza, which is one of the five little towns that make up the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast in Italy. You can walk from one to the other on a spectacular cliff walk, or take a tiny little train. Very wild seas.
Journeys figure large in fantasy books, maybe because there are often maps. One of the typical mistakes would-be fantasy writers make is to invent a world, then draw a map, and then have their character's go to every single place on the map. I mean, we don’t do that in real life, do we? How many places on the map of Australia have you gone, let alone the map of the world? And we don’t know what it is really like in the places shown on a map. We might have seen pictures and heard stories and anecdotes, but we don’t know how we would find it there. And the other thing is that places are not static. They are constantly changing. So you can go back to a place and find it utterly changed- if your character does the same in a story, she or he (or it) will feel more real, and we, the readers, will empathize. It is not necessary for us to like a main character, but we ought at least to have the feeling that they are real. That it the illusion that the writer must produce.
- This was taken during a long, hot, walk from Firostefano to Oia on Santorini Island. We rested at a very lonely little chapel inhabited by a dog muse. I have written many things on Santorini - The Stranger which is in Metro Winds, I drew the first Little Fur book pictures here and also many of the picturres for The Red Wind.
We can only tread a single path through the vastness that is life, and in a book, we generally follow one or two characters. We can knock ourselves out creating the world, and tie off every last stitch in the plot, but in the end our characters are only going to be able to tread a few interescting paths through that world. A character cannot be a vessel that trundles obligingly all over the landscape revealing the inate brilliance of its creator, like an animated guide. The world/map is the background and if it feels too important, it will distort the story. Unless the place in the story is also a character such as Fork in Billy Thunder and the Night Gate, or Sydney in Peter Corris novels.
- Dresden in Winter.
As someone who has done her own world making, I know the temptation of visiting every place I invented, but I don’t do it. Despite all those Obernewtyn books, Elspeth has not been to all of the towns. Nor will she. Because in life we don’t go everywhere. We might backtrack and linger and turn back, but we don’t go everywhere. We can’t. We make choices and so must our characters. It is in those choices, right and wrong, the limitations and constraints they impose and where they lead the character, that we find the story.
- This is Venice. The city of Fork in Billy Thunder was shaped very much by Venice and the story The Wolf King in Metro Winds is about Venice and her doppelganger...
Of course a journey is a wonderful metaphor for life. You could say we begin our journey at birth, travel through the years and then come to the end of our journey when we die. The road itself is a wonderful metaphor. The crossroads and side paths and dead ends… Even a book is a journey from the beginning through the middle, to the end.
- A few pictures of Athens- the Acropolis was breathtaking and HOT. No writing was done here but I have no doubt it will evenaully appear in a story. Mostly what fascinated me was the other people visiting it but seeing this building felt almost as incredible as walking through Pompeii.
And I have done a lot of real journeying in my life, though not nearly as much as some people and far less adventurously than many others. It was never in my mind that I would travel. I came from this Housing Commission background and no-one around me ever talked about anywhere other than where we were. Certainly not overseas. But I do remember this one woman, a nurse, sent to care for me and three of my silblings who had got terribly badly sunburnt when some neighbor took us to the swimming pool and didn’t offer or think of lotion- she was not a bad person, people just didn’t think about skin cancer back then and we were not her kids. Maybe she thought my mother had given some to us. So we ended up in hospital and rather than keep us all there, somehow it came about that this nurse who lived across the road from us, though I had never set eyes on her before, was designated to care for us. So she came every day and she slathered on this yellow stuff- I still remember the name. Butasin Picrate or something like that. It was very very yellow and stained the skin so we all looked like we had terrible conjunctivitis. Actually we were orange because it went on over out burns, which were bright red. We were a mess and we all had heat stroke. I can so remember the heat of the sun that seemed to be trapped under my skin and inside my head. And this nurse, who sounded Australian, but turned out to have been born in Norway, would carefully and slowly put this ointment on us, and somehow she ended up telling us about her childhood in Norway. She talked of the black water in fjords and of walking miles to school ( back then it was miles) and of her brother walking ahead and telling her she had to keep up or a bear would get her. I remember that so very vividly. The weird dreamy sick feeling of being sunstruck, the heat and pain in my skin, and her hands so cool, her voice with just a touch of accent and her stories of growing up in the ice and snow. I often wonder if she is the reason I am so fascinated with ice and snow and winter now.
- Lappland in Northern Finland- a reindeer expedition with a Sami man- I will use this in a cycle of short stories I am writing. Of course snow and ice figure large in many of my book and stories, so i can never get enough of it.
I started to travel myself when I was in my late twenties. My first trip was to India- I was a complete babe in the woods and I learnt so much on that three month trip about what not to do. Then there were many trips to Ireland, where I was sometimes able to forget the terrible longing I felt for home when I was away, and Holland where I first saw fireworks that made me feel as if I had stumbled into a war zone, and then came Paris and Italy and the Czech Republic. And more recently China and Finland… I am always inspired when I travel because I am stepping outside my comfort zone. That is hard to do and especially hard for a writer, because we need to feel safe to write. But it is also good and even necessary, I believe, for a writer to stand outside that comfort zone, because feeling a little scared or a little cold or a little lost strips off a thick skin of habit and certainty and insensitivity and for a time, we are utterly open and vulnerable to the world. We see and we hear and feel things a thousand times more passionately than if we had stayed in our comfort zone.
- Edinburgh- I was here as a guest of the Festival, but I love the city and Scotland and the accent!
That is what travel means, to a writer, even to a fantasy writer who creates her own worlds, because after all, every book is or should be, reflection of the real world.
- Where I write in the mornings on Santorini Island, on a terrace overlooking the caldera... Possibly my favorite desk in all the world!
And next blog, because the synchronicity of title is too good not to use, offers a sneak preview of a story called The Journey, which will come out in a collection in July…