Tag Archive | Australia

What Road Trips Have Taught Me About Writing

IMG_4047

On all my holidays and road trips since 1982 I have written a daily travel diary, detailing each day’s events, names of places, what I saw, felt, did, bought, and so on. This has stood me in good stead when writing novels because with all those detailed memories plus whatever current info I can find about those places on Google, I can draw up a fairly accurate depiction of what life is like in that particular place today.

Hand in hand with the travel diary text, there are always photographs. Loads of them. Back in the days of using ordinary film, I was more careful about what I snapped. There was no instant viewing or opportunity for immediate retakes if you didn’t like the first picture, because of the delay in having the pictures printed – a process usually done once you reached home after the trip, and by then on an even more limited post-holiday budget.

When I hiked the Otter Trail back in 2003, I considered getting a digital camera to take with me, but when someone pointed out that, with no electricity for five days, I wouldn’t be able to recharge the battery nightly, I stuck to my trusty old Ricoh.

In 2011 I attended a writing seminar on adventure and travel writing, where one of the presenters advised us to invest in an ordinary digital camera and to take photographs of absolutely everything along the way. “You don’t have to print them all,” he told us, “and even if they’re not good enough to accompany an article in a travel magazine, they will always aid you in remembering places and incidents.”

Boy, was he right! I bought myself an entry-level digital Canon just before my first trip to Australia in 2012 and have used it to the nth degree ever since. The only downside is that the more photos I take, the more important it is to remember to recharge the camera’s battery before the next day’s excursion.

I’ve just returned to Melbourne after a two week road trip down the eastern side of Australia with one of my closest friends. Some days were so busy that we were too tired by the evening to write our daily notes, so this often didn’t happen until days later. Thanks to the photographs acting as reminders, not a single precious memory has been muddied or lost, from Arrawarra Beach to Mount Kosciuszko.

IMG_4068IMG_4644

Some days my photo count was over 140, particularly the day we saw the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge! Although only a handful of these found their way into Facebook, blog posts and tweets, they are all on my computer waiting to jog my memory when the time comes.

IMG_4358IMG_4261

I love being a writer because I can justify anything I do by calling it research. My recent road trip definitely holds fodder for a future novel. At the moment I have no idea what that next novel will be about – anything from a mob of  wild kangaroos to the story of Ned Kelly – but I’m certain it will be set somewhere in those 2400 kilometres we travelled through the south eastern part of Australia.

IMG_4654IMG_4719

I believe that being out of your comfort zone and travelling with an open mind are the two key ingredients for finding potentially limitless possibilities for the next novel.

If there is a common thread running through my novels, it is the fish-out-of-water theme. My novels are never autobiographical, but just like my fictional heroines, I enjoy being a single person in an unfamiliar place, ripe for experiencing the adventure of a lifetime.

Not knowing in advance what the next novel is about has never stopped me from gathering useless information for it. In common with other novelists, I have a system for filing away ideas, snippets of news, and notes about certain skills I will never personally achieve, but which my characters might well be masters of. Like a jigsaw puzzle where I can create my own pieces, the next novel will take shape when the time is right, and it will be made up of all sorts of previously unconnected pieces.

I firmly believe that part of any creative process is the melding together of various elements that would be unrelated in another context. The real trick is to find that elusive strand of gold that weaves it all together successfully and makes it shine for the reader.

Hiatus Before the Countdown

I find it hard to curb the rising sense of panic as I face my final week before the container arrives to take my worldly goods to Australia. A thousand questions bother my troubled mind hourly and I can scarcely think about anything else. The few hours each day in which I have to go to work are a relief because the show I am working on is complicated and highly technical, and thus requires my full concentration for those hours. The twenty-five minute drive each way provides a twice daily period of transition in which to wind down with the music in my car and ease the switchover between my two current worlds.

In three weeks I will be part of another world, and every now and then I allow myself a few minutes to dream of it. I find myself telling an old school friend about how beautiful Melbourne is, or I see a video my sister has shared on Facebook and my heart soars to think of the new life awaiting me.

But first I have to pace myself through these last few weeks.

The first minutes after I wake up each day are quiet, and it is this time that has always been my favourite writing time. In the past it was reserved for novels, short stories and competition entries, but in the last six months it has been for lists, schedules and deadlines. Like the calm before any storm, I have reached a period of hiatus – some would say paralysis – and I find that those moments of quiet have returned to me in the last few mornings.

On the surface, there’s not much more to do – throw the last few things into boxes, check that those boxes will fit in the small space allocated, label everything and cushion it all with bubble wrap, rugs and bags of clothing. Wave good bye as it pulls out of the driveway and forget about its torrid journey on the high seas until I unpack it in Melbourne in three months’ time.

Beyond that, my thoughts must turn to the two more weeks of limbo beyond container D-day, in which I will have to sell the last few pieces of furniture and my car, put my cats on a plane, squeeze the remainder of my clothing into a bulging, heavy suitcase and say good bye to my friends.

That last one will be the hardest part, I know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between my own situation and all the others who have not had it so lucky. From my own sister – who packed up everything she had ever known four years ago and moved to a land she had seen only in books, photographs and on television – to our ancestors who came from the northern hemisphere one hundred and thirty-five years ago to Africa on a crazy, doomed settler scheme.

Apart from our own family, I have also thought about the thousands of unfortunates who were packed into ships from those same northern parts during the earlier 1800s and sent far away to the penal colonies of Botany Bay and Van Diemen’s Land, never to see family or friends again. To say that they began life anew is to barely scratch the surface of what those people went through.

My thoughts have also turned in recent months to the victims of xenophobia right here on my own doorstep. Innocent men, women and their children from other parts of Africa who have already forged a new way of life far from their original homes, and who were suddenly subjected to the mob violence that Africa is famous for. They had their houses and shops looted, burned down and were lucky to escape with their lives and the clothes on their backs. Not all were that lucky. Where were our country’s law-enforcers during this? For the most part, it seems, they turned their backs or pitched up late.

On the whole, I am having an easy time of it!

First of all, I want to go to Australia. No one is forcing me. I am going because I am all that is left of my immediate family in this land – this land that is becoming increasingly difficult for everyone to live in. Having a pale skin has become undesirable both in the workplace and on farms in the last twenty years, but even more worrying than that, is the fact that no one – regardless of their skin colour – is safe in this culture of lawlessness that oozes down from the top like a toxic, leaking, syphilitic volcano.

Our so-called leaders have perfected the art of feathering their own nests with fire pools and luxury estates, squandering the funds that should have been used to help the poorer people of this land to get humble two-room houses, basic education and primary health care. Like a dynamo, twenty years of corruption has escalated into a whirlwind, a downward spiral, a snowball gathering momentum – call it what you will – and there seems to be no stopping it, ever.

Our leader laughs and chuckles openly when confronted by watchdogs who try to make him accountable for his abhorrent actions, and his has become the most loathed face on our television screens. Never mind who is winning or losing on Game of Thrones, our own reality is more bizarre and terrifying than any concocted by Hollywood. As the corruption increases, so too does the threat of measures to silence those who try to fight him. It’s like the old days, only worse…

Many South Africans have had enough and are searching their family trees or their skills for other places to go. The exodus that began slowly steps up a few notches every year – rather like our inflation rate, our unemployment rate and our crime rate.

In fact, that infamous crime rate was the initial spur that nudged the first part of my extended family to move to Australia. Having a gun shoved into his face, and having that gun fail to fire when the trigger was pulled was all the impetus that first family member needed to start thinking about returning to the land of his birth, in order that his own children might grow up in a safer country. In due course, his parents and his siblings followed him, including the one who is married to my sister.

Which brings me to my main reason for going there. Our parents have passed on, and I have no partner or children, so most of the living components of my life are centred in Australia or New Zealand. I just want to be part of my family again.

Three weeks and counting…