I’m counting my blessings right now, because instead of minus four degrees back in my home town in the UK, I’m enjoying eighteen degrees in southern Spain. We’ve come away for the winter, leaving grey skies behind us, hoping not to have to return until spring has definitely sprung.
The Moody Blues suggested in their 1968 song that ‘thinking is the best way to travel’. They have a point. Travel can often be arduous, whether it’s being stuck on a motorway, sitting on a train platform, or finding out that your flight home has been cancelled (which is what happened to me last month!).
However, aside from the benefits of warmth, I’m finding that exploring new places is also inspiring me, helping me to get pencil to paper and write. It’s intriguing to know just what it is that inspires writers. While on my travels I’m not only seeing new sights and meeting new people, but also enjoying new routines. Perhaps it’s a mix of all these things that fires the imagination.
Many writers have chosen to escape their usual routine and home life to travel to foreign climes, with great success. Virginia Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsbury set accomplished much of their work while living close to home, but it’s said that Woolf’s childhood holidays in St Ives helped to inspire To the lighthouse. F Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby while staying with his family in a nice little place on the French Riviera. Henry James was born in New York, but wrote much of his work while living in Europe and it’s said that Graham Greene developed the ideas for his much acclaimed work, The Power and the Glory while living in Mexico.
I could list many more, but for now let’s consider what it is about shifting our centre of gravity that gets those creative juices flowing. When we travel we live in a fifth wheel caravan (like a caravan, but with more space) and stay on campsites. Campsite living for me means I spend more time outdoors and have the chance to chat to other campers, many who have chosen to live an alternative life. There are some who have chosen to spend their retirement travelling in a motorhome or caravan, others have given up their jobs and houses much earlier on in life, no longer wanting to be constrained by living in one place. Centuries ago it wasn’t so unusual to see itinerant workers moving from farm to farm, or from village to village, finding work wherever they could and not worrying too much about where they laid their head. In more recent years, particularly in the UK, it seems that having a ‘fixed abode’ is the goal many want to work towards. Of course, house ownership and all that goes with it has many advantages, but it also has its downsides – not least that you can’t choose your neighbours!
Certain tasks have to be performed wherever you live; washing, cleaning, shopping, cooking, eating. On a campsite many of these chores take longer than they might do if you live in a house, with all mod cons available. But the difference is that when I walk to the shower block to do my handwashing I have the chance to dream, I have thinking time. I might meet someone on the way who might recount an adventure they’ve had, or I might watch a new arrival sorting out their campsite pitch. Variety is an everyday occurrence. Perhaps it’s a bit like living in an airport arrivals hall, but much less busy. There’s always something happening, but at the same time it’s always possible to ignore those happenings too. It’s easy to hunker down in the van, or to sit out under the awning and to write undisturbed.
It’s interesting to see how many of the writers here at The Author Lab find that travel helps them to write. Amy Susan Brown found inspiration in Malta, when she escaped Swedish winters to enjoy the warmth of that island. Chris Paton had first-hand experience of the Arctic scenes that appear in his forthcoming novel, The Ice Star, while living in Greenland and now his new home of Denmark has given him a focus for a whole new genre of Danish thrillers. Lu Anne Stewart has the benefit of frequent travels with her photographer husband, Richard, to light her creative spark. And Karen Ross decided to up-sticks and move to Italy where she is living out her dream of writing in a country vibrant with creative culture.
At home, wherever that might be, it’s usually possible to find a quiet space to write, even it means putting a Do not disturb sign on the door. But I suppose the bonus of this travelling life is that I don’t have a fixed routine and everyday I have the chance for interesting encounters, with nature, people, or animals. My mind is being constantly re-energised with new horizons. I’m doing my best to transfer that energy into words. I’ll let you know how I get on…
Where are your favourite places to write? Have you found travelling frees up your mind and inspires you?