‘How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.’ So wrote Henry David Thoreau.
When I was a young woman, my desire to write could sometimes be quite frustrating – I yearned to write, but I knew the time was not right: I had my studies, my career, and then my family to care for. Thoreau’s wisdom carried me through that time. I would recite his words to remind myself that while I was not writing, I was living, having so many experiences that would someday form a foundation from which I could write.
For me, an essential part of that living was broadening my horizons by travelling. As Hans Christian Andersen put it, ‘To travel is to live.’ I travelled… I explored… I experienced. I saw the most beautiful sights, and some saddening ones. I heard new, stirring music; I tasted exotic dishes; I touched ancient stones and the very softest of sands. And as they say, you can shake the sand from your shoes, but it will never leave your soul.
My travels – my living – infuse the novels I now write. Take Greece, the setting for my latest novel, Aphrodite’s Tears. When I close my eyes, I am there. Admiring the sunset from a cliff or from the island of Santorini; crossing the pine forests of Attica with their profusion of colours. Glimpsing a patch of blue-green sea beyond a spur, stretching to the horizon, or looking down upon a little cove or bay of sparkling yellow sand as I turn a corner. Walking through olive groves; maybe wandering within the sacred ruins of Olympia and the many other historic ruins that are strewn across this ancient land.
Not only do my travels inspire my settings, but they inform my characterisation too. In Aphrodite’s Tears, Oriel is an archaeologist, and part of the attraction of her chosen career is the opportunity it affords to travel. Damian, the man who has employed her to explore an old shipwreck, has been born and raised on a small Greek island, but he too has always looked outward. I write:
‘Happy is he who like Ulysses travels far’ was the first thing that came to Oriel’s mind as she stepped into the dining room… This room was in keeping with the other parts of the house that she had seen so far, crammed with objets d’art from all over the world. Damian Lekkas may be many of the things Yorgos Christodoulou had described, but the estate manager had not done justice to his master’s love of antiquity or his refined eye for beauty.
Their mutual love of exploration, adventure, travel, living is a powerful draw. What does it say about a person when they are interested in the world around; in other cultures and peoples, present day and historical? It shows a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to empathise. It also suggests a certain inner steel, I think. To quote Paolo Coelho: ‘Travel is never a matter of money but of courage.’ In each other, Damian and Oriel see that courage. The question for them is: Can their courage extend to matters of the heart?
And the question that remains for me: To where will I travel next, and what story will that experience inspire?