The Chilterns, Home. Despite my pain and sadness at leaving London, I’m happy to call this new place home. Had it been any less remote I might have struggled, endlessly comparing it to the glorious bustle of Acton (now there’s a sentence you never thought you’d read), but as it is, the view from our house is fields and trees, covered most mornings by mist and watched over by the endless procession of crows that guard our dwelling. It’s here that I’ve written most and much of it has been inspired by the quiet and peace and freedom to think.
From the morning mist so often strides a stranger, a new thought or twist that wraps itself around my brain and refuses to move until it’s committed to print. As I push my sleeping daughter up and down the lane, the crows screech and squark to me of visions and imaginings that turn from idle thoughts into beginnings and characters and plots and worlds, and just like that I’m swamped and find myself rushing to the computer, face stretched into a huge grin as I begin to type. (Sometime later I remember the small one and hope Wifey hasn’t noticed her daughter is abandoned halfway down the track. It’s only happened once or twice and she’s always been returned to us by considerate, if frowning neighbours, Except that one time when we had to pay the local gnomes off, but they were happy with a kidney and her first kiss.)
South bank and Covent Garden, London. I had to return here to London, there’s just too much to say to only give it one day. I’ve chosen these two because it gives me lots to mention.
The street performers in Covent Garden, strange men with obsessions and way too much time on their hands, existing in tiny garrets, juggling until their hands bleed or saved from their toil by trading with an opportunistic devil who comes and makes a quick soul.
The booksellers under the bridge outside the Festival hall, tired men and women wearing their lives on their faces, I imagine these meeting in dark alleyways late at night to summon something forth from the books they keep in the dark wooden chests.
The skateboarder’s paradise, tucked under the concrete walkway where the young man discovers that if he concentrates really hard, both he and his board can float, hovering just off the ground. The Thames, a million stories to tell from countless civilisations, yet its’ darkest truth is hidden deep in the mud, the creatures that will awaken only when the city is under dire threat. The man from the office, who crosses the Millenium bridge every day at lunch, and dreams every day of leaping from it, letting the filthy river rob him of the endless dreams of his lost love. He doesn’t of course. She promised him she’d be back, and he believed her, even as he tried to ignore the trickle of blood running from the corner of her mouth.
The Outback, Australia. From Alice Springs to Ayers Rock, hundreds of miles of scrub and desert and rocks, more space than I ever truly imagined existed.
I think about Aesop’s fables, the stories of the land told by the creatures that live there, and like to add a more human element. The dingo who likes to trick weary travelers into feeding it, only to discover that they’ve swapped places with it and can only watch helplessly as it drives away in their car (in jumps and starts of course, whoever heard of a dingo that could use a clutch? That’s just daft…) Then you have the Aboriginal Dreamtime, a vein of folklore stretching back longer than any other constant civilization. They use the magic of stories to explain the world around them. Finally, you have the inevitable horror that comes as the imagination ticks over on what you’d do if your car broke down, and the nearby farm seems to have some weird looking carcasses hanging in the front yard, but hey, what choice is there and it’s getting dark, and there are spiders out here anyway…
I loved Australia, just loved it. Wifey was particularly fond of the spiders
The Mountains of Scotland, or any good mountain range.
There’s something about the isolation and exposure and sheer bloody massiveness of a good mountain that throws up a wealth of imagery for me. From the lone traveler, wending his weary way home from the war only to be confronted by witches, to the young magic user who travels to the peaks to call on a demon that promises great power. The lost legion, who cross the treacherous hills during the night and never emerge from the thick fog, and the beast that prowls the lonely trails, picking off travelers and sowing their faces onto its’ disguise so that it can venture down into the surrounding towns. I feel uplifted when I get up high, freer, and unbound, and ready to spin tales aplenty.
Havana, Cuba. This is my romance town. There were many places in Cuba I loved, not least the hotel right on the Northern tip of the island where they served all-day mojitos by the edge of the swimming pool, but the place that really got my creative juices flowing was Havana.
Before going, I had the classic images of sixties cars on narrow streets lined with sand coloured faded buildings, in my head, but I discovered it was so much more than that. Ancient ladies standing in dark doorways, squinting in the bright sun, with such stories to tell as to set the mind racing.
The casual samba band, jamming in the courtyard behind a café, dreaming of fame, or maybe calling the spirits out, or maybe just playing their story to the ragged streets.
The sweeping beauty of the Malecon, where the kids come to start their own stories, and flirt and sweat in the evening sun. I’ve chosen Havana to talk about, but all of Cuba was a fascinating place, filled with stories and mysteries and I would dearly love to return there one day.
I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in Tunisia, visiting a couple of the big towns, the desert (Tatooine, woohoo!), and various places in-between.
Of all the different countries I have been to, it felt like the biggest jolt, the biggest step away from what I knew, and I’m so glad that I kept a diary whilst I was there. I still return to it and as soon as I open the pages, I can feel the dust and the heat. I‘m transported to the gigantic colosseum, abandoned on the edge of town and crying out for time travelling gladiators.
I’m whisked back to camel riding in the desert, lone adventurer (my folks fade into the background at this point) seeking water/princess/treasure/pub.
I find myself in the market, buried beneath the cries of stall holders, and animals, assailed by a myriad of unfamiliar smells, and seeking the only man with the key to my mysterious fate. A wonderful place, rich, exciting and, as it happens, very friendly!