Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The unfolding journey

Barbara here. As summer finally arrives, it seems as if everyone's thoughts and dreams are turning to vacations. Relaxing on the cottage dock, on a country beach, or just on the backyard patio. It's often a time for reading, not for research or work, but for pleasure. But a writer almost never gets time off. Weekdays and weekends blur together, and rain or shine, vacation or not, our story beckons. Even when we are not actually putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, the story is percolating in our head. Plot tangles are being worried over, characters are being explored. New themes are being imagined. We can't shut the voices up. That's why we write.

At least that's my experience. And I find now that I have been writing professionally for almost twenty years, I feel restless and incomplete if I have done no writing for a few days. I feel as if opportunities are being squandered and the brain cells are atrophying. Even when I spent three weeks last winter in southeast Asia, I found myself imaging how I could get Inspector Green over there.

Travel is good for everyone's soul. Besides refreshing the spirit and quickening the heart, it expands our horizons and gives us glimpses of different landscapes and cultures. It deepens our understanding and perspective, so that we can become more informed and compassionate citizens of the world. But for a writer, travel is also nourishment for the imagination. One of the silliest rules of writing that beginners are taught is "Write what you know". Unless you've lived an extraordinarily diverse and exciting life, that ought to get you through a book or two, before you find yourself tilling the same old tired soil. New experiences, new adventures – places, people, job – ensure that you have fresh material to harvest.

I have written ten Inspector Green novels, mostly set in Ottawa, and three Cedric O'Toole short novels set in rural Eastern Ontario. Both these venues are very familiar to me. But after eight Green books I found  myself asking "Now what?" I wanted to travel, I wanted to give not just myself, but Inspector Green, new horizons to explore and the challenge of tackling the unknown. So I took the next book up to the wilderness of Nahanni National Park, which is about as far removed from urban Ottawa as one can get. Because of time and budgetary constraints, I had to travel virtually, which took away some of the fun during the writing, but it was still a great trip.

Predictably, Inspector Green hated it, which made for wonderful conflict in the story. But I loved it. It felt great to break free. So great, in fact, that I am travelling again. And this time I am doing so in person. I have found the perfect combination of writing and vacationing. Travel to research a book! I am planning to throw my dog and my suitcase into the back of my Golf and drive with my sister (and her dog) to the Great Northern Peninsula of western Newfoundland. This is a part of Canada I have never seen, full of drama, history and stunning vistas. We are renting a cottage in three different locales and we will settle into a pattern of writing for two or three hours every day (I hope!), combined with exploring and researching locales and just plain having fun.

I hope to write at least part of the first draft of a new book as we go along. Research is always best done in tandem with writing; you don't know what you need to know until you start writing about it. So I will be taking lots of photos of wild flowers and craggy coves, talking to local RCMP, villagers, and fishermen, taking whale watching tours, exploring the history of the Viking settlement, and who knows what else. The journey will unfold as the novel does, each next step taken as the whim and storyline dictates. An adventure and a holiday for me, as well as hopefully the bones of a vivid and compelling new book.

So stay tuned for updates from the Rock.

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