I’ve got a confession to make.
I’m writing a novel.
It began as a form of catharsis for the deep grief I felt when my grandfather died two months after I moved overseas to live in London back in 2009.
But it’s evolved into an obsession that I can’t shake. Not that I want to. I love writing and always have. It’s what I’ve always done well and goes a long way to explaining why I chucked away a job at BBC World to travel.
Curiously, I’ve found I am writing much more now that I am living on the road compared to when I was living in London where I had my own study.
In London, I carved out as much spare time as I could to write and managed to finish the first draft last year. I began a second version this year – but my progress in the city was glacial. Steady, but very slow.
I was very concerned my writing would have to be put on the back burner when Carmen and I embarked on our round the world trip; but to my great relief the book has been simmering away quite nicely.
How is that possible when I’m travelling flat out?
1. You can make more time
In London I worked long, tough hours at the BBC that turned my poor brain into mush. I was often rostered onto overnight shifts that played havoc with my body clock and bled a deep fatigue into days off.
So I often wrote with a clouded mind, either from sleep deprivation or a hangover.
But now that I’m travelling I don’t have to work (the blog doesn’t count, it’s fun!).
Sure, our days are busy with sightseeing and activities and all the other great stuff that comes with a life on the road. But I always have two hours at the very least every day which I can use to write.
Our house sitting assignments in particular have been a creative gold mine. I can get up early and write or stay up till the wee hours tapping or scribbling merrily away.
There are no consequences for being tired the next day and I don’t have to look at my calendar to identify a free hour to write in.
All my hours are free.
2. You can set your own routine
Every day that we have house sat I have gotten up early and started working on our blog or my book by 9am. We break for lunch and spend the afternoon doing more work until we break for dinner.
It’s just like a work day, only I set the hours and make the rules which is deeply satisfying.
On days when we travel I will fill up a few pages in my notebooks or tap out a page on the laptop when I get a chance.
Ideally, I write for four hours a day in two blocks of two hours.
I got this routine from the author Raymond Chandler who said it doesn’t matter how much you write in that time or even if you put pen to paper. What matters is that you have set aside the time and disciplined your mind and body to commit to it.
Now that I am travelling I feel much more able to do that. I’m well rested, clear headed and inspired. I crave the work instead of craving rest.
3. There are fewer distractions
Carmen and I moved to London so we could see the UK and travel through Europe. One of the best trips we ever did was a writers retreat in the South of Italy with our brilliant writing group, Chalk The Sun.
Our sharp-minded and sharp-tongued teachers Ardella and Jo organised a week in a beautiful villa in Ostuni that had featured on the TV programme Grand Designs.
It was very heaven as we held writing classes with a view of the Mediterranean, ate amazing Italian food and washed it all down with wine and beer on the roof as the sun set.
The only thing I needed to do there was enjoy myself and write.
I bashed out two chapters and got some very positive feedback on my efforts. A bit of sun and air can do wonders for your creative output and the same focus I found in Italy has followed me on this trip.
Chalk The Sun is holding another Italian getaway in September so if you’re keen to go get in touch with them.
I wish I was going!
4. You are more relaxed and inspired
In London I was a nervous ball of energy, always coming down from the excitement and stresss of a news shift or getting ready for the next one. I usually burnt off the stress by hitting the pubs or having a bottle or two of wine with a delicious dinner.
But the next morning I’d be an invalid, shakily reading the weekend newspaper in bed with a plate of vegemite toast (Vitamin B is good for the hangover).
I was fighting a constant tug of war between frazzled and fizzled.
Not any more. I’m too busy having fun to worry.
In two months we’ve explored Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, New Hampshire, Boston, New York City, Traverse City in Michigan and now we’re about to drive across the Badlands and Yellowstone National Park on our way to the Pacific Northwest. Phew!
Now life is simple and stimulating.
Some of the best writing has been done under extreme duress but until that happens to me I’ll stick with setting up a desk on a porch overlooking a trio of horses galloping in a field.
And these wonderful places we’ve visited have given me great inspiration.
5. It’s a challenge
Carmen and I are sharing a laptop at the moment and when we both need to work we go to a library and log on to another computer there. If that isn’t possible we divide the computer time and make do with handwriting when it isn’t our turn.
My handwriting is terrible and when we first hit the road I really struggled.
But I once I read that Stephen King used his oven door as a desk when he was writing his break through novel Carrie. So I have no excuse.
Factor in all the other things I just listed and I knew I had to light a fire under my arse. I am very aware of how fleeting the opportunity I have created is. Necessity is the mother of invention and I need to write.
I have no excuses now!
Plus, we are hopefully buying a second laptop this week…
So what’s my novel all about then?
The title I have chosen is Redgate, and the book is set in the early 1920s in Western Australia. A lot of is inspired by the exploits of my great-grandfather on the Western Front and other slices of history twisted with a bit of creative license.
Here is a synopsis of the story I wrote for Chalk The Sun:
Redgate explores the aftershocks of the Great War and the damaging toll of its myths. The story focuses on Neville Miller, a veteran of the Western Front, who returns home with a shameful secret burning beneath his chest full of medals. Sickened by the fame and adulation he is showered with, Miller escapes to the bush to work the land. But instead of a bucolic peace, Miller finds himself caught in a battle for survival where his only chance at redemption is to confront the dark shadows of his past.
I’m aiming to have it finished and edited by the end of the year and sent out to agents. If there’s no love I will do it myself. A mate of mine, Liam McEvilly has just co-authored and published his own book called Imagine – check it out here – it’s a great read.
I’m very inspired by his actions, so in that spirit here is the first page of my novel, Redgate.
Northern France, March, 1918
Corporal Miller slithered behind a ragged bank of splintered tree trunks. He tapped his men on the back as he passed, counting the living and ignoring the dead. The black sea of No Man’s Land sang with unmistakeable sounds: leather twisting, boots thumping, metal clicking into place. ‘Fix bayonets! Fix bayonets!’ he hissed down the line. A dreaded order.
He reached the Lewis gunner who was at the far end of the thin line. The man lay face down over his weapon, muttering a stream of half-formed words into the tree trunk shielding him from the enemy in front. ‘Harris!’ Miller poked the man’s back, sinking his fingers into skeletal ribs. ‘Load and stand to. They’re coming again. Get up!’ Panic ignited in Miller’s guts. Without the machine gun they were all dead. Someone had to pull the trigger.
‘Bertrand! Get over here. Now!’ Miller yanked the Lewis gun away. Harris covered his head with both hands and seemed to shrink, as though he were wincing from a bully.
‘I’m sorry,’ he coughed. ‘I just…please Killer. Just send me back. Killer, I’m…’
‘Shut up! You’re relieved.’
Miller’s eyes and fingers danced over wicked machine’s springs and levers and handles, checking for any defect. He had to get the gun back into action. Bertrand appeared in the gloom huddling his body below the shield of the mud bank.
‘What do ya want?’
‘You’re the piano player.’ Miller dumped the gun into Bertrand’s arms then angled his watch to catch the weak moonlight on the ticking face. ‘We have to hold them for another…’
‘The telephone?’ Bertrand snapped. ‘We can call for help.’
‘Smashed. We’re on our own mate.’
‘You’ve got a lot of nerve calling me that. Why do I have to do it? You know what I…’
A shout came from No Man’s Land. Then another. Teutonic syllables barked closer and closer in the darkness.
‘Load!’ Miller screamed as a red flare tore through the sky and exploded as a midnight sun.