It’s a strange life, being a travel writer. I’m officially retired, so I can’t claim it’s a ‘proper job’, even though it fills almost all my time – or it feels like that.
I had a proper job once. I worked in Child Protection – putting on special clothes to go to work, picking up my case and my files and heading for an office with a desk and secretary. I was, I was assured, an expert. Sometimes I had to appear in Court and give evidence, help to prove a child had suffered ‘significant harm’ (that’s jargon. I won’t elaborate.). I tied my hair back and wore stern clothes.
The only way to survive a job like that is to learn to turn it off. No phone calls after eight at night. At least one day off a week. If a child continued to run around in my head I knew I’d missed something, and so go back to the papers and notes till I’d worked out what it was. Then close the office door, sit back with my wine, and be a real person again.
But now – I write and read and travel. I think about writing and reading and travelling. And the line between doing that and doing everything else is flimsy. For instance, on a recent trip to Lille I had no idea I was thinking about a short story I’d been playing with when – suddenly – there was a picture of my main character, on the walls of a portrait gallery. She’d obviously come with me on the coach without invitation, and was lurking at the back of my mind without my knowing.
I have family and friends – and I love every minute I spend with them. But sooner or later someone will ask where I’m going next, or what I’m writing at the moment. They’d never asked about Child Protection as so much of my work was confidential. But writing, or travelling – they all know about that. Maybe I should say, ‘I’m away from my computer, or the travel books, at the moment so I’m not going to talk about it.’ But I don’t, because characters leap about in my head the second anyone gives them any attention. To say nothing of excitement about the next trip I’m planning.
I thought I was safe with the grandchildren. After all, they are too small to give a monkey’s toss if I’m writing, or travelling, as long as I know how to put a lego rocket together. But the other day the six-year old, who has been learning about countries at school, asked me if I’ve been to India … and didn’t we have a lovely time talking about my Gap Year!
There are links to grown-up versions of my travels on my website.