I'm not here! - Jo Carroll

I’m not here.

This is weird, writing this. I’m sitting at my computer, in my little room at home with a view of the garden. The wind is fierce – it is very late autumn and the last of the leaves are soggy on the wet lawn. The sky is unforgivingly grey. Beside me I have Christmas lists: things to buy, to cook, to pack up and post.

What!! You’re reading this in mid-January! Christmas is long gone. I know – but when you read this I’ll be in Cuba. I can’t tell you exactly where, as I don’t know (I’ve not been there before, and don’t do much travel planning anyway). It will probably be hot; I hope I will have drunk plenty of wonderful coffee and probably some wonderful rum. I will have given balloons to children, and tried my wretched Spanish on their mothers. And I may well have very limited access to wifi (hence writing this so far in advance).

Which got me thinking – as writers, we spend hours with our heads in another place. I’ve retraced my steps with every travel book I’ve written. When I play with fiction I can leap from my Wiltshire Downs to the wilds of Antrim in a couple of sentences. Those of you who write fantasy face even greater challenges: at least I can take my mind off to real hills and valleys, while you have to make the whole lot up. But it must still be real, and convincing – or the reader will throw up her hands and return to the reality of her own world.

Do you have 'tricks' to help you? Photos or pictures of your setting on the walls of your writing room, maybe? Do you have maps? House-plans? Do you wait for rainy days to remind yourself of the smell of wet pavements? Or can you hold it all in your heads? I'd love to know - though I'll not be able to join in the discussion till I get home.

I like to think I’ve got better at these leaps of imagination. Even so, while I may appear to be in two places at once today I cannot promise to spend too long wondering about your rain and cold, or even the state of my soggy lawn. Instead I shall be collecting stories: you never know, there might be another travel book when I get home …


madwippitt said…
Hope you are enjoying Cuba! And storing up impressions for future writing ...
Bill Kirton said…
Historical displacement's equally interesting, Jo. I find a strange thing happens when I'm writing fiction set in the 19th century. At first, the need to be aware of the way the characters speak, what they wear and the terms of reference they have for everything - means of travel, food, money, etc. - is something that keeps intervening but, somehow, once I've spent a bit of time with them, those things become automatic and the characters take care of them for me.
Also, I envy you the trip to Cuba. I hope it's going (it went) well.
Mari Biella said…
I hope you're enjoying Cuba, Jo, whether you can read this comment or not!

I find that once I've been living in my imaginary world for a certain amount of time, it becomes at least as real to me as the "real" world. There is a sense in which I'm never entirely "here" (wherever "here" may happen to be at a given time)...
Dennis Hamley said…
Very true. At certain times in my life I've lived in the fourteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as the early twentieth and they have become as real as the world I actually inhabit. And what's more, I feel I can take myself off to any of them just by a leap of thought. Nothing daft about this: it's a way of life.

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