Do writers need roots? by Jo Carroll

As some of you know, I go walkabout from time to time. Some of my wanderings are recorded in my books, and writing them has become – for me – a vicarious way of reliving experiences for a second time. But the writing has also asked me some more serious questions.

My process for teasing the scribbles in my travelling notebooks into story begins with transcribing those scribbles. And one of the things that strikes me, every time, is how – apparently without thinking – I refer to a hotel as ‘home’.

Maybe it’s just a shorthand, a quicker way to refer to returning to wherever I’m laying my head that night than naming it every time. But, as I transcribe, and resist the urge to change or interpret anything, I find myself asking the question: where is home, and does it matter?

The first part is easy – home is Wiltshire. I’ve spent most of my adult life here. I know the cold winds that blow across the Downs in winter. I know the mud of Savernake Forest. The stones of Avebury feel like friends – in all weathers. I belong here.

But does that matter? I think it does. I cannot slough off the skin of a white woman’s middle class privilege, any more than DH Lawrence forgot his childhood among the mines of Nottinghamshire even though he spent so long wandering around Europe.

Again – does that matter? I think it does because our homes and histories shape not only the places we live but also the questions we ask. I find myself far more interested in the lives of women, working in shops or fields or factories, than in a man selling cars. I am interested in how women engage with the universal tasks of cooking, washing, caring for children. I cannot help compare the ease with which I can buy a curry from the local supermarket and pop it in the microwave with the effort a woman in India must make to pound her spices and pick stones from her rice. In contrast I struggle to concentrate on the guide trying to educate me on the whys and wherefores of welding.

And I think what matters most is being aware of it. I may have missed wonderful stories from men because I’m simply not able to engage with their machinery or dismissal of all things feminine.

I can only try to keep as open, and honest a mind as possible.

You can find links to photographs, travel writing, and to the books on my website: 


Wendy H. Jones said…
Thanks for this. It made me think about my own circumstances. I have travelled the world and lived many places. In the services, home is where you are posted a that point. Yet I always considered Dundee as home.
Dennis Hamley said…
'Home is where your kitbag is,' old soldiers say. I'm glad I'm not an old soldier.
Mari Biella said…
Interesting post, Jo. I've lived all over the place and travelled a fair bit, but I can't help but think of South Wales as being my real home. I think these things often shape you whether you want them to or not.
Andrew Crofts said…
Car salesmen and welders would seem to be rather extreme examples of masculinity. Perhaps start more in the middle ground of the male experience, somewhere between hairdressing and tarmacing.
JO said…
Thank you all. And I take your point, Andrew, about stereotyping men's interests - I'm not actually quite that rigid, but using it to make a point!
Lydia Bennet said…
I have strong roots where I live but love to travel. I think it gives us strength as long as it doesn't make us afraid to venture elsewhere. Very honest about your reaction to men and their stories - seems rather a stereotyped reaction and also you may be missing out on the life experience of half the world's population by assuming THEY have no interest in 'feminine' things - I don't find the genders so rigidly divided in most places I go. I'd have suggested you watch Top Gear but too late... ;)
JO said…
Thanks Lydia - as I mentioned in a comment I'm not quite that rigid, but used examples to make a point! And I'm more likely to watch Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson on it!

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