Thanks to the insatiable appetite my parents have always had for travelling, I have been well-travelled since about the age of six. By that time I had been trudging fairly extensively around the Far East as well as the usual places like Europe and America. And I have been thinking recently about how travelling has helped me as a writer. It might sound clichéd, but travelling really does broaden your horizons, and if you can do it from a young age, I think it’s even more useful.
I was a little kid when I went to Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, and so it didn’t occur to me to think: these people look different, this food tastes different, the air smells different, am I happy about this? In many of the photos from these holidays I’m either sat on a filthy pavement cuddling a stray cat or sat on a filthy pavement reading a book. But I put the cats and books down for the sightseeing, obviously, even if I sometimes had to be forced to do so. I have seen the Great Wall of China, and the hieroglyphics in the tombs at the Valley of the Kings, and climbed the ruins in Chichen Itza. I’ve ridden on elephants and camels (although not at the same time, obviously); sat in a sled pulled by huskies (and even runaway huskies on one memorable occasion), and swam with dolphins. I’ve held giant snakes, fed giant tortoises, and had my sandwiches snatched away by monkeys (all right, so maybe I gave the monkey my sandwich because it tasted horrible and I didn’t wish to eat it). In the Far East I’ve been caught in a sudden downpouring of rain so heavy that you’re soaked within seconds, and I’ve walked out of air conditioning into heat so intense it feels like you’ve been smacked over the head with it. We have been swindled, robbed and tricked during our travels – which perhaps is no great surprise given the kinds of back street places we have been known to wander into. My parents are such seasoned travellers that they can now spot a scam a mile off. Not me, though. I’ll fall for any con going. In addition to this, I’ve seen the most beautiful crystal waters on beaches in the Caribbean, and soon got used to the jellyfish bobbing around in the sea on beaches in the United Arab Emirates.
From a very young age, my brother and I did everything on holiday that my parents did. There was none of this going to bed early crap; there was certainly none of this being carried or pushed in pushchairs nonsense (we knew we would have been laughed at if we had even suggested such a thing); and there were absolutely no Kidz Clubz (shudder), which I absolutely loathed, possibly because they did not allow me to sit quietly in a corner and read my book, but instead insisted that I participate in group games with the other children (although I do still have the cap I won in the coca cola drinking contest). I ended up in such a club just once in Jamaica only because my brother was so keen to go. There was a bit of an incident when I ran away at the first opportunity and, I’m happy to say, I’ve never seen the inside of one of these clubs since.
I have used locations from my holidays in both my Gollancz books, and I have drawn on my experiences from them for the Lex Trent books, even if only indirectly (although the midnight markets are created straight out of the night markets I visited in Hong Kong and China). I don’t ever remember a time when I was not well travelled, and I am extremely grateful to my parents for taking us to those places and giving us those experiences rather than molly-coddling us in some English-only hotel year after year. You don’t get a feel for the country if you never leave the private beach, after all. Better to intrepidly venture forth in search of adventure and new experiences and glory! Even if this does mean that somewhere along the line you may get scammed, or robbed; or find yourself horribly lost; or stranded in the middle of nowhere with a flat tyre; or bitten by a really huge bug; or, as in my brother’s case, have copious amounts of blood gushing out of your head on at least two occasions that I can think of. But that, perhaps, makes my parents sound a little more happy-go-lucky than they actually are. They did mop up the blood, after all, and they were only accidents. But, yeah, travelling is great, and all writers or aspiring writers should do it. Just try to avoid the blunt trauma to the head thing – especially when out on safari in the African wilderness surrounded by wild lions, because blood is much more difficult to clean up under those circumstances. And the lions dislike the screaming.