Aussie Road Trip

My Blog covers four categories: Matters of the Heart, the Creative Well, the Writing Journey and Take a Trip. This Post is going to cover all four.

My most recent adventure was last weekend when I took four days to drive 1200km in regional NSW. I stopped in Goulburn, Gundagai, Leeton, Cowra, Bathurst and Lithgow before returning home to Coogee.

Firstly, I’m in love with Australia so my heart was feeling warm and full as I drove past bone coloured grasses, cereal crops, green-manure crops and woodlands. Iconic  gum trees, bark hanging off their trunks in long strips, lined the roads. When I was close enough, I watched the funny antics of the sheep, terrified, as my vehicle slowed, into a mass migration of a field, tiny lambs in tow. I felt sad that these sweet creatures have had to suffer so much on the live-export ships and glad that my voice has joined with so many to stop the barbaric practice. Obviously, I feel the same way about the cows; Black Angus’s dotted green hills, calm and still as a Gruner painting. Somewhere between Gundagai and Leeton I had to stop to let cattle cross the road: not in a frantic bunch but one by one, as they grazed by the side of the road, looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing?’ and casually stepped in front of my car.

All these images fill my creative well, giving me inspiration and recharging my delight in my surroundings. One of the three characters in my novel-in-the-making is an Aussie woman who derives great joy from exploring her Australian environment and captures it through the lens of a camera. I wonder who she takes after! I’ll be doing more of these trips – in the name of research – so that I can develop this character in full.

There was another reason for this trip: this same character loves the show McLeod’s Daughters. She’s watched every episode, laughed as the girls fell in muddy dams saving a calf, cheered as they sheered sheep through the night and cried at the breaking of their hearts. So, when I discovered that some of the actors were gathering for a reunion at the Roxy Theatre in Leeton, I felt I had to go and check it out. It had very little to do with Aaron Jeffery the man, and a lot to do with my character being in a fantasy romance with Alex Ryan, the character!

Following your heart and your curiosity, exploring outside your normal field, and going on a trip anywhere, opens your mind to look outwards, learn and expand your view of the world.

I learned on this trip that Gundagai has a whole lot more history than a bronze dog sitting on a tucker box. The sculptor, Rusconi, was gifted in masonry work, developed and promoted the marble industry in the area and made a model Italian Palace that stands 1.2m tall. It sits in a room in the Tourism Office and is an astonishing masterpiece. I also learned that the aboriginals, the Wiradjuri people, warned the early settlers not to build on the plains near the river as they were prone to flood. The settlers ignored the advice and in 1852, the town was swept away overnight by a huge torrent of water. A group of Aboriginal men in their canoes, saved about forty people from the branches of giant red rivergums and roof tops. I’d recommend Gundagai as a place to stop for a day.

I learned that Leeton, a place I’d never been to, has a wetland that is important to the Wiradjuri people and is an essential stop for birds that migrate all over the world. Leeton is also full of citrus orchards.

Driving from Leeton to Cowra I discovered that you can drive for hours in regional NSW without passing through a town big enough for a coffee shop. I was glad to have my emergency thermos full of hot water and my own tuckerbox, Aussie traveller essentials.

I learned that I’ve been to Goulburn so many times that when I arrived for lunch at my favourite café (Harvest – next to the park) it felt like home and I was reminded that I love staying in country motels and having breakfast in bed, something I did with friends’ families as a child.

In summary: I went on the trip because I LOVE regional Australia (and maybe Alex Ryan). Also, because to be more creative, I need to step outside normal life. To develop more ideas for writing I need to research, and to go on a trip is to wander and wonder, and that’s one of the most rewarding parts of life.

And then to write about it, is to add to the joy. Writing a Blog means I get to re-live my journey and think about some point to it all. The point is, to suck every skerrick out of the life you’ve been given. And to have a reason to keep going.

Perfectionism, Procrastination or Research

When is RESEARCH just another form of PERFECTIONISM or PROCRASTINATION?

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity,” says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. It’s been said by many different writers, motivators and teachers. It’s the writer’s biggest obstacle to getting anything done. The fear of the work not being good enough prevents it from flowing and growing. Perfectionism is the little tyrant that sits on your shoulder saying, the work is crap, so you better make it better before you move on!

‘Making it better’ can demand a lot of editing along the way. It demands that you stop what you’re doing and Google that idea or go to that place or do that thing. Research. The only thing is, it doesn’t make it better because it interrupts the flow of the idea and stops you from ever getting to the end.

Research is obviously important for authenticity and detail but there’s a time to do it and that is not in the middle of the writing. Fiona McIntosh, masterclass teacher and author, says do all the research first, then sit down and write from start to finish. This makes sense when you’re trying to get the story down. It also prevents the research from becoming a form of procrastination.

The first draft of my first novel has been smattered with research. Word choice has me reaching for the dictionary. The suggestion of a place has me sucked down the internet tunnel. Both, most definitely, are the combined forces of Perfectionism and Procrastination.

And then I downed tools and went to Ireland, to research a County, a culture and a nursing home. For a chapter of my novel! Of course it was useful. Of course it was enlightening. Of course it will make my novel better. But was it necessary for what I was writing? Probably not! It was the Perfectionist and Procrastinator that made me do it!

Procrastination will find us an endless list of things to do before we can possibly start that important project. Whether it’s washing the dog or writing a blog, we can rationalise that it was essential before we get onto the task. Make sure that research isn’t just another excuse.

Research becomes another form of perfectionism and procrastination when it interferes with the writing. Do it before you start the first draft. Do it before you start the second draft. But don’t let it be the excuse that stops the flow. Don’t let it be the scene on the side of the road that slows and jams all the traffic.

Let research be interesting. Let research be fun. Let research take you to places you’ve never been before. But don’t let research gobble you up. Don’t let it be the wolf in sheep’s clothing!

 

 

Trials and Tribulations

There are many things that can go wrong when travelling. When they do, the key is to keep calm, accept it and deal with it.

Trials and tribulations seemed to abound on this Irish trip.

It started on Day One. My debit card didn’t work at ANY ATM. This trial caused a little stress but I had brought some Euros from home so I wasn’t too worried. I’d advise, even if you have a cash card, make sure you have cash on arrival. The taxi driver who took me from the airport to my accommodation in Dublin didn’t accept card. This turned out to be normal.

My phone didn’t work until I accepted Australia’s Telstra deal for $10 a day for a phone and data allowance. I had to accept the deal to be able to call my Australian bank to sort out the ATM problem. Annoying but doable! Apparently Ireland’s ATM’s don’t accept Cheque account debit cards. I was impressed that my bank, the CBA, was able to figure it out and change the account name at their end to a Savings account.

Staying calm and thinking rationally led to Problem Solved! A good outcome: cash and phone communication. Both handy when travelling on your own. Calm and rational behaviour weren’t quite so much in evidence when faced with the next Tribulation.

On Day Six I dropped my phone in a Galway toilet. Despite snatching it immediately and feeling alarmed enough to want to give it mouth to mouth resuscitation, it only worked for the next twenty hours – just long enough to deceive me into thinking it would survive. In the time of my reprieve, I went about my business researching a few locations for my novel. I took lots of photos. When the phone died, without warning, I lost the photos. I didn’t have auto back up to the Cloud.

Trying to keep calm while feeling that losing my phone was worse than having no cash, or anything else I could think of, I made my way to my next destination and looked for a mobile phone repairer. This was in Donegal Town and the owner of the business was very helpful. Relief flooded over me until he declared that there was water in the mother-board and the phone was most likely, stuffed!

He then offered to sell me a new phone. I swiftly pulled out the credit card, paying for a 128GB iPhone, desperation fogging my brain so that I didn’t notice little things, like the phone didn’t come in a box! He kindly offered to help set it up and I practically kissed his feet. Oh no, he said, don’t you back up to iCloud? Huh, no, I back up to my computer which is at home. I was then given an abrupt lesson in how useful the Cloud is. Very little personal information could be put on my phone, which was upsetting, but worse, it gave the phone-dealer an opportunity to rip me off! The first phone he helped me with had a fault – the fingerprint set-up didn’t work. So I was given another phone….  Fast forward back to Australia where I try to Restore from Computer and I find that I hadn’t noticed something else – the phone had been swapped for a 32GB!

Lesson: Don’t rush to the toilet when you keep your phone in your back pocket. Or better still, don’t keep it in your back pocket. Also, don’t be in such a panic about the drowning of the phone that you don’t notice you’re getting conned! And…. USE THE CLOUD! Don’t be scared of it, seniors! It’s a sophisticated system of storing your data and means you can get this data back if you stuff up or lose your device.

The final trial happened towards the end of my trip. I drove the scenic way from Bushmills to Belfast in Northern Ireland, driving all day along narrow laneways and stopping at ruins and coastal villages. What a peaceful day I had! I arrived with enough time to look around Belfast for a few hours before dinner. Rummaging around my bag to find my accommodation details, I realised, with a rapid feeling of dread (constriction of throat and gut), that I had left my documents folder at the previous guesthouse. Sinking from hope and denial to acceptance, I phoned the host. Yes, the folder was there. Passport, hotel vouchers, licence included. Did I cry? Did I swear a stream of profanity and throw a tantrum? No! I just swore a little, sucked it up and headed up the highway. The return loop took me three hours. Lesson: Always check you have ALL your stuff! By dealing with it straight away and not dwelling on the inconvenience, I was then able to take myself out for a classy meal, sip my wine and enjoy my evening. Calm!

We can’t always control what life deals us, but we can control how we deal with what it does.

Own it!

I have another word on the subject of travelling on your own. It’s regarding eating out and walking home.

I believe in eating well and dining in nice places. I eat in nice restaurants. They don’t have to be expensive, but they have to have a nice ambience. When you’re directed to a table where you feel like you’ve been put in the ‘naughty corner,’ ie. an isolated spot like an alcove, ask if they have room to seat you in an area where you can feel included in the ‘community of diners’ or in a position to people-watch. Tell the waiter/waitress that you don’t like to feel isolated. They’ll understand and be happy to oblige. Experienced staff will already know this.

If they seat you in the body of the restaurant but position you on the side facing the wall, fix it. Seat yourself facing into the room. Looking at the wall is bad for your soul, even if you have something to read or write. Look into the room. Look around. Own your space.

Ask the staff to bring you a glass of wine straight away. This helps. Maybe it’s a crutch but it makes me feel I’m relaxed and in a strong position to sit back and observe.

Speaking of owning it, if you find yourself walking down an unpopulated street, especially at night (even crazy Ireland sunshine-night), walk tall, walk confidently. You can stroll, be relaxed, but own your immediate space. That means don’t shrink, don’t look around furtively, don’t slouch and look down. Look ahead, look about, look in windows. Be mindful, aware of your own movements and your surroundings. But do not worry! Worry affects your demeanour and wastes your time on earth.

Neither a dog nor a weirdo is likely to attack a self-possessed person. And being self-possessed means being self-aware. I’m not encouraging you to be blasé or oblivious. Be mindful but not fearful.  If a dog barks or a drunk says hello (and in Ireland says something like ‘have good craic’), smile, say hi and keep walking. Or in my case, and it’s a dog, relax and talk in dog-baby talk until you’ve won it over and you can give it a pat.

 

 

On Your Own

To anyone who claims, “I could never travel on my own!” I’d like to say, if you’ve got no-one to go with, just try. Travelling on your own is great. It may be scary, relying purely on your own judgement, decisions and actions. But assuming you survive, that’s a rewarding feeling. It may even be lonely, occasionally. Briefly connecting with friends and family through WhatsApp or social media will give you that loved, brave feeling again. We live in an age of easy communication and sharing. Use it.

But being on your own means your time is your own. You can leap out of bed at 6am or drink tea until 9am. You can stop to eat as many times as you like or as soon after breakfast as you can manage. You can walk quickly or sit leisurely. You can linger in the art gallery and skip the museum.

If you’re driving, there’s no one to blame you or get cranky when you take a wrong turn, take the shortcut that’s a big fail, or just get completely lost. There’s also no-one to navigate which means, especially in Ireland, that you need to ask a lot of directions from locals. (Their signage is so confusing you just have to ask.) Having a reason to talk to locals is always a plus. When walking, I’ve had people walk me to within sight of my destination. People are generally friendly and sociable. Just be careful not to ask the person who looks like they’re running late for a meeting.

You can people-watch as much as decency allows. This is great if you’re a writer, especially if you can hear their conversations as well. Watching people be happy makes me happy. Seeing people smile makes me smile. I’ve heard some great lines while sitting in café’s and occasionally I’ve heard a conversation that’s really made me appreciate being on my own. Lack of conversation between a couple can have the same effect.

People will talk to you as a single. There’s other singles (don’t be shy, just open with something obvious and you can quickly tell if you want to keep chatting or not) and a huge number of couples. Those that have run out of conversation delight in talking with the new person. One will usually make a comment or ask a question. And then it starts. I’ve had conversations with a farmer, business owners, English tourists, Irish locals and yesterday, a woman from Byron Bay, Australia, who also loves travelling alone. Some of these conversations even lead to email exchanges. An Irish woman, dining in a restaurant with her father, started talking to me as she sipped her after-dinner hot port. We were almost best friends by the end of it and I asked her to look me up if she ever got to Australia. She wrote her email address down with the description, “the mad kelpie lady.”

There are many more advantages, but sharing how I like my own space, own bathroom, own bed is probably too much personal information.

The highlights of travelling on your own are: you set the agenda, the timing, the place, the conversation, the solitude and the choices.

What’s not to like?

 

Good Craic

The Doolin Folk Festival is a highlight on the Irish music calendar and I was lucky enough to be here. The atmosphere in this old rural- seaside town was buzzing with Irish music fans and the Barn at the Hotel Doolin was packed with happy people. On the first night, The Fiddle Case with special guest Luka Bloom, was the highlight. Every one of those guys could play their instrument and sing, sad songs and bright jigs, brilliantly. The next night, Mary Coughlan rocked the stage with her big, bouncy character and bold voice. Three lovely Aussie ladies, The Maes, showed off their talent with multiple string instruments and strong voices, the next night. The whole event was well worth the trip and Doolin itself is a great place to see some other Irish highlights.

The Aran Islands are only a ferry ride away. I braved the huge swell for twenty minutes to visit the closest island, Inisheer. This island was settled back in the 1500’s and is small enough to explore in a day. Ancient, slate dry-walls border the laneways and make compartments of paddocks. Horses poke their noses over the walls for a pat while cows look on. Tourists get around either by horse and cart, bikes or on foot like me. There’s a shipwreck and lighthouse to reach and, apparently, a seal colony on a large rock platform. I didn’t see any seals. They must have been at work, fishing. The café I went to was run by a very International, young couple that were enthusiastic and served modern food like walnut bread and carrot and ginger soup. Both delicious. An Irish/Red Setter practically sat on my lap on the boat trip back, which was a welcome diversion from the wild sea.

You also get to see the Cliffs of Moher from Doolin. These cliffs are striking, the sheer drop and height making you feel quite vulnerable; health and safety hasn’t caught on here. One area is safe and paved and the other is a muddy, slippery, puddle-filled track along the edge. This way is, of course, the best way. The view is stunning but you want to be careful taking that special photo.

So if you can get to Doolin in June and time it with the festival, it’s good craic!

 

First day in Ireland

I’ve travelled to Ireland to immerse myself in Irish contemporary life: the culture, climate, feeling of place and rhythm of the people. The novel I’m writing has only a small section of it set in Ireland but for it to be authentic, and for my Irish-born, Australian character to be authentic, I had to come and feel it, see it, smell it, hear it. I hope that I can absorb enough of it to pass on the detail in my story.

So today, I’m filling the creative well. I went to The Portrait Gallery in the National Gallery of Ireland to see the portrait of  Graham Norton (Irish broadcaster, comedian, actor and writer) painted by the winner of Sky’s Portrait Artist of the Year last year, Gareth Reid. I enjoyed watching this art competition so much I just had to follow up. I was secretly hoping the artist might be there too as I’m slightly in love with him (those dreamy artist eyes and all that Irish talent).

I thought a bit of history and architecture might help too, so I checked out the Christ Church Cathedral. Wow, there’s an amazing amount of royal history there, which I won’t go into but did you know that Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus was first performed here back in 1741, or thereabouts, by the top choir in the land? I felt like I was really touching history with this fact as I could imagine the emotional charge in the sound of all those voices and the organ filling the vast space.

The rest of the day was pretty much a walk in the park and along the busy streets full of cafes, pubs and boutiques. The city of Dublin is a thriving modern hub set in predominantly old buildings with short doorways. It’s city of charm and character.