Rosie Thomas Talks To Bookbag About Whether She Writes And Travels - Or Travels And Writes

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Rosie Thomas Talks To Bookbag About Whether She Writes And Travels - Or Travels And Writes

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Summary: Rosie Thomas popped in to chat to us about have travel lends perspective to her writing. We were fascinated.
Date: 22 August 2012

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External links: Author's website



I'm just back from a trip to the Alps, centred on climbing a big mountain. It was physically demanding and my brain seemed to go into freefall while I was doing it. And in four weeks' time I'm leaving for a month's trekking and camping in Bhutan, so that will also mainly be about putting one foot in front of the other, staying in reasonable shape, and keeping going. Advanced thinking will be an optional extra. At the same time I'm in the middle of writing a long and fairly complicated novel.

How does that work, with the dislocation from the keyboard and the consequent disruption of creative activity?

Rather well, I'm finding. Of course there are drawbacks – it's hard to get started again on the frayed edges of chapter 12 after a writing break of several weeks – but the advantages outweigh them. For a start, over-involvement with a book for me leads to myopia of scale. Up too close the work swells in importance until it overwhelms everything else, turning into a black hole that sucks all energy and attention into it with a roar of greed. (I am only slightly exaggerating). Away from it, crucially in wild and remote places, it dwindles to dried-pea size and texture. I am not suggesting that either of these states is ideal – just that the tension between them is useful. Keep writing in perspective, travel reminds me.

I'm not alone, of course, in noting that ideas come when you're not trying to have an idea. Plodding alone up the path to a high pass, I have come up with the perfect solution to a plot problem that seemed insoluble while I was sitting at my desk. The highest-concept million-dollar wheeze may not ping into your head gratis while you're panting for breath or bargaining with fate 'just let me get down from here and I'll never climb again', but little insights into human behaviour under pressure (arguably what a novel actually is) sparkle all along the way like mica grains in rock. I have sat on a station platform in India and watched an extended family bickering in the way that exactly illuminated the English family I was trying to depict. I have drawn whole stories out of expeditions I undertook with no thought other than to enjoy a fine holiday adventure. And I'm very literal minded – if I have a book in mind that requires a particular backdrop, whether it's Egypt or Antarctica, I have to go there and take a look. I can't do smells and textures and colours from book research: I am filled with admiration for those who can. While I am still able, therefore, I write and I travel. Or I travel and I write – I'm no longer sure which way round it goes.

I do know that travel broadens the mind. The best clichés are clichés because they are true.