Sunday 26 February 2012

Broadening the mind

The side of our dryer has tickets and postcards from some places I've been to - Vatican city, Venice, Torino, Pisa, Portsmouth, Luxor, Aswan and Giza. I've stayed with locals in Italy, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France and Morocco, immersing myself in French or Italian. I've also visited India, Denmark, Austria, Eire, Scotland, Wales, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. I quite often get a story out of a visit to a new place (about being a visitor). Of my published stories an SF one is set in India, a pretentious one is set in Morocco, and another's in the USA where they sit out on their wooden porches on hot summer nights. Those stories could trivially be relocated, but I have one story set in pre-Perestroika Prague that couldn't be moved.

My poetry's largely immune to influence except for the odd image. In my poetry pamphlet one poem's set in Egypt (ten years before I went), one partly in Wicklow (I've never been there; I found the name on a map), one in the USA's Badlands (I've never been to the States) and one in pre-Euro Amsterdam (been there, but may have got some details wrong). The days following my return from holiday can be productive though, while the familiar is still somewhat strange, and the new's mixing with the old.

Writers sometimes win travel bursaries. I think they'd be wasted on me unless they involve waking on trains or staying in rooms high over cities. Michael Longley wrote "People say travel broadens the mind, but I think in a way it shallows the mind. Going back to the same place year after year is an extraordinary experience: you just keep noticing things". I don't feel quite like that, but I know what he means. The following quotes from The 50 most inspiring travel quotes of all time are closer to the mark.

  • "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign", Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home", Dagobert D. Runes
  • "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move", Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware", Martin Buber
  • "Not all those who wander are lost", J. R. R. Tolkien


  1. Tim, I love going back to the same place. It is true, you get deeper into the place - notice new things, and meet the familiar with a sigh of recognition.
    Interesting that we are drawn to write stories/poems set in places we haven't been. I remember the fracas a few years back when a book set inAlaska won some prize or other, and the author was castigated roundly for admitting she'd never been to Alaska. But to my mind, that made her an even better writer - she had convinced everyone otherwise.
    I had to laugh with the inclusion of Portsmouth in your list of exotica on the dryer...

  2. You’ve probably read my post A Country Road. A Tree. Evening. but if you didn’t get round to it I concluded with a quote from Gilbert Proesch (one half of the artists known as Gilbert and George):

    [W]e’d never want to go and see another city [other than London where we live] because everything is in the brain. We don’t need to see beautiful mountains, beautiful villages … We don’t have to be inspired by the Pyrenees or Egypt because, for us, it is all in the brain inside.

    I feel quite strongly about this. Place has never been of much interest to me. There are poems I’ve written that take place in specific places or that remind me of the places I wrote them but that’s only because I have to be someplace all of the time. On the whole the place itself is academic. You’ve travelled much more than I have. I’ve been to Ireland and the USA (California specifically and only because Carrie has family there) but that’s it. Other than that my travels have all been around Scotland and the north of England. I’ve never visited London even.

    Were I to receive a travel bursary I’d give it away to some writer friend who might appreciate it. Not you though; you’ve already seen plenty of the world.

  3. Vanessa, Charles Dickens was born in Old Commercial Road. HG Wells worked in a draper's shop in Kings Road. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle practiced as a doctor in Elm Grove. Samuel Pepys and Rudyard Kipling both lived and worked in the city. Arnold Schwarzenegger used to work out in a gym in Albert Road; a web page says he was Mr Portsmouth before he became Mr Universe. It's a city of dreams.
    Jim, yes I've read your page. I don't think place means much to me either. Most stories have to be set somewhere, so I oblige. One of my stories has put Milan's canals in Berlin. Does Berlin does have canals? I don't know, but I needed them for the story.

  4. Tim, I love these quotes and reading your responses to place and even the idea of travel. I must admit, though, that I have crazy wanderlust and find I often do some of my best writing while I'm on the road. But i don't honestly think that is because the experience of travel and seeing new things generates creativity. For me, it is the feeling of dislocation that makes me see things and experience sensations in a new way. And the only way I can get that sense of dislocation is by really being dis-located (though a couple of glasses of wine will often do the same).

  5. I agree going back to the same place does make you focus in. I love travelling but often when I go somewhere new I am too busy taking it all in to be able to write about it.

  6. In the intro to "The Moons of Jupiter", Alice Munro (who surely goes back to the same place to focus in) says that though she visited Australia, China and many other places while writing the book, "I can't see that travel ever has much effect on me, as a writer".