I am so not a city person. Sure, I’ve spent a lot of my life in cities–work has a way of doing that to you–but equally, I’ve lived in small towns, medium towns, and spent a lot of time on the road travelling. But where I’m happiest, in a zen-at-one with-the-world, embracing-the-landscape sort of way, is where things are hot and dry and there’s not many people. The space. The dryness. The sweep of stars at night. Being able to see to the horizon and then some.
Many people seem to get that from the sea. But unless you’re on the ocean in a small boat, coastal areas around the world tend to be some of the most populated. And it is my nightmare to be stuck on a small boat with a bunch of people and nowhere to escape. I’m not that good a swimmer.
My favorite landscapes around the world are the dry and sparsely populated ones. Extremadura in Spain. The Sonoran desert in Arizona. The Mojave Desert in California. And of course outback Australia. That’s not to say I don’t love cities (in small doses): I adore Montreal, Melbourne, Riga, Denver, Cesky Krumluv in the Czech Republic. And my love-hate relationship with Los Angeles is a source of constant bewilderment. The Colorado Rockies feel like home–indeed, they were home for several years. Ireland, where it’s absolutely impossible to be away from people, is somewhere I love. In Ireland, if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing, like having a pee in a field, or sneaking over the stream to check out the standing stones on the other side, or simply hanging off a gate looking at the ocean, someone will always come along for a chat. Even if you’re hauling up your pants at the time.
The last couple of weeks, we did a road trip through the edge of outback Australia. Brisbane to Adelaide in a campervan, about 3500 kilometres of road, through outback towns and settlements, through dry brown landscape, and the ruins of abandoned homesteads, saltbush, and red, red dirt that is outback Australia. We took the inland route–no crowded coast for us–and followed the Darling River, through the old towns, the historic townships, the decaying and deserted places, the settlements that are just a pub. Or a couple of buildings. Each night, we camped quietly in the bush. No campgrounds, just a place to pull over away from the road. No one ever came past, even if we were only a couple of hundred metres from the major highway. Not many people drive at night: too dangerous with all the wildlife around. We’d sit outside the van with a glass of wine, and cook simple food, and listen to the night. Or each other.
In one of those strange coincidences, I had the final edits back for my second novel to go through. That novel is about (among other things) a woman in a campervan in the outback. So there I was in a campervan in the outback editing my novel about a woman in a campervan in the outback. Papers covered in red ink everywhere.
It was very satisfying. That novel, Not-So-Straight Sue, will be out from Ylva Publishing later this year, as will my third novel (also set in outback Queensland) Fenced-In-Felix.
I’m planning a proper outback trip in July. That will be to western Queensland and the Northern Territory, the dead red heart of the continent. I’ll probably be doing some edits for Felix around that time. I can’t wait.