Friday, 8 August 2014

1000 Miles

How are you all? Just back in the desert after an all too brief month in the UK full of books, old haunts and old and new friends. Boy, it was good to be home. I think it was D H Lawrence who said if you travel long enough everywhere becomes 'home', and I'm beginning to see the truth in that. 

The children and I covered over a thousand miles travelling coast to coast - no hardship, I've always loved long drives, the possibility of road trips (and yes, there is nothing like coming from a concrete compound in a desert to appreciate that freedom ...). First stop was our last UK home - the beautiful Meon valley for the West Meon Lit Fest, where Judith Kinghorn and I talked to a packed and lively audience about historical romance in the beautiful church.

The pilot managed to fly over for the night, and staying with lovely old friends it was a great chance to catch up with 'real' life. After a brief (I admit, slightly teary), look at our huge storage container (in which is every book I find myself reaching for, still ...) the pilot headed back to the desert and we went west. Another 'home', the wild and beautiful Devon countryside of my childhood. For a few days, everything seems technicolor coming from the bleached pale desert landscape - the colour of grass, flowers, seems psychedelic, the light has a high definition quality.

Then, further west still (as far as you can go on the mainland before you fall into the sea), for the fabulous Penzance Literary Festival. What a beautiful part of the world - and the Festival was buzzing. On the first night it was a real pleasure to join Jane Johnson, Tim Hannigan and Sara MacDonald to talk about the English and the Exotic, swapping tales about travelling everywhere from Java to Pakistan, Morocco to Japan and the inspiration for our books.

It's not every night you find yourself using advance driving techniques negotiating the picturesque streets of Mousehole with George RR Martin's editor and the 'thinking man's John Le Carre' in the back of the car. I felt a certain literary responsibility. Jane and her husband Abdel welcomed the panel and thriller writer Edward Wilson to their beautiful home overlooking the sea for a wonderful night of Moroccan cuisine and literary gossip (I am still thinking about the delicious tomatoes with honey - perhaps this recipe will come close). It is quite magical there - and the light ... put it this way, I felt like painting for the first time in five years. The next morning was the Spanish Civil War panel talking about 'Perfume Garden', with Paul Murphy who has retraced Laurie Lee's footsteps through Spain. It was a sell out, standing room only, and a great end to our time in Penzance.

Travelling as far as you can go east, we arrived at another 'home' in Suffolk. I don't know if it is a case of 'absence makes the heart ...' - I always adored the UK, but being away certainly makes you appreciate everything afresh. From breathtaking beaches and pubs on rivers where people hold hands, and happy dogs swim, and girls wear summer frocks to simple things like uncensored Sunday papers, listening to the rain in bed at night, or cutting the lawn and building a bonfire. I love it all. It is a physical thing - you feel yourself exhale. I grew up riding on moors, and swimming in rivers - a world away from my children's lives, and it was lovely seeing them enjoying that freedom for a little while.

One of the luckiest things about being a writer is that your work goes with you. I checked the latest draft of my new book, 'The Tiara' on Kindle on the plane and finished the US edit of 'Perfume Garden' while we were in Suffolk, plus some editorial (the irony of writing about oryx and dhows while in the heart of East Anglia wasn't lost on me). These days writers can write anywhere. Luckily. But for so long, until you hold the book in your hands, you have nothing tangible to show for all your work with writing. It's lovely to get news on the books - just in from Norway, ahead of the paperback release, 'Parfymehagen' has sold 60,000 copies which is incredible and wonderful. But most of the time you are on your own, feeling like you can barely write a shopping list let alone a novel. After three years, there's a computer file. Perhaps some ragged lever arch files of notes, a few more grey hairs ... Being 'home' and free, and doing constructive things like bringing the garden back to life was cathartic. It may be the last time we will be there - the children have played in that garden since they were babies, but lives and families change, and they are changing too. My daughter turned her nose up at the annual trip to Jimmy's Farm this year - soon it will just be me and the butterflies and llamas. She regretted this when she found out we bumped into Olly Mars - I am going to sound very old now, but what a lovely young man, all the time in the world for his fans.

Then, all too soon, the last night - fittingly it was the remembrance service at Westminster Abbey commemorating 100 years since the outbreak of WW1. Incredibly beautiful and moving, a good reminder of everything we have to be grateful for. East, West - home's best.

So, how's your summer so far?

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