Sunday, March 14, 2010

My love affair with travel

It’s always been said, “Write what you know, and if you don’t know it - research it.” When writing novels set in bygone eras, research is all you can do. For me, my favorite form of research is travel. Lucky for me, I began working in and around the travel industry when I was still in college. Those connections still come in handy every now and then. I travel a lot. And I love to travel with my characters and settings in mind.

It’s impossible to climb a rounded stone staircase in a medieval castle without wondering about the original occupants and those who came after them. Or walk a cobblestone path in a quaint village that many generations before have walked. Even watching the steam rise from Ancient Roman baths can instantly transport you to a time long since gone.

All it takes is for me to land at Heathrow Airport, and story ideas start forming in my mind. Actually, in all honesty, the airport does nothing for me. I need to travel a little further into the city or countryside for the feel of England to seep into my soul. It doesn’t take long, however. There is something special about sitting in a pub that’s older than my country and enjoying a pint as I take in the history-rich atmosphere. I can’t help but look at my surroundings and wonder at the number of scenes that have played out within these walls over the last few centuries. I can’t help but imagine the lively characters who waltzed in and out these doors and what their lives must have been like – who they were, the hopes and dreams they had, and those they loved. I am a romance author, after all.

I doubt my love affair with England will ever end. My ancestors hail from the British Isles and there’s something magical about standing where they stood. Something that makes it seem like home for me. If I had a month at my disposal to roam the English countryside, it still wouldn’t be enough. There would always be something else I wanted to see. Something else I wanted to experience.

When I’m there, I try to see and experience as much as I can. I want to view the forests my werewolves would have roamed. To see the darkened mews my vampires might have lurked in. The cheerful cottages, grand estates, and of course those Mayfair homes in which my characters might have lived draw me to them. Seeing these sights, breathing that air, and letting England wash across me helps add another dimension to my writing as I’m creating my fictional world.

Is there someplace like that for you? Someplace you can travel to that has a connection to your muse?


  1. I can imagine how thrilling a trip to England would be for a historical writer. Shoot, I only read historicals, and it's thrilling to me.

    I needn't go quite so far to activate my muse. A trip to Wilmington, NC, to Topsail Island, or to Scotland Neck, NC--all will flood my mind with material.

  2. When I was in Greece, the Greek Islands, I envisioned the Greek mythologies I'd read and loved, and about the history of Greece that I'd found fascinating. I loved being there, seeing the ancient temples, even the "funny" part where the men used to gather on the "toilets" to talk. All of us American tourists giggled over the playing cards and other gift items that showed naked men (oftentimes only wearing sandals) in an aroused state. The shopkeepers were amused at us for pointing, grinning, and finding amusement in their works of art. :)

    Living in the Bible Belt, I couldn't even imagine displaying anything like it. :)

  3. I want to go to England so bad! I have friends there but with three teenagers, it's dangerous to leave them home while traveling.

    I go to NY and fill my creative well. That's usually all I need, a walk through the garment district, a trip on the Staten Island Ferry, walking the boardwalk on Coney Island or hiking through the woods in Prospect park is usually enough to do it for me. If not a slice of Pizza and a Chocolate Egg Cream in Brooklyn or sharing a Pastrami sandwich and a knish at Carnegie's Deli always works.

  4. One of my favorite topics. I've never had the chance to visit England, but would love to. The magical place for me is France. I always wish I had more time to spend there.

  5. I have always had a similar affinity for the British Isles, even though I've never been there. As many books as I have read that have either been written by Brits or are set there, it's a wonder I've never written one myself, but I have yet to do it. Perhaps I will if I ever take that much discussed trip to Ireland!

  6. I'm desperate to visit England, Scotland, Ireland... Until I'm able to make it out there, though, I have found a ton of inspiration in Canada. I've traveled to Montreal, to Ottawa and to a few places in Ontario, and driven through much of British Columbia. The majestic mountains and lush wildlife in BC have always fed my soul.

  7. I love your blog posts, Lydia. Your passion for life always shines through.

    Most of my historical ideas come when I'm out in nature,away from any man-made structures at all. That's why Idaho is such a great place for writers. I never walk in the snow or sit by a river without thinking about how hard it must have been to survive here even two hundred years ago. Give me an afternoon on the Payette River, and the stories write themselves. :)

  8. MM - Now you've made me want to take a beach trip. I do love hearing waves wash up on shore.

    Terry - I have never been to Greece! That is one of the places I still want to go. I am sure I'd be just like you, with the Greek myths running through my head. And I live in the Bible Belt too, that whole story about the shops left me giggling.

    Robin - I do love NYC. There's an energy there I've never felt anywhere else. I can definitely see how it speak to you and refills your creative well.

    Amy - I spent an afternoon in Honfleur, a tiny fishing village in France, and had the most wonderful experience. The people were some of the nicest I've ever met and they completely destroyed the typical French stereotype.

    Cheryl - You so HAVE to take that much discussed trip to Ireland. It is one of the prettiest places on Earth. I didn't care too much for Dublin, it was just a large, congested city. But the countryside was breathtaking and the people generous and welcoming. There is something magical there, almost enough to make you really believe in fairies.

  9. Catherine - Canada is beautiful. And what a difference between Montreal and the wildlife of BC.

    Gail - You're so sweet. And I know just what you mean. I grew up outside of Houston and I don't think their is a hotter or more humid place on Earth than Houston in the dead of summer. I used to wonder how the settlers managed it without air conditioning. (I'm a little spoiled.) But there are treacherous creatures there too - scorpions, four kinds of poisonous snakes (not to mention the hundreds of non-poisonous varieties), fire ants, and I could go on and on. The people who settled that land were heartier and much braver than me.

  10. Lydia, the one place in the world I would love to go is England. I love looking at pictures of manors, countryside, and everything in between. I don't think I could get enough, either. Since I don't have the money to go there, I'll just have to keep reading Regencies and Victorians and hope the author paints the scenery so well that I feel like I'm there.

    Good blog!


  11. I still have England on my to do list. Like you, I don't think a month would be long enough, but how fantastic to have that time.

    On one of our trips to visit my parents, my husband, daughter and I stopped at a historical site in Missouri. It was George Washington Carver's birth place. The park was closing, but the rangers told us we could still walk the trails and peek in the windows of the house.

    We were the only ones there, and I couldn't help but be transported back in time while walking through the woods. I think the graveyard stood out most for me, all those little stones with nothing on them representing infants who'd died. I don't mean to be morbid, but it really hit home how tough life was back then.

  12. My inspiration comes from much more prosaic places--small town diners and bars. I always hear scraps of conversation that I can expand into a story, and it's fun to just steep myself in that ambiance.
    And ghost towns, of course!

  13. Traveling to England was one of the best experiences in my life. I dragged my poor, thoroughly modern sister from one oft-mentioned Regency feature to another...Hyde Park, Mayfair—any little piece of history I could find that normally lived only within the pages of my favorite books. The Roman Baths were incredible, but it was getting a glimpse inside of a home that Jane Austin lived and wrote in that was really thrilling. My latest hero is Scottish...we'll see if I can convince my sister to hop the pond with me again :)
    Loved this blog, its great to hear from others that find so much inspiration in travel!
    Erin Rieber

  14. What a fun idea! Travel always gets my creative juices flowing.

    One of the three romantic comedies Sourcebooks just bought from me (MAKING WAVES) originally planted itself in my brain during a sailing trip DH and I took in Australia a few years ago. I used experiences in Jamaica and Barbados to flesh out some of the details as well.

    Note to self: write more books that require travel!

    Great blog post!


  15. For me it's places that call out to me. Salem, New Orleans, Seattle and parts of Boston. Two years in the east when my husband was in the Coast Guard meant I got to visit towns that inspired me down the road.

  16. Phyllis - Reading books can definitely transport you in time and place. :)

    Samantha - That's so sad! But you're right, it was a different time and those living way back when didn't have it as easy as we do now.

    Joanne - I love a good Ghost Town. I don't write Westerns so, my muse doesn't talk to me when I'm in a location like that. But I love the ambience. There's nothing in the world like it.

    Erin - You sound like me. I dragged my family from one end of London to the other because I had to see something specific. I don't think they'll ever volunteer to go on a a research trip with me again.

    Tawna - I agree completely! Write more books that require travel. Hmmm... where should I go next?

    Linda - I'd love to hear more about the towns you visited. And I adore New Orleans. It is still one-of-a-kind. I took a couple "Haunted New Orleans" tours and I doubt I'll ever get some of those stories out of my mind. :)

  17. Lydia,
    I would love to go to England, but I have not made it there yet. I did take a long trip to Rome and Tuscany, and I have used some of the things I saw to write some scenes in my book. I can really get inspiration just by looking at pictures, though. I love to sit and browse through books on castles, countrysides, battles etc. I have gotten alot of ideas this way.

  18. Oh, Lydia, it's like you stole the words right out of my heart! My ancestors came from England as well, and when we visited London a few years ago, I truly felt as if I'd come home. I can't wait to go back and introduce my baby girl to the land her ancestors came from. And no, a month wouldn't be nearly enough time for me!

    Absolutely beautiful post! Now I'm missing England something fierce! :)

  19. Great blog, Lydia.

    England has always felt like home which might sound a bit weird, but I'm Australian and England and the Royal Family have been with me all my life. No wonder I write stories set in England. I haven't gone yet but there is a plan in the works for next year!

  20. Julie - Oh, I bet Rome and Tuscany were beautiful! I hope you're able to get to England.

    Jerrica - I'm so glad to know that my post echoed your feelings. I'm missing England now too. :( When can I go back?

    Heather - I'm so glad you have a trip scheduled in the works. I just know you're going to LOVE it.

  21. I'm envious, Lydia! How wonderful to experience England in person.