Sunday, 18 January 2015

Italy -Images, scents, stray bits of conversation - Linda Strachan

When I am writing everywhere I go, everyone I meet and everything I hear someone say has the potential to feed into my story, particularly when it is a place removed from my everyday life and experiences.  When I travel I find images, scents, stray bits of conversation take seed and create stories of their own.

I've just returned from a week in the south of Italy where I visited family many times as a child, and over the years since but I'd not been there for a few years. 
I have returned, my head full of all the different characters and situations I encountered, conversations, tastes and sounds.

I was staying with family and that meant I was not a tourist, just skimming the surface and seeing the tourist sights.  I chatted to two different couples at the airport one the way there and the other on the way back. Both couples were on holiday to Rome to enjoy the Italy of the holiday brochures and I was aware of how different their experiences and perceptions of Italy, and the Italians, are to mine. 

I, too, enjoyed the beautiful blue skies and scenery and of course the wonderful food - a very important part of life there. I also fed my creative brain on the differences in culture, the language and particularly the use of language - the ways that expressions change from one language to another and where direct translations can be quite humorous. 

But for me there were also the discussions that happen in families and amongst friends and acquaintances about everything from Italian politics, the economy, the corruption and their perceptions of world affairs, to the moans about day to day life and memories of family who have now sadly passed away.   

I often find it frustrating as a wordsmith when I do not have quite the facility with words that I am used to in English - my Italian is conversational and my vocabulary is not really as extensive as I would wish. But thankfully, it was adequate to join in conversations and to understand most of what was being discussed, except at times when the speaker's language was thick with dialect!

I was able to spend time writing beside a cosy log fire  - it is January after all - although to me it was like a Scottish spring, bright and sunny most days with a bit of a chill in the air, but most people there thought it was very cold!

I met some people who will make colourful characters, some so 'colourful' that they and their view of life may seem hardly credible to most people. Those are the most interesting to store away for future use.

I had a horse riding lesson and I learned even more when I acted as translator for someone who only spoke English and came for a riding lesson. I found out a lot about looking after horses, too. As far as I am concerned nothing is wasted because basically everything is research! 

This is Michela.
A delightful character who was hand-reared when her mother died giving birth to her.  She appeared to have an opinion about almost everything, if only I could speak Donkey! I am sure she deserves a story of her own.

When chatting to an old aunt, I was told forcefully several times not to forget that she expected me to write the story of her and her siblings and parents, so that the future generations would not forget them all. I suppose that is the wish of many older people who see their own time and family becoming part of a forgotten past as the new generations appear. By the time the younger ones are old enough to ask questions so much is often lost and forgotten. It will be interesting to write something about the family members like my aunt and her parents, just for the family, to record these people and their lives. 

Back home now I am distilling my thoughts and memories, images and ideas.  I managed to get quite a bit of writing done while I was away and now I am keen to get back to the book again.  My head is full of memories of crisp blue skies, lovely food and strong coffee, as well as stray thoughts in Italian, as my brain tries to switch gear back to English! 

Travel, as has been often said, broadens the mind and it creates great images and ideas to feed the soul and the creative mind.  
So now it is time to get back to my desk and use all that inspiration!

Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children  

She has written 10 Hamish McHaggis books illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby

Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me  

Linda  is  Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh 

blog:  Bookwords 


Penny Dolan said...

Thank you for sharing this lovely writing escape, with its blue skies, log fire and that charming donkey! I hope it was a relaxing holiday, and that all those voices and memories will give you confidence with the book.

(You haven't said how many relatives stories were asked to write but it sounds rather a time consuming task - as if you did one, you'd have to do anothers.)

Linda Strachan said...

Thanks, Penny. It was just one family history, people, also extended family,that I knew and remember well. It will have to wait a bit, but when she said it I realised it would be good to relive those memories and perhaps they too, or at least versions of them, might end up in a fictional story. Time will tell!

Linda Strachan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
catdownunder said...

Sigh... would love to take my friend Imperia back to see her family. It would be fascinating to observe them all interacting even from the outside. You were on the inside though and that would be different again.