A Writer’s Journey

July 23, 2013 | By | 16 Replies More
Author Sue Cross

Author Sue Cross

It all started during a trip to New Zealand six years ago. My husband and I flew from London to Auckland and then drove from the North Island to the South and back again.  The trip lasted six weeks and we lodged in homestays, the Kiwis’ version of B&Bs but much more homely.

Not wanting to forget a single moment of the eventful journey with its sights, smells, sounds and stunning scenery, I decided to write it all down. It seemed unlikely that I would ever return to such a far off land, especially as I suffered from jet lag. Twenty-four hours on an aircraft left me feeling like a zombie and I probably looked like one for a few days!

I bought myself a lovely notebook with a sliver of abalone shell embedded in the cover, its blue-green hues the colour of the sea that surrounds these islands. Each day I scribbled in the book and it was almost full by the time I returned to England. I typed the story out, called it a Homily to Homestays, and then put it to one side. A bigger project was on the horizon.

After a particularly enjoyable couple of hours at my writing group in Cheltenham, I returned home with a challenging assignment. I had to study a print of a Jack Vettriano painting, which would be the prompt for a short story. It depicted two women, of perhaps dubious character, standing on a city pavement at night. I gazed at it, became inspired, and wrote a thousand words. I’ve always had a vivid imagination and so it was not difficult to imagine a scenario in downtown Amsterdam. This turned out to be the opening chapter of my first novel, Tea at Sam’s.

The journey through this book awakened my memories of life in Mauritius in the late sixties. I had lived there as a young colonial wife and, as I had never been abroad before, it proved to be quite a culture shock. As I wrote, I was transported back to that beautiful Indian Ocean island with its palm fringed beaches, white sands, turquoise sea, vibrant flowers, exotic fruits and spicy foods.

Now a major tourist destination, it has probably changed beyond recognition but I like to remember it as an unspoilt paradise with only two hotels, empty beaches and few shops. Samantha, a character in the book, lives there for two years in marital bliss, unaware that she would discover a dark secret that her husband is hiding.

It was enjoyable weaving a storyline around my memories abroad and this in turn awakened more musings of the decade that I spent living in Hong Kong. This place, with its magnificent harbour, frenetic activity, skyscrapers, heat and noise was also woven into the novel. The main protagonist, Celine, is suffering the trauma of a broken marriage, unwanted pregnancy and lack of self-esteem.

As a vicious typhoon ravages the colony, Celine breaks the news of her pregnancy to James, her selfish, egotistic husband. I well remember the noise of typhoons as angry wind and rain batter against windows that have been masked with sticky tape to stop them blowing in. Later, she is to briefly meet Kristin, an expat beauty therapist, who is full of life and optimism.

Kristin meets an Australian couple who offer her a job in Australia, running a health farm. So off she goes with her husband and two young children to Palm Beach, near Sydney. The sojourn proves to be a challenge as the couple, having offered her so much, turn out to be strange con artists. Yes, you guessed it, I had lived there and experienced the wide-open spaces of New South Wales.

The three girls eventually meet up at an art class in Cheltenham, a Regency town in the heart of the Cotswolds.  They become close friends and confidantes and through trust and friendship each girl manages to get her life in order.

If readers have never visited a location, the author’s words can transport them there. I have had some encouraging feedback from readers of Tea at Sam’s, that told me they particularly liked the descriptions of far-flung places.

Author Sue Cross

Author Sue Cross

No experience is ever wasted and authors often draw on their own life stories in order to write colourful and authentic tales. I say, ‘Why not write what you know and embroider the rest?’

My second novel, Making Scents, has recently been released. It is the sequel to Tea at Sam’s and is about Kristin, the young businesswoman. She has a vision to create her own skincare range and perfume. Sam and Celine also feature and are based in southern Spain. As I live part of the year in Andalucía, it was natural for me to want to incorporate this vibrant part of the world into the story.

Since taking up writing, my eyes are keen to spot settings and I love to paint a picture with words. It is a joy to watch the way watercolour paints merge when mixed with water, creating their own hues and shapes. Water is like the inspiration that I need to create a novel and paints are the words. Sometimes I am not sure which way the story will go and I often change the ending but it is a journey that is worth taking.

Sue Cross was born in Cheshire, England and has lived in Hong Kong, Mauritius, Australia and Spain.

After running a skin care company for over twenty years, she retired and decided to write, using her experiences abroad to paint vivid pictures of life in the colonies in the changing times of the 60’s and 70’s. Sue now lives in England and Spain.

You can follow Sue on twitter @suecross2. A Homily to Homestays can be read as a series of blogs on Sue’s website www.suecross.com

Tea at Sam’s and Making Scents are available as paperbacks or eBooks from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo etc.

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Being a Writer, British Women Writers, Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing, Travel Writing by Women, Women Writers, Women Writing Fiction

Comments (16)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Featuring Women Writers on WWWB 2013 - Women Writers, Women Books | December 30, 2013
  1. Anjali says:

    Hi Sue, lovely post! I’m an Indian, who spent her childhood in Kenya, youth in India, now live in London and have traveled to different places across the world – and love the magic of it all. I’ve just finished writing a book and I too drew from my memories of various travels and experience of different cultures and completely agree with what you say. However, what I haven’t done is – carry a notebook with me and note down things, and I think that is a superb idea – thanks for making me aware of that!

    • Sue Cross says:

      Hi Anjali! I love to read books about far flung places, especially India. I’ve visited Mumbai and Goa and both places are magical. I’m sure that your experiences will take readers to these places and look forward to reading your book. Best of luck.

  2. “No experience is ever wasted and authors often draw on their own life stories in order to write colourful and authentic tales.”

    What a wonderful quote, I am definitely going to make a note of that. I have some major life experiences tucked away that I definitely want to write about someday…your article inspires me to think that the time will come when it will be right to dive in and tackle them! Thank you for the inspiring post!

    • Sue Cross says:

      So pleased that I managed to scatter a little inspiration. I look forward to reading your novel one day!

    • Sue Cross says:

      Thank you so much, Grace. I’m glad that the article inspired you and wish you every success with your own tales. No life experiences are wasted for us writers.The great thing is that we can change and tweak them if we want, to create a whole new world. This is freedom!

  3. Sue,
    Thank you for that wonderful post. Your words and imagery transported me to magical spaces that I haven’t visited for years. You remind me how important it is to write about experiences as they happen. When I lived in Australia I drew and painted my experiences but now wish I had written as well. I write about those experiences now but it’s not the same.

    • Sue Cross says:

      How wonderful that you were able to paint and draw scenes from your time in Australia. I like to paint, but find that I don’t have enough time to write and paint. It’s great to be able to do both.

  4. Jan Merry says:

    Hello Sue. Loved your post as I too have lived in some of those places. I was interested to read how you integrate your experiences into your work and use the settings to develop the plot. Next time I travel I will take notes like you. I usually keep everything in my head. Thanks for the ideas.

    • Sue Cross says:

      Hi Jan. I used to keep everything in my head when travelling, but unfortunately my brain is sometimes like a colander and details have a habit of escaping. It’s easy to think that other people may not be interested in foreign parts, especially if we’ve lived there for a long time and become accustomed to life abroad, but I have had some encouraging feedback from folk who have enjoyed some of the descriptions of expat life.

  5. I always keep a notebook of all my holidays now, Sue, not only as inspirations for my novels/novellas but in the hope to turn them into immediate cash by the means of articles – my last holiday to New Zealand was published and now my week in Norfolk in June is about to be published. I really enjoy writing the travel articles. A good little earner too. I’ve published every holiday bar one in about the last five years!

  6. Hello Sue, loved your post, especially as I live in New Zealand and do find it a very inspiring place. I believe everyone has the capacity to write and it can make a huge contribution to health and wellbeing, whether people wish to publish or not. As Stephen King said: “Writing is not about making money…Its about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay?” Good luck and Happy Writing! Trish

    • Sue Cross says:

      Thanks for your comments, Trish. I agree, writing can be cathartic as well as inspiring. It is fun to create an imaginary world to live in while in the process of creating a book. Now, I’m in limbo as I wonder what to write next…

  7. Gill Wyatt says:

    I thoroughly recommend Tea at Sam’s and Making Scents. I’ve read them both and they really do transport the reader to far flung places. Sue has a beautiful descriptive style which captures the atmosphere of a country and truly does paint a picture for the reader.

Leave a Reply