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