Friday, 18 April 2014

The Road Goes Ever On... Celia Rees

So begins The Walking Song, composed by Bilbo Baggins and sung in J.R.R. Tolkien's Hobbit and sometimes in the Lord of the Rings. They do a lot of walking in both, so a walking song must have come in handy. Both books are quests and quests often involve a lot of journeying, often on foot, sometimes on horseback. Quests never seem slow moving, although the characters might move slowly. That is because being on the move allows things to happen. Journeying allows the characters to have new experiences; to learn more about the world and about themselves. 

Quests and journeying are most often associated with fantasy but they are the mainstay of all kinds of fiction. If you want things to happen, send your main character on a journey, voluntarily, or not. If they don't want to go, have them kidnapped.

I often take my characters on journeys. It gets them out of the house, out of their comfort zone, puts them on their mettle, presents them with new challenges, new places to see and new characters with whom they can fight or fall in love. In Witch Child, Mary goes to America and then off into the wilderness in Sorceress,. In Pirates! Nancy leaves Bristol for the West Indies and in the company of her friend Minerva, she sails the seven seas. In Sovay, the eponymous heroine journeys first to London and then to Paris.  In The Fool's Girl, Violetta travels from Illyria to London. I don't write about stay at home kind of girls.

Sending your heroines (or heroes) on journeys demands a certain kind of research: modes of travel (beyond shanks's pony), travel times - how long to x from y using z transport, where to stop on the way.  This, in turn, leads the writer to a certain kind of writing, in particular travel journals. It is always best to read a contemporary account of the kind of journey that you want your character to make if said account is available, particularly if it is written by an excellent writer, as these accounts often are. Daniel Defoe's  A Tour Thro' The Whole Island of Great Britain, Divided into Circuits or Journies , for example, or Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary, Being the Diary of Celia Fiennes

Memorial to Celia Fiennes
Even if the intrepid traveler is not an exact contemporary of your fictional character, I always reason that, until quite recently, travel didn't change markedly for quite long periods of time. Fifty years here or there doesn't make a whole lot of difference. The detail and insights such writers provide are far more important than a slavish adherence to dates.




Research has introduced me to a whole new area of literature and one I have come to thoroughly enjoy, especially since I don't have to stir from chair or study to have the most fantastic adventures, visit places, landscapes, cityscapes, even countries that are not there any more. Books like Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, her account of her travels in Yogoslavia before the Second World War, or Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water where he describes his journey on foot from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, allow us to time travel, which is what the writer of historical fiction wants to do most of all.


 Books like these, or Robert McFarlane's The Old Ways make me want to pack an old knapsack like Bilbo Baggins and be on my way, off to find my own adventures, but if that's not possible,  and it rarely is, then reading about someone else doing it is the next best thing. The other best thing is writing about it: taking the journey in your own head, with someone like Patrick Leigh Fermor or Celia Fiennes guiding your every step.

Does anyone else have favourite travelling companions of a literary kind?



Celia Rees

www.celiarees.com



10 comments:

Sue Purkiss said...

Definitely Robert McFarlane - and he writes so beautifully too. Joseph Hooker's diaries about his plant-hunting journeys to the Himalayas were fascinating too - the plant hunters were truly intrepid adventurers.

Joan Lennon said...

Amelia B. Edwards' "A Thousand Miles Up the Nile" -

Celia Rees said...

Keep them coming!

Katherine Langrish said...

I'm with you on Rebecca West and Patrick Leigh Fermor! Also, I love voyage stories, like Darwin's 'A Naturalist's Voyage Round the World'. And then there's Herodotus, a very entertaining writer, who travelled to Russia, Egypt, Babylon, maybe even India...

Imogen said...

The 'Highways and Byways' series. I love them. Some are better than others, of course, but there's something quite special about them. http://www.ebay.co.uk/bhp/highways-and-byways

Becca McCallum said...

Oh my goodness... never thought I'd come across someone else who had read Celia Fiennes! I read her when I was on a family holiday in Wales (near Monmouth, which we promptly christened 'Magob' to the extent that I *almost* refer to it as that when talking about it to other people). And in the comments I discover Sue Purkiss talking about Joseph Hooker - I have his Himalayan journeys on my kindle - I love the bit where he talks about the dog that he bought, or the bit where he describes the bioluminiscent wood he has brought into his tent, or when he talks about the Brocken spectre or actinolites ( my flatmate works in an asbestos lab...)

carol drinkwater said...

As someone who has actually gone off with the bag, camera and computer on the back and trekked the Mediterranean shores alone for seventeen months for my own travel books, The Olive Route and The Olive Tree, I can really relate to this post. Thank you. It is particularly splendid to read travel books by women. It is a great deal harder for us girls to be off on the road no matter how intrepid we might be, or think we are.
Carol Drinkwater

Becca McCallum said...

Oh, and for 'journey' books...look no further than Isabella Bird, awesome Victorian lady who went abroad for her health - her dad gave her £100 and told her to come back when it ran out. She got bitten by the travelling bug and ended up going to the rocky mountains, Hawaii ('Six Months in the Sandwich Islands' - how can you not love a book with a title like that?!), Japan, and Iran.

Leslie Wilson said...

Yes, I agree, Becca, Isabella Bird is amazing, and the way she writes really brings it all to life. She also travelled in China, btw..

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