Marie Brennan is just back from sunny England (it is sunny in Manchester anyway) and has been lovely enough to share her travels with us. I’m giving away a copy of her new book, Midnight Never Come. Details below.
I know that I’m lucky. I grew up in a family where my father traveled internationally for business and my mother had spent a summer in Norway before wandering around Europe; trips, even big ones, weren’t seen as anything out of the ordinary. By the time I went to college, I had been to Hawaii, the British Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, and twice to England — not to mention any number of journeys in the continental U.S., whether by plane or car.
In college I decided to major in archaeology, and that gave me a great excuse for more travel. I went to a field school (where they teach you how to dig) in Israel, and another one in Wales and Ireland. And I emptied out my savings for two vacations, first to Ireland with my boyfriend, then to Japan, where my best friend was teaching English. For somebody only in her early twenties, that was quite a lot.
Then — cue the world’s smallest violin — the travel stopped. Well, not stopped, precisely; there was a stretch of time in graduate school where I averaged one out-of-state trip every month for a year and a half. But this wasn’t the exciting travel I’d done before, colorful places with fascinating sights. These were weekend jaunts to conventions or academic conferences, where I saw the exciting interiors of one hotel after another. Or trips home — mine or my boyfriend’s — which, again, aren’t really the same. I’d changed my major from archaeology to anthropology, but my research was on science fiction and fantasy fandom, which meant an end to my exotic adventures in foreign lands.
Last year, I figured out the best scam EVER for getting travel back into my life.
It started innocuously enough. I sent a book proposal to my editor, for a historical fantasy set in Elizabethan London. She loved it, and poof! March 20th, 2007, I had a new project on my plate. One that (by the time I was done) required mountains of research.
. . . but, y’know, you can’t learn everything from books.
March 20th, the project is greenlighted. My turn-in date for the manuscript is September 1st — yes, of that same year. I’m on what we like to call a tight schedule, and to top it off, I’m moving house in May, though only to the other side of town.
Commencing stupidity in three . . . two . . . one . . .
On May 22nd, with unpacking from the move only halfway done, I grab my passport and head off into the wild blue yonder for the first time in five years. There’s little of Elizabethan London left to see; the Great Fire of 1666, the building spree of the Victorians, and the Blitz during World War II successively wiped out most of it. But that’s okay, because there are things still there to see: artifacts in museums. Surviving buildings in nearby areas. The City itself.
It sounds pseudo-mystical, but there really is something about being there. Standing on the ground of the history you’ve read about, walking roads that follow the same course they did four hundred years ago. Seeing things first-hand gave me details I never would have gotten from a book, like the smell of fresh rush matting on the floors, or the view from the rooftop of a royal palace. And I was blessed with helpful, knowledgeable volunteers who guided me around sites and answered my questions with passion and excitement that brought it all to life in a wholly unexpected way.
Those people are the reason I call this the best scam ever. I joke that the real appeal is being able to deduct these trips from my taxes as business expenses, but the true prize is those personalized tours. There’s nothing like having your very own guide there to tailor your experience to your specific interests. All without having to feel guilty about taking time to go on vacation when there’s a book to be written!
Going to London last year undoubtedly made Midnight Never Come a better book. I went back this year, to research the next novel in the series, And Ashes Lie. And I’ve said, only half tongue-in-cheek, that I should tax-deduct my honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean, because I’ve come up with an idea for a YA fantasy set on a cruise ship. But I tried not to do work, because after all, it was my honeymoon.
So I guess I’ll just have to go on another cruise later. (Purely for research purposes, you understand.)
Hmmm. Where else do I want to travel? Let’s see if I can come up with book ideas for those . . . .