With a perpetually long list of destinations my husband and I are eager to visit, we moved the Faroe Islands to the top of our wish list earlier this year when I began planning a new novel set in this remote archipelago of the North Atlantic.
I won’t give anything away about the novel I’m hatching, but I’m happy to share my top tips on travelling when you’re a writer, which can equally be used when travelling as a book lover and avid reader.
Pack Light and Smart
Unless I’m planning evenings out in fancy restaurants or live theatre or attending business functions, I keep my travel wardrobe in the zone of comfortable and practical, with a few stylish pieces for when I want to dress up a little. My advice? Don’t fret about wearing the same outfits day after day. Mix and match your ensembles. Pack everything within carry-on bags. Take solid leaves of laundry detergent to wash clothes. For the Faroe Islands, my wardrobe consisted of rainwear, merino wool layers, dark trousers, hike boots, merino wool socks – and, yes, merino wool items can be worn at least three times before requiring a wash!
Read Destination Novels
We explored six of the eighteen islands of the Faroes while listening to an audiobook of David Hewson’s Devil’s Fjord, an intriguing murder mystery. Whatever your destination, there are books set in your destination to give you a flavour for the location and its residents. Visiting Sicily? Read Giuseppe Lampedusa’s classic The Leopard then read one of Andrea Camilleri’s detective novels featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano. If your destination is Paris, there are numerous classics by Hugo, Voltaire, Proust and Zola; but also read modern novels such as Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. For books set in specific destinations, search https://www.tripfiction.com.
If you plan to do lots of writing while travelling, but don’t want to take a laptop with you, use a compact foldable keyboard along with a Smart phone. While travelling, I take masses of photos and scribble notes using my phone app, and these form the foundation for my research. After I return home, I organise the images into photobooks which are printed in a hard-cover format, becoming a fabulous memento. I organise certain photos into folders to use for social media and inspiration while I’m writing. When I wanted inspiration while writing a chapter set in Antwerp’s Begijnhof, for example, I placed an image of the historic step-gabled courtyard on my computer screen.
Bookshops and the internet are filled with stories about what it’s like to live in a certain location, which can be valuable for your research. But nothing beats speaking face-to-face with locals. Don’t be shy about speaking to locals. Ask open-ended questions. Ask their opinions. I chatted with a volunteer at Tórshavn Cathedral, the capital of the Faroe Isalnds, and was fascinated to hear his opinions about the Faroese language and the struggles of residents during the Danish period of “oppression” when schools were required to teach in Danish and Faroese was banned as an official language. Conversations with locals are an invaluable source of inspiration and a valuable part of research.
As useful as technology is in researching a book, remember to take a moment – many moments – to switch off your devices and use your physical senses to absorb what’s around you. Stow your phone in your pocket and just stand there to take in the roar of the waterfall crashing onto the rocks, the chill of the wind howling along the cliffs, the musty smell of peat in the turf-roof houses. Take time to let these images and sensations embed themselves in your memory. Such details will give an authentic flavour to the story you’re writing, and provide lasting memories of a unique destination.