This post is the first in a series of “Snapshots” compiled from Author talks and discussions at The Perth Writer’s Festival. I have tried to stay as close to the spoken word as possible, my intention being to make the speakers’ thoughts and ideas, and the authors’ words and books available to others.
“The landscape, food and time zone are certainly different but are the real changes brought on by travel much harder to see? Julietta Jameson, Stephen Scourfield and Janet De Neefe reveal their own moving journeys.”
From left to right: Julietta Jameson, Stephen Scourfield and Janet De Neefe.
Julietta Jameson, is one of Australia’s most experienced print journalists. Her latest book is called, “Me, Myself and Lord Byron.”
Julietta Jameson had reached a crisis point in her life. Her mother had just died, a relationship had just failed and she was drinking too much wine. When she stopped drinking the “demons came upon her,” and she did lots of soul searching, uncovering remnants of her own story when she travelled to Italy.
In Italy she began travel writing. The book that resulted is entitled, “Me, Myself and Lord Byron,” and it’s about Julietta’s travels following the trail of Lord Byron around Italy.
“I wrote a proposal over a weekend and luckily it was accepted. The idea of the book was to celebrate my journey. I had come to a point of completion, stopped drinking, faced my demons. I had long envied married people with children but I knew that I needed to move forward, enjoy the life in front of me.”
Julietta said she was free of context, touchstones and validations while writing the book. With the poet as her talisman she travelled. “Alone, except for a notebook and Lord Byron,” she explained.
Three main themes
Her book has three thrusts; memoir, Byron and travel. The plot points of Byron’s life became pilgrimage points for Julietta. She followed his journey in the last 8 years of his life. In Geneva she read his poetry, from Geneva she travelled to Milan then to Veneto, and her journey ended in Greece. Everywhere she went there was fantastic architecture. “He had amazing taste in real estate,” Julietta laughed.
Within the book are three themes. “Firstly, celebrate what you have rather than bemoaning what you don’t have. Secondly, don’t hold back – choose life and love. And thirdly, know thyself, every dark interior corner,” explained Julietta.
“Travel changed the way I saw the world. The veil of sadness between me and life’s loveliness was lifted. I am different but the same, and much much more. Travel allowed me to be that,” said Julietta.
Stephen Scourfield, is the Travel Editor of The West Australian and an award winning author of fiction and non-fiction books. His latest book is called “Unaccountable Hours.”
Unaccountable Hours is a collection of three novellas set in the Australians landscape, the result of many years’ work. A writer from the age of 18, Stephen arrived in Western Australia when he was 26 and began working for the West Australian Newspaper. Knowing nothing about the country or the countryside he said that he had to set out to learn the place from the bottom up.
“How people are, what they drive, what they wear and say. I’ve always travelled as a writer and I’ve written about Western Australia almost every week for two decades – and been to the Kimberley many times – probably over 50. The West Australian landscape is like a companion to me, and I have a feeling of home.”
Encyclopedia of knowledge
“Travelling in the landscape and meeting people is my day job and it reaches into my private life. Every conversation I’ve had with people goes into my own encyclopedia of knowledge, which has spilled over into some non-fiction books. “When that knowledge reached critical mass it started to bubble over into fiction. Critical mass reduced the thoughts into something more viscous but smoother. Like a cooking technique,” he said.
“I was given one rule when I started work – never throw away a notebook and I never have. Being a simple chap I’ve followed that instruction and haven’t had another one yet,” Stephen joked.
“I think that the research required for a fiction book is far greater than for non-fiction. Everything has to be right, and in the back of my mind I have an odd cartoon image of myself. My head is opening up to a funnel and everything is being poured into the top … all the things that happen when you travel … it all goes in there. I feel like I’m a big carbon filter! If you’re lucky … as a writer … there’s some distillation of all those things.”
“A lot of what I know about Western Australia is distilled into Unaccountable Hours. I enjoyed the discipline of bringing what could be a much larger novel into three shorter novellas.”
The first novella is about the fortunes of a maker of musical instruments. Interestingly, Stephen has been collecting “stuff on violins” since he was 8 years old.
The second novella is set in the suburban laneways of Perth, The Swan River and the coast between Perth and Geraldton. “It’s about the love between an older woman and a young man who is torn … torn between working out who he is and making decisions and also torn between Perth and Rome. The older woman becomes the conduit for him to move into adulthood.”
The third story is called Ethical Man. “Maybe there’s not a massive market for that sort of thing these days!” Stephen joked. “But I love the idea of good people, and I know good people. In the book a scientist goes back to his roots to do a bird count in the Little Sandy Desert and he’s presented with a great ethical dilemma.”
Janet De Neefe, is an artist, restauranteur and the Founder and Director of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Her latest book is called “Bali: Food of My Island Home.”
“I wasn’t a big traveler but in 1974 my dad had some spare money and he decided to take us to Bali. My grandfather was an artist, my sister was at art school, and the Island is known for its art and artists. Surfers were hanging out there in those days too and I was so enamoured with the place that it got into my bones, I loved it. Back then it was still a wild tropical outpost, I suppose. I couldn’t help but be touched by the people. I love the smells, the scent of the flowers, the green moist places. Then in 1984 I went back, met a man and just stayed!”
“I didn’t mean to write my first book, Fragrant Rice, but then I did think that I’d do a cookbook one day. I started running cookery classes, and people asked lots of questions, and with four kids I kept getting more stories as I interacted with the local community. Then people said I had to put the stories into the cook book. My publisher said, ‘This is a memoir not a cookbook’, and I accepted that Fragrant Rice had to be a memoir. It was in the final stages of publishing when the bomb happened, but I was writing every day, I had a newsletter on my website and in times of tragedy you just write. All of that became part of the first forward to the book.”
“There are so many things about Bali that make it special. The people, the values around family, neighbours, community. I loved the idea of a house where everyone drops in and just stays. I suppose there’s a history to that in my family. My grandfather would bring people back from the pub, my uncle would travel and bring people back from places like Ireland,” Janet said.
“I Love the culture, and living in that culture I understand how the Balinese feel. Why they react to certain things, and what they experience, which is often so different to the things we are exposed to in Australia and the West.”
“I think that you almost become a bit invisible when you travel, as if you’re fitting into other people’s skin.”
The speakers were asked: Is there a relationship between the external journey and the internal journey. What are the ethical effects of travel? There’s the notion of the traveler, broadening of the mind, exposure to different cultures, while the other image is that of the tourist who doesn’t engage with culture and moves on as soon as there are any issues. Is travel a mind broadener?
Juliette. “There are so many different ways to travel. It’s unfashionable to be a tourist these days because so many people are tourists. Eco tourism and volunteer tourism though are very fashionable. I believe it’s important to tread lightly and step respectively.”
Stephen. “The personal value of a travel experience is not commensurate with the time spent or miles covered – that experience can happen 10 minutes down the road. It’s not particularly about being on a cruise ship or on a truck with swag for instance. It comes back to having a purpose, and that immediately changes the chemistry. It’s important to have a theme to your travels, or be in search of something, something that you are collecting perhaps. I have lots of collections going on, including photographs. I think it’s better not just to ‘fly and flop’, but rather to have a purpose.”
Janet. “Travel lets you see how the other half live and it does broaden your mind particularly if you travel to countries where they don’t have so much, then you think things like, ‘Hey my kitchen’s not so bad!’ Or, ‘At least I have a kitchen’! And to hear another language, and different sounds, that’s valuable. I think mostly the value of travel if to see how the other half lives.”
There are very few places that we don’t know about. Does that change how we write about travel? Does it make the skills of the writer even more important because you have to convey a different kind of experience?
Julietta. “Yes, people are time poor, and they put a massive investment into going to a place. So there’s a need to provide enough information for people to be able to make the most of things when they get there.”
Stephen. “Google Earth will convey the information but not the emotion. Most of my travel writing is storytelling and that connects with the readers. So much of the Australian psyche is that we have no borders. I’ve just come back from Asia, from a country which has noisy neighbours; neighbours who disagree, … in Australia we don’t have that.
“Once, I met an Aboriginal man with just one thong. I asked, ‘Have you just lost a thong?’ He replied, “No, I just found one.” That sort of comment puts things into perspective when you travel. Travel lets you see the glass as half full, not half empty.”
“I don’t do a lot of research before I travel. I like to be a bit confused. I like to mix poetry with package,” Stephen said.
Julietta. “When you’re writing about travel you need to kill your darlings and your adjectives.”
What about bargaining when you travel?
Janet. “The Balinese people would feel defeated if you didn’t interact. You should communicate and have fun with them and bargain. Be playful, but don’t drive them down to 5 cents.”
Stephen. “I haven’t bought anything from a market where I’m not the ‘first lucky person of the day’! I think when bargaining the trick is to have fun, but not to take the rice from their mouths – don’t take it too far.”
Is there such thing as Eco Tourism and responsible tourism?
Julietta. “I think there’s responsible and there’s your own attitude. I think eco tourism per se has become a branding exercise for hotels and companies.”
Stephen. “We are all using energy and resources. Because I travel a lot it’s a big dilemma in a cultural sense because mass travel can have such a big impact on cultures. But it’s not all bad. For instance local travel guides become involved with their own long story. Perhaps they have left the land to live in the city and now live as city folk, and when they return to the villages they have to ask the old men questions – when tourists ask things like, ‘what’s that plant’ – so tourism can put people back to their roots, back into a relationship with the land.”
“I don’t like the idea of rich white people looking at poor black people. I find it very difficult coming back from places like India because those places are so complex but they are worth being exposed to, and I always try to give something back, not just take,” Stephen said.