BSSA team member and intrepid traveller, Anna Schlesinger tells us about using travel journals to inspire her writing.
During over forty years of travelling around the world, my first trips taking place to Russia and East Germany, followed by Poland and Czechslovakia when they were ‘behind the Iron Curtain’, I have always kept a travel journal. More recently I have explored China and Cambodia, Malawi and Mali and the countries of South America including Chile and Easter Island. I’m planning a trip to the Congo next year.
When I’m home I print out selected photographs as I like to have both pictures and journal side by side to recapture ‘moments’, perhaps thrilling and sometimes frightening.
A travel journal is not a diary. I use it like a companion, storing moments worth remembering: road signs that warn of cassowaries ahead, fishermen standing in their boats dragging nets while one foot steers a pole in the water, a shanty clinging to the side of a volcano or the green eyes of a begging child. I am not denigrating the tourist industry that offers traditional dancing and singing, or festivals that bombard the senses with colour and noise to remind us we are far from home – but there is a more personal side that lies in unexpected moments. In shards of patterned pottery along unexcavated parts of the Silk Route, the flash of a Red Bishop in dark canopies at sundown, lianas curling through spiritual ruins like snakes gaining control, or the footprint of a lion beside a tent in the early morning.
A short story is a journey of the imagination and my journal can be its trigger. It can jog my mind into remembering smells and sounds until I am off on a flight of fancy with people I’ve not met before; characters who have escapades and experiences I’ve not been part of – for their journey is my short story.
Anna Schlesinger, February 2017.