1. You’ve been on several ‘working holidays’ where you do volunteer work as you experience the local culture – how did you first get involved in doing this, and what appeals to you the most about this type of holiday?
It was the summer of 1997 – the country was basking in the warm afterglow of the Labour party’s election victory (how wrong we were?!!) and I was temping in a portacabin out the back of Blackwell’s with six other temps, listening to Simon Mayo in the morning and some git in the afternoon on radio 1 whilst working through data entry and address *cleaning* for the marketing department. I hadn’t had a holiday since the summer of ’94 and the five weeks in La Rochelle learning French and having fun with friends – my parents thought I ought to go on a holiday, and offered to contribute towards it (pay my rent for a week so that I could afford to take the time off).
They had a National Trust brochure lying around on the coffee table and an article about working holidays that they offered, doing interesting things like helping out on archeological digs and drystone walling, habit management and the like. Sounded like fun, so I sent away for the brochure. After days of perusing the options I settled for the lake district (never been, always wanted to go) and doing drystone walling (sounded different and fun). I booked on the holiday for a week’s holiday on the 5 September, and I can remember getting really nervous about what it would be like – will the other people be nice – will I enjoy it … in short, I was petrified!
Then there was the little bit of drama and panic as to whether I would get to my holiday. A week before the off was the death of Princess Diana, and the world went crazy – at one point I thought they were going do something stupid like cancel the trains, or stop them mid route thus calling delays and cancellations, as I would be travelling on the day of the funeral. As it turned out, everything was fine, although it was an interesting day to be travelling. It was very quiet everywhere, and you could tell that everyone new what was happening but they weren’t mentioning it – at all. And then on the last bone-shaker of a train up from Preston to Millam, there was a drunk wandering up and down the carriage, singing the late princesses praises and everyone else on the train was trying desperately not to make eye contact with him. And then the minibus pickup was late because our leader couldn’t get to the shops to buy our food till they opened at 2 o’clock.
But I digress… my fears and agitations were unfounded. The leader was a tad strange, but his assistant was sound, and my fellow ‘vollies’ were a good bunch of people (there was Katherine, Rebecca, Catherine, Ewan, Cameron, Pamela, Sheila, Paul and Ian(??), and me. I had a good time, and I enjoyed it, and went back the following year and did two holidays. In 1999 I volunteered on two (including the infamous Yorkshire holiday and acted as assistant leader on another one. The year after I led one, and vollunteered on another, before branching out in 2001 for the first of my Iceland holidays…
Why do I do it? Comparitively speaking (and yes even the international ones) they are cheap holidays, and being a single person they are the kind of holidays I can go on alone. I get to meet new people who are fun, entertaining, friendly and interesting. I get to help out do something good the environment, I get some exercise, and to learn new skills – but mostly I get to see and experience new places.
This last reason, is probably now, what keeps me doing it. I’ve not done an NT holiday since September 2002 now – I guess although there’s the heck of lot of the British Isles that I haven’t seen yet (I would like to explore the conservation angle in Ireland and Scotland for example), the uk based holidays have now had me working in most different types of places and tasks. There’s a sense of been there, done that, I want to see the world now. Working in Iceland was great – I got to do something a bit different in an incredible environment and you have native guides who get you to see so much more of the country and the culture that you could ever hope to see as a ‘regular’ tourist.
Estonia was similar, but there, the whole conservation thing is still in it’s early days, so there was more of an emisary role of leading the way in this country, showing the people what to do, and in return they show us the real country.
2. Clearly your travel experiences have influenced your writing – do you ever write about ‘ordinary’ English people and their everyday lives? (I call this genre ‘ suburban fiction’, and it’s one of my favourites 😉
Flyht – Regency England meets the 21st Century, The Mill – Old English magick in upstate New York, Blood & Fire, and (the yet) untitled Estonian novel … I see what you mean. Yes, it does that look that way doesn’t it, but I do write about ‘ordinary’ English people. dreamscholars was a drama series I wrote between 91 and 92 about a group of college students studying film, and euroJournal, it had other European characters in it, and it was set in La Rochelle, but the main cast were mostly UK (or had links to the UK) and the stories were going to be quite ‘English’ and ‘ordinary’ too. Riverhouse was a English novel too, all be it one set in the terrifying aftermath of a bloody civil war set in the not so distant future, and used (not many people know this) the term ‘New Britain’ before a certain Mr A Blair had even thought of it.
Right now, in Thomas Shepherd’s age of novel writing, I do seem to be enthused with writing ‘foreign fantasy’ novels (for want of a better term, and to be honest, I’m not sure why that is. This said, 1999’s The Mill may be reworked in the future, and that was about everyday lives of ‘suburban’ people in a ‘rural’ setting. And then there’s my idea for a blogging drama/film but that’s still in the early days gestation.
3. You’re English. Do you drink a lot of tea? If so, how do you take it? If not, why not?
I’m not a big tea drinker, just like I’m not a big coffee drinker. I do like both though. I used to take them both with milk and two sugars. At different times with each, I was standing by the sugar bowl and thinking, I wonder what it tastes like with just one sugar, then a few weeks later, what does it taste like with none. And that’s how it remained for years. Until this summer. It was in Tallinn, on a glorious sunny day and we were having a cup of tea outside a cafe (actually I think it was an Indian resturant?) and they brought me the tea in the form of a glass mug of hot water and a tea bag. I dunked the tea bag and it looked so nice, and then when I added the milk so uninviting. So because of how it looked (irrational I know) I tried it without milk, and liked it. I’ve since tried coffee black, and so that’s how I now have them both. Both black. Both real… 🙂
4. Have you ever had an, erm, ‘paranormal experience’?
Short answer, no. Long answer, what makes you ask?
5. What was your most embarrassing moment?
Ooh, tough question. I’m not sure really – and not because I’ve never had any – I’ve had more embarrassing moments than I count, usually resolving around me not *getting something* in conversation, or coming up with the *right something* but a few minutes after everybody else/somebody else has said it. But hey, what do I care, that’s me – and the people who matter seem to like me nonetheless for it, so…?!!
You know the drill by now, if you want to be interviewed by me or you want to ask the questions…