Inspiration in the strangest places...
Today I'm blogging about travel. Not only the amazing, glamorous type of travel that everyone enjoys. Sometimes travel is a hard slog, tiring and difficult. Sometimes, it results from a major change in circumstances or it actually propels those changes to happen. This is the stuff I’m writing about.
My debut novel is about an Irish flight attendant named Sinead, although I don’t think that’s all it’s about. Girl on a Plane is more about travel, both literally from one place in the world to another, and metaphorically, moving from home to someplace else. Someplace new, that may not be where you intended to end up. Changing direction and changing course in life.
In the story, Sinead is constantly on the go, just arriving in one city to find herself leaving again. Her job as a flight attendant means she’s constantly alert, serving people and making sure passengers and comfortable and safe. In her own life, her lonely London flat and her neglected love life have her questioning her life choices. At the ripe old age of 26, she needs to move on but she isn’t sure how.
One day, Sineads meets a grumpy blonde and broad surfer-style Aussie CEO in first class. He asks her for coffee, a storm hits mid-flight, and a new adventure begins…they are thrown together due to a typhoon shutting down the airport. Normal business is suspended.
The settings and the actual travel and weather conditions became quite important when writing the story. I had actually visited all of the places in Girl on a Plane, including my home city of Melbourne, Australia, London, Paris, Singapore and Thailand. These travels have ended up providing inspiration for many stories and characters already.
My inconvenient travel adventuresPart of my inspiration for the story was my own travels over the years. Living in Australia, if you ever want to go to places such as the U.S. or Europe, you need to be intrepid. You need to be open to adventure. You need to be wearing your hardcore non-iron travelling pants. And you need an indestructible internal clock and mental equilibrium that’s not disturbed by rain, hail or inconvenient travel strikes.
It’s not always easy to be a smart, glamorous, international jet-setting woman of the world. You get on a plane looking like Victoria Beckham, and you get off looking like the cast of The Hangover. Have you ever been so severely jet-lagged that you could barely remember what country you were in, or whether it was day or night?
Have you ever had to ask a flight attendant if she could explain again whether you needed a separate boarding pass for the second leg of a multi-country flight, and then simply stared at her, so tired that her words sounded like she was speaking underwater and you couldn’t understand the answer?
Well, I have.
At the time, I wasn’t even sure the airline person was speaking English. My eyes were dry and red as dust in the central Australian desert. I’d just come off a flight from New York to the middle of the US (Arizona, I think) during a major airline strike. Everyone was sleeping all over the airport, random bodies sprawled across waiting area seats and departure lounge floors. There were no more planes that night, and no real food, only tacos and beer. The selection of cowboy hats in the airport store was impressive though.
Before that, I’d been on an international marketing study tour as part of my university degree...six weeks of alternating planes, trains and automobiles, presentations at all sorts of company headquarters and nights out eating, drinking and dancing with a bunch of fellow students.
I was a walking zombie, and the lack of consciousness was getting so bad I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept a full eight hours (or even six). Nearly forty hours in transit, including the overnight leg crossing the Pacific, jammed between two large men who I didn’t know in economy ‘cattle class’ micro seating. Urgh. One of whom tried some pretty below-par pick-up lines on me. Double urgh.
Then my ankles swelled up to the size of fully-loaded water balloons so I could barely hobble to a taxi when I finally got back home to Melbourne, Australia (via Sydney, which added a couple more hours, just for fun). It was so good to be home, sleep in a normal bed and get back onto Aussie time, sitting in the sunshine instead of freezing European weather, drinking wonderful Melbourne coffee.
New adventures (on the page)Over the recent summer holidays in Australia, I travelled with my family to a beautiful camping spot on the famous Great Ocean Road. This road winds around the surf coast and cliff tops, providing some amazing views of sea and sky. It’s wide open terrain, the complete opposite to crowded city streetscapes.
Houses perch precariously on the edge of sheer cliffs or sit back from the road, nestled in bush or farmland. It’s a holiday location for many people, getting away from the hustle and bustle of life in the city. The air is fresh and unpolluted, there’s hardly any traffic, food is fresh and delicious and kids run about and splash in the waves until sunset in summer.
Some people obviously call the area home, even in the off-season. When I visited, it got me thinking. What would make you pack up your belongings and move from city to seaside? What sort of life changes would allow someone to start fresh in a holiday town?
I was jotting down setting and character ideas each day as I camped in a gorgeous riverside location (don’t worry, it wasn’t totally unglamorous -- I had my top-notch inflatable mattress and even local wine to drink at night). I watched tour buses full of international visitors pull-over at all the look outs, taking photos of the amazing views. And I spotted solo men and women riding motorbikes down the iconic road.
A character popped into my head -- a woman who is about to turn 40 and is getting a divorce from a high profile man. She’s used to luxury and city living, but retreats to a seaside town for a quieter life...only to meet a handsome, meddling next door neighbour. There’s also a menagerie of local wildlife to contend with. I think I’ll enjoy writing this story. I just have to finish a couple of others first!
Has travel inspired any of your writing? Or have you wanted to take-off from your armchair when reading a great book? Let me know!
About Cassandra O’Leary**Winner of the global We Heart New Talent contest run by HarperCollins UK. Nominated for BEST NEW AUTHOR in AusRomToday 2016 Reader's Choice Awards for excellence in Australian romance fiction**
Cassandra O’Leary is a romance and women’s fiction author, communications specialist, avid reader, film and TV fangirl and admirer of pretty, shiny things. Her debut novel, Girl on a Plane, was published in July 2016. Cassandra was also a 2015 finalist in the Lone Star writing contest, Northwest Houston Romance Writers of America, and a 2014 finalist in the First Kiss contest, Romance Writers of Australia.
Cassandra is a mother of two gorgeous, high-energy mini ninjas and wife to a spunky superhero. Living in Melbourne, Australia, she’s also travelled the world. If you want to send her to Italy or Spain on any food or wine tasting ‘research’ trips, that would be splendiferous.
Read more or sign-up for Cassandra's newsletter at cassandraolearyauthor.com