Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Guest Post - Sue Shepherd talking about Australia - Bookish World Cup - Australia

My latest novel, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, is about twin sisters. The book tells the story of their relationship, which is tempestuous at best, and follows them from childhood through to their thirties. Part of the story is set in Australia, where they go backpacking as young adults.

Like the twins, I was fortunate enough to spend time travelling around Australia when I was younger.

During my time there, I threw myself into many new activities. Amongst other things, I sailed the Whitsundays, camped out in The Blue Mountains and fell from a great height with a large elastic band attached to my feet. I saw the iconic Sydney Opera House up close, rose at 5am to go crocodile spotting in Kakadu and flew to Tasmania in a tiny little plane to visit the sobering Penal Colony, Port Arthur. What an amazing trip -  I’m so pleased I kept a diary!

When I decided to send my characters to Australia, I dug out my diary and spent a wonderful afternoon reminiscing, not just about the activities and the places, but also about all the people I met along the way.  The diary was really helpful to me when, for example, I came to write the scenes in the book where the twins spent Christmas Day on Bondi Beach, and when they go scuba diving.
Although the characters in my book went to Australia in what we now refer to as the ‘noughties’, I was there a whole decade before them, in 1990. To give you an idea of just how long ago that was – Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister when I left England!

Of course, backpacking is still hugely popular today. But, one of the main differences between my experience and that of people who are currently heading off to the other side of the world, which my diary really highlighted for me, is ‘technology’. If a young person goes backpacking today, I expect that the last thing that’s said to them, as they pass through the gates, is something along the lines of, ‘WhatsApp me when you arrive safely.’ Or ‘Don’t forget to email us.’ Or even ‘Facetime us from Departures.’ But, when I went to Australia, there were no mobile phones, or emails, in fact, there was no such thing as the internet at all! We really were on our own out there.

So, I thought I’d share with you how I kept in touch from Australia, ‘90s style.

Money was short and phone calls home were rare, so, the system backpackers used, which I understand is still in use today, although not so necessary, of course, was a thing called ‘Post Restante’. The idea was that the traveller would write home and let people know what city they planned to visit next. Their family could then write to them care of Post Restante at the Post Office in that city, and their post would be held for up to a month. As I travelled around, the first stop in each new place would be to head over to Post Restante to see if there was any post for me. I stood in line for ages. There were always huge numbers of exhausted backpackers desperate to get to the counter. The anticipation was enormous. Towards the end of my trip it was getting on for a year since I’d left home, so you can imagine my emotions as I snaked my way to the front of the queue.

When it was finally my turn, I would hand over my passport, and the Post Office employee would head out the back to search for my post. I waited. Chewing my nails. Then … oh, the joy when they returned with letters in their hand! As I was given my precious post I immediately wanted to burst into tears. I’ve tried to explain that feeling to my teenage sons, but they are of the generation who have always had a phone. If they want to ask me a question, they text me (often from the next room) and my reply is instantaneous. Those letters that I held in my hand, having slowly winged their way from England to Australia, had possibly then waited patiently for me in a dusty pigeon hole for a couple of weeks. They were much anticipated little parcels of news and messages of love from my family and friends.

Having been out of contact and waited to hear from people for so long, I could wait no longer. No sooner was I outside, than I would find the nearest clean piece of floor and sit and devour the news. I remember the Post Office in Sydney, it had huge steps leading up to the main doors. I spent a few months in a little suburb of Sydney called Coogee and went into town often. Whenever I passed that building there were always hordes of backpackers sitting on the steps, reading letters, lost in thoughts of home, happy tears streaming down their faces. They knew they were the jammiest gits in the world to be sitting there, enjoying the glorious sunshine, but, those words that their family and friends had written, still tore at their heartstrings.

In this world of immediate gratification, if a traveller does a bungee jump in Australia, it’s possible they will have sent the video clip to their family and had a shocked reply within the hour. When I did my first bungee jump in 1991, I posted the promotional leaflet to my parents with a note that simply said, ‘Hey … I did this today.’ Their startled response didn’t reach me for weeks!
There really was something rather magical about those trips to Post Restante. There was a sense of occasion about them. Post Restante bonded us. We came from all over - Europe, the USA, Asia or elsewhere. There was no doubt we were having the most amazing overseas experience, but in our hearts, we all had someone back home whom we missed like crazy.

Despite my best intentions, I haven’t, so far, made it back to Australia. It remains an amazing memory for me. A year in which I bravely embarked on adventures and pushed myself to the limit. There were experiences that shaped and changed me, and I was delighted to be able to revisit some of it through the eyes of my characters.

In a box in my loft, there are letters, written by my friends, my sister, and my wonderful parents (who are sadly no longer with me), and I know that if I get that box down and read those letters again, I’ll feel the same elation that I did almost thirty years ago, when a younger version of me waited in line for them at Post Restante.

Thank you so much for this fabulous post on Australia.  Had I realised your new book featured Australia I would have reviewed it for today, instead I continue to look forward to reading it.

A moving and funny story about sisters, secrets and second chances.

Twin sisters Beth and Lisa do everything together, so what will happen now they both want a life of their own?
Beth has a secret she's kept from everyone except her sister. But it's time to get on with her life. Could a seductive Italian, a smooth-talking charmer or backpacking around Australia be the answer?
Lisa feels she's always lived in her sister's shadow. Maybe now it's her turn for some fun, whatever the consequences. But will her drunken antics land Beth in trouble?
And when it comes to the crunch, will one sister have to give up what she wants so the other can have what she needs?
Another entertaining page-turner from the No.1 bestselling author of Doesn't Everyone Have a Secret? – where things, and people, are not always as they first appear!

Purchase from Amazon UK 

Sue's Bio:

Born in Harrow, Sue went on to spend several years living in Hertfordshire before selling up and taking a leap of faith across The Solent. She now resides on the picturesque Isle of Wight with her husband, two sons and a standard poodle. Her passions in life are: her family, writing, the seaside and all the beautiful purple things her sons have bought her over the years. Happiest when hunched over her laptop with a cup of tea on the go, Sue loves to create stories with plenty of heart and laughs, but she makes sure to include a bit of naughtiness too. Ask Sue to plan too far in advance and you'll give her the heebie-jeebies and she'd prefer you not to mention Christmas until at least November!

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