Very many thanks for coming by today, Mark Patton, to delight us with your travelling reminiscences.
Hello Jane, and thanks for hosting me today. I’ve been following your blog ever since we were first published by Crooked Cat (I think your first novel, Breath of Africa, was published just six months ahead of my own Undreamed Shores), and travel seems to be a consistent theme, so I thought I would say something about the ways in which my own travels have contributed to my writing.
As a teenager growing up on a tiny island (Jersey – just ten miles by five), I desired few things more than to travel, but it is expensive to travel anywhere from a small island, and my parents were not wealthy. With a long-standing interest in Native American culture, I particularly wanted to cross the Atlantic, but this was out of the question. What holidays we could afford were always in the south of England, exploring Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex in a rented car. I was probably nine or ten years old when I first visited Stonehenge and, just a day or two later, Fishbourne Roman Palace.
I left school in 1983 and, aided by a grant from a charitable trust, crossed the sea to France with a friend. We hitch-hiked down through Brittany to the Golfe du Morbihan, camped among the alignments of Carnac and lived for two weeks on ten francs a day, buying eggs, vegetables and cider from the local farmers. This was just a few weeks before I went up to Cambridge to read archaeology, so I was fascinated by the megalithic monuments of the region.
I returned to Brittany for several months in 1988, when I was researching my PhD, a very different trip, since I was there for so much longer, interacting with my French archaeological colleagues, and spending whole days examining museum collections.
When, having completed my doctorate, I returned to Jersey as Curator of the Archaeological Museum, I started to explore the coast of Brittany in a very different way, as a yachtsman. I could not afford my own yacht, but there were plenty of opportunities to crew for other people and, on occasion, to fetch a yacht (sometimes quite expensive ones) from Southampton to Jersey.
My subsequent academic career took me to many parts of the world that were new to me. I did, finally, get to cross the Atlantic, but I also spent time in China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Russia, Uzbekistan and Nigeria. At no time, during all these decades, did it occur to me that I was researching for a novel, although I got to read plenty of novels on long-haul flights, and whilst waiting in business lounges.
When I eventually found myself, through no choice of my own, with the time on my hands to write a novel, I realised that I had, unknowingly, been researching them for the best part of forty years. It was not just a question of scoping out the locations for my stories, although that was part of it (Stonehenge is an important location in my first novel, Undreamed Shores, as Fishbourne is in my second, An Accidental King). It was also the experiences I had along the way.
In Undreamed Shores, my protagonist crosses the channel twice, his knowledge of the tides and currents informed by my own experiences as a yachtsman. He struggles to make himself understood in a land where nobody speaks his language, something I have done many times. Many of the characters in my novels have an understanding of the natural world that few modern city dwellers are likely to have.
I have now lived in London for longer than I have lived anywhere else, and I have come to love the life of the city. I am now working on a historical trilogy, The Cheapside Tales, set in London. I am fortunate, however, that, as we explored the New Forest on our first family holidays, my mother passed on to me the love and knowledge of the natural world that she had learned from her own grandfather, and which may go all the way back to the days when our ancestors were true country-folk, tillers of the soil and herders of sheep.
Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at http://mark-patton.blogspot.co.uk. His novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased here: http://Author.to/MarkPatton.
The short-toed treecreeper, a bird first pointed out to me as a child by my mother, and which makes several fly-on appearances in my third novel, Omphalos. Photo: Jimfbleak (licensed under CCA).