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7 Places That Will Inspire You To Write

7 Places That Will Inspire You To Write

Melbourne native CLAIRE VARLEY has just released her first novel The Bit In Between. The book is a funny and insightful look at identity, travel, writing and love, drawing extensively from Varley’s own experiences of knocking about the globe. An avid fan of writing on the road, Varley shines a light on her favourite spots that will inspire you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and create.

I spend a lot of time pretending to be Hemingway. Not in a ‘writing sparse internationally acclaimed prose’ kind of way, but in a ‘scuttling off to fascinating places to have a tipple, look pensively into the distance then jot stuff down in a notebook’ manner – often looking at people doing regular things like fishing or sweeping their stoops and thinking ‘there’s an allegory in that’ and whatnot. In the fine tradition of misquoting Robert Frost, there’s something to taking the road less travelled. Travel is the constant fodder of literature, the most vibrant character in so many stories. Think Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil.

My first novel was written (and is set) across three continents. Writing while travelling is my single greatest joy in life. It ushers in fantastic new worlds but also a better perspective on home: we don’t see our own cultural eccentricities until we are surrounded by someone else’s. Travel teaches us more about the world and, in turn, reveals more about ourselves.

Fittingly, I am obsessed with going to places where other writers wrote and, well, just kind of sitting there for a bit feeling equally spiritual and awkward. The first time was in Singapore as a child, sitting in Raffles Hotel with my aunt sipping water in place of a Singapore Sling and pretending I knew who Somerset Maugham was. More recently it has included Paris’s Montmartre cemetery looking for Jim Morrison’s grave (wrong cemetery, Varley) and instead finding Emile Zola’s and writing brooding doggerel as I tried to recall what he’d written. So I present to you my selection of Places to Inspire You to Write and Whatnot.

#1 Rapa Nui/Easter Island


One of the most isolated inhabited places in the world, Rapa Nui is home to those 887 incredible basalt moai. A relatively new civilisation thought to have sailed in canoes from Polynesia around 400AD, little is known for sure about the original inhabitants except that the island was largely deforested, the moai all toppled and the population was reduced by slavers by the time Chile annexed it in 1888. Much of its history is based on varying accounts from missionaries, mariners, local oral history and guesswork. Nothing stokes the creative fires like wandering around the island, alone with the moai, filling in the gaps for yourself. Plus, there’s the bonus of the thrice-weekly showing of the Kevin Costner produced Rapa Nui film, a vaguely historical retelling of the Bird Man Cult starring my high school crush Jason Scott Lee from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.

#2 Chile


If you have not stalked the ghost of Pablo Neruda you have not truly lived. I first read Neruda’s poetry collection Isla Negra en route to South America and by the end of the plane trip I had drowned the entire economy class in my salty tears. Neruda – poet, diplomat and politician – created a series of fantastical homes across Chile in Santiago (La Chascona), Valparaiso and Isla Negra. He died two weeks into the 1973 military coup that ousted leftist President Salvador Allende and his Santiago home was ‘searched’ by the military and his extensive book collection destroyed. When you visit you can see the remnants of the library preserved in their decay. Fascinated by boats, he designed his houses to resemble ships, calling himself a ‘sailor of the land’ because ironically he didn’t particularly enjoy sea travel. I would be lying if I said I made it to all three houses – I got lost in Valparaiso and couldn’t find the funicular in the rain so I gave up and had ice cream instead.

#3 Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas


If you zone out the excited teeming crowds, Machu Picchu seems to exist outside of time. Alone in the mountains, fortified high above the world, it is the same Machu Picchu that a humbled Che Guevara wrote of in The Motorcycle Diaries and that lay hidden from the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s as they besieged the Incan Empire. Combine this with the magnificent Qorichanka in nearby Cusco (the centre of the Incan world) and wandering the cobbled maze-like streets of Ollantaytambo and you’ll never want to leave.

It was at this point that my conviction I was indeed Hemingway incarnate was at its most sincere and ridiculous – I wrote two short stories, ran shrieking from an errant bull at a roadside bullfight then rode in the classy part of the Andean Explorer drinking pisco sours and editing to the sound of train on train track. At a guesthouse in Ollantaytambo I ripped an image of Hemingway out of an old Vanity Fair and scribbled a quote from the accompanying article across it. ‘You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another’. We’ll see about that, Ernest.

#4 Laos


Luang Prabang – an entire town covered by UNESCO world heritage listing – would like you stroll the streets, gawk at the stupas and be inspired by the bustling Meekong River as you drink coffee and sigh. It would like you to travel by bus through the guts of the country to the Plain of Jars and ponder over the large Iron Age relics, playing Sherlock Holmes to their mystery. It would like you to travel a little further, stopping to gape at the immense craters that pock-mark the land, the most bombed country per capita in the world having withstood more US bombs than all those dropped on Europe across the entire World War II. It would like you to know that unexploded ordinance are still lying about decades later, waiting for farmers, scrap metal collectors or children to stumble upon and awaken them.

#5 Israel


You could read the bible as preparation for a visit to the Holy Land, or, like me, you could simply relieve the 1973 Universal Pictures classic movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar. Judas was wearing his red jump suit in this garden! Jesus hit that high note in this part of the desert! The intensity of being surrounded by pilgrims from so many countries and diverse faiths is overwhelming and there is nothing quite like being shoved out of the way by a brisk Orthodox tourist in the Church of Nativity because he wants to take a picture of his small child on the spot where Jesus was purportedly born. Best place to write? The Dead Sea because you can float any idea you want. (Ba-doom!)

#6 Your ancestral home


Mine is Cyprus. Returning to the place of your grandparents is a revelation – their stories suddenly make sense, as does their obsession with hosing down the concrete driveway each morning. There are a whole lot of people who have the same forehead and naturally bored eyes as you and you feel you are walking in the footsteps of your history. It’s a bit awkward if, like me, you speak only a smattering of the language (‘yes’, ‘no’ and the slang words for ‘wee’, ‘poo’ and male and female private bits that your mum used when you were little so you wouldn’t embarrass her by saying them in public). However, you begin to start to understand the incredible chance and happenstance that resulted in your existence, and you appreciate everything just a little bit more.

#7 Solomon Islands

(Photo: Visit Solomons)

Forget the colonial image of a safari-suited expat drinking gin and tonic on the veranda as he scribbles in his notebook and languidly expires from malaria. Instead, it is the vibrant local tradition of oral storytelling and conversation – stori­ ­– that ­should be your inspiration as you unpack the history of a country with nine culturally distinct provinces, approximately 70 living languages, and more than 900 islands. That juggles post-missionary religious fervour with a strong living culture of song, dance and art. Shaking free of the shackles of colonialism, civil conflict and some of the bloodiest sea battles of WWII, it is a country waiting to share its stories. You could write a novel here – I did. Before you write yours, you should read mine… Just for research. You know.

(Lead image: Visit Solomons)

The Bit In Between is out now, published by Macmillan Australia.

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