Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan was published by The O'Brien Press on March 3rd, 2014, and here's a synopsis to tell you more:
New York City. Evie Brooks had seen it on the TV, but suddenly finds herself leaving her home in Dublin and moving to Manhattan to her American uncle Scott, after the death of her mother. Never owned a pet more substantial than a goldfish, Evie is intrigued by Scott's NYC veterinary practice, and before long, Evie is working as an assistant in the clinic. Between the pets, their owners, Scott and his lawyer girlfriend, the Summer quickly becomes a whirlwind of change and activity! And then Evie has to make a huge choice: will she stay in New York, or return to live in Ireland with her godmother, Janet?
I'm excited to be part of Sheila's blog tour and I hope you enjoy reading the post she's written for me!
How Travel Has Influenced My Writing
by Sheila Agnew
In the 1940 fantasy film, The Blue Bird, a child sets off on a quest to search the world for the Blue Bird of Happiness, only to discover at the end of the film that the Blue Bird was at home all along. That message was similar to the one in the film it sought to emulate, The Wizard of Oz. But I have often found happiness through the journey itself. I’ve travelled near and far, and, never returned home without newfound inspiration for my writing. Sometimes it was a detail or a character for a story, and other times, the story itself.
One afternoon a few years back, I was reading a book outside an isolated, lake-side cabin in the woods in Connecticut. My dog, who had been sleeping on a rug inside, flung himself through a hole in the mosquito screen on the door, barking so furiously at something behind me that foam dripped from his mouth. I turned around. A few feet away stood an enormous black bear. I will never forget the nature of my fear, a primeval terror of being eaten alive.
I have no idea how long I stood there, starting at the bear staring at me. At some point, I got it together, grabbed my dog, rushed us both inside and locked the door. Then I remembered that the other door to the cabin was open. I ran around like a maniac and locked that door as well. I grabbed my iPad, and googled, “bear outside cabin in CT, what to do?” Basically, Google instructed me to call my local police station. I reached a rather apathetic member of the force called Mary.
“There’s nothing we can do,” she said.
“There must be something you can do,” I said, “I can’t stay in here for the rest of my life waiting for the bear to look elsewhere for a snack.”
“Oh,” she said, “is the bear attacking you right now because if he is, I can send a patrol car.”
Was Mary insane or was she being sarcastic, I wondered. I still don’t know. What I do know is that the entire episode formed a chapter in the second book in my Evie Brooks series.
Back in my London lawyering days, I used to travel a lot for work. Most of my colleagues used to angle for the choice assignments in Paris or Rome or Milan. But my hand always shot up for the more remote assignments in Vietnam and Egypt and Ghana. Having the opportunity to interact with the local lawyers and their clients gave me a fascinating insight into lives very different from my own. If I lived for a thousand years, I would still have enough material to write a book a year. Whether those books would be worth reading is an entirely different matter!
Sine qua non is a legal maxim. It loosely translates as “without which [there is] nothing.” I feel certain in my gut that if I had not moved to South America in 2011 to live with a local family and learn Spanish, I would not have gained the confidence to write my YA novel, Before, We Were Aliens, which is narrated by a thirteen-year-old Latino. So without the travel experience, that book would not exist.
Travelling to strange and distant lands is of course, exciting, but I’ve often found writing inspiration by merely travelling outside my comfort zone. Take last September when I had some cash-flow issues. That’s the tricky part of the writing business. So, cry me a river. Nobody makes anyone try to be a writer. I shrugged and ditched the private gym for the local public New York City swimming pool. When I entered the women’s locker room, two young Asian women, dressed only in their underwear, broke out into an aggressive-sounding, high decimal conversation, occasionally shooting me disdainful looks. Clutching my towel as I cowered in my cubicle, I imagined them saying:
‘Seriously? We have to tolerate women like her trooping through our nail salons eighteen hours a day, whining about how their cuticles feel soooo dry. Now they have the nerve to start invading our pool. Is there no respite?’
Then again, the girls might have been discussing the patently rare species of fungus hanging out on my cubicle curtains. (Some of the we only use local produce restaurants in the West Village might want to check that out.) Or perhaps the women were debating their post-doctoral dissertations. I don’t know. I’ve never mastered Tagalog.
Anyway, I emerged a tad self-consciously into the dimly lit pool area deep in the underground bowels of the building. I threw a nod at the lifeguard in the red t-shirt but he was too busy stuffing himself with a giant burrito to notice. A gooey ribbon of melted Monterey Jack cheese dripped onto the mildewed tiles, closely followed by a shower of stray pinto beans. Averting my eyes, I gazed at the murky water. I lowered a foot onto the top step of the ladder. That’s when I noticed the large sign displayed prominently on the wall:
‘DISCHARGE OF FECAL MATTER INTO THE SWIMMING POOL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.’
With a speed I didn’t know I was capable of, I whipped out my foot, examined it cautiously for random fecal particles and trailed back to the locker room. One of the Filipino girls waved cheerily at me. I waved back.
I use ordinary details like these in my writing. Instead of describing a character as poor, I can cause her to slip on some pinto beans at her afterschool swim club and knock herself unconscious or maybe I want to describe how she stopped to chat to a friend underneath the ‘No Crapping in the Pool,’ sign. I trust the reader to get it. This isn’t a character living a privileged life. But thanks to my many travel experiences, my writing and my life, has been greatly privileged . . . and I don’t give a damn if my cuticles feel dry.