Welcome to my Travel Thursday blog where I'm going to be talking to some authors about how the places they've been to, or lived in, have influenced their writing. And opening the blog is Natali Drake. Natali writes as N J Simmonds.
Hi Natali. First, can you tell us a bit about where you live.
Hi Karen. I currently live in in Delft, in The Netherlands. Here's a picture of it.
It’s home to the famous blue and white pottery, Vermeer and the backdrop to The Girl With The Pearl Earring...it’s about as arty as you can get. I even live in a 16th century canal house, which is both impractical and impressive, and so far not haunted. I say I’m ‘currently’ living here as I’m a bit of a nomad. Holland is the fourth country I’ve lived in so far...in fact the first time I emigrated I was just three week old. I’ve since moved from one country to another five times!
Do you like to travel? What is your favourite means of travel?
I love travel – the idea of settling for one place forever makes me feel physically ill. Before I had children I would use up all my holiday time travelling; on a good year I could go abroad up to eight times. I’m happy with any mode of travel as long as I’m moving...I’ve travelled by every boat imaginable, experienced amazing road trips that have lasted days and even ridden through Italy and Vietnam on the back of motorbikes. Mind you, I now live in The Netherlands and I’m still not very confident on a bicycle!
How exciting, Natali.
What countries have you visited or lived in?
I’ve always called myself a proud North Londoner but, although I was born there, I was less than a month old when I returned to Barcelona, Spain, where I was raised by my English mother and Spanish father. At seven years old I moved back to London, at 25 I set off to Australia for a year alone (where I found my future husband), after a year we moved back to the UK together, then five years later we moved to the south of Spain where we lived in the sunny seaside town of Estepona. August last year my husband’s job offered him a great opportunity in The Netherlands and we packed up and moved on again - this time with two kids in tow. We’re a family of restless gypsies...but with portable jobs and an IKEA at every port. In a couple of year’s time, once our girls are old enough to carry their own bags, we aim to spend a couple of months backpacking through South America so we can use our Spanish and see Machu Pichu and the Rio Carnival!
I’ve seen a lot of the world – from southeast Asia, southern Europe and parts of America to India, Morocco, the Caribbean and every inch of Oz. But when it comes to making a difference I would say that my life changed in Australia. I have often wondered if it was the country itself that made such an impact on me or whether it was the moment that I truly found myself. For starters I was travelling alone. For the first time in my life I had no one to answer to – no friends, parents, boyfriend or boss. I was totally free. I conquered fears (I got over my arachnophobia and qualified as PADI scuba diver), life took a spiritual turn for me (I trained in Reiki and got into meditation and astrology), I found the confidence to do some amazing things and I saw sights that will stay with me forever. But it was on a sunny non-descript morning in October when I clambered onto a sweaty coach heading to Sydney from Cairns when my life changed forever – because the hung-over guy that stumbled on to the bus and gave me a shaky smile before tripping over and sitting behind me ended up being my husband. And we never stopped travelling the world together after that...
That's so romantic. :)
5) Have you featured any of the countries/places you’ve visited in your novels? Tell us a little about them?
Absolutely! In fact, I think my entire YA series has featured nearly every place that has ever touched me. Ella, the protagonist of ‘The Path Keeper’ lives in Highgate in London – which is where I grew up from the ages of 7-25. She hangs out in Camden Town, as I did as a teenager, and her father’s family is from Ronda...a stunning, very old, town in Andalucia which I visited a lot when I lived in Spain. There is even a short scene in Morocco in my second book ‘Son of Secrets’ – which is where I spent my honeymoon!
6) Has any country/place you’ve visited ever given you inspiration for a story?
All of them, even the horrible places. My most inspirational destination is Tarifa in the South of Spain. It’s such a magical place that oozes Moorish charm and has a very unique mystical energy to it. Not only is it just 20 miles away from the north of Africa, which you can see from the beach, but it’s where the Mediterranean and Atlantic meet. It has a crazy wind that blows year round and bright yellow fine sand. It’s full of windsurfers and kite surfers yet the streets are labyrinthine, as if you have stepped back in history. It captured my imagination so much that I featured it in ‘The Path Keeper’ there, then partly set the second book ‘Son of Secrets’ there too.
7) How do you do your research? Do you use Google or actually visit the place?
I tend to write about what I know, so most of the places I mention in my books are places I have known well. Saying that though, a lot of research is involved when writing about settings in the past – such as East London in 1941, which features in ‘The Path Keeper’ and The Netherlands witch trials in the 1600s, which will feature in the third book in the series. One place I have had to Google is Fiesole, in Italy, as although I love Florence I have never been there and I never had the chance to go before I wrote about it in ‘Son of Secrets’, but I was adamant I would include it.
8) Is there any country/place you would love to write about but haven’t visited yet?
I am desperate to go to South America. I’m sure once my kids are older and we start going on holidays further afield again I will have a plethora of inspirational memories to draw on.
9) What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you while travelling?
Oh dear, probably how accident prone I am. Writing off a hire car in Australia before leaving the premises, being hospitalised in the outback for a venomous spider bite, nearly breaking my hand in Goa after getting it trapped in a sun lounger, sinking in mud up to my knees on the banks of the Mekong river, having to be rescued from beneath a raft when I capsized in Thailand...I’m sure they weren’t funny at the time, but looking back at these surreal moments I’ve no idea why I always find myself in trouble in the most remotest of areas. Although the most hilarious thing that I ever saw was my husband jumping up in the air and screaming in a restaurant in Laos as something had tried to climb up his trouser leg, only to find that it was the smallest and most feeble looking kitten ever. We laughed for a very long time.
10) What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever seen/done while travelling?
I saw a family of humpback whales while living aboard a working pearling boat travelling up to Darwin. I hitched a lift onboard...as you do! I’ve also played with baby crocodiles in Darwin, a baby tiger in a wildlife sanctuary in Spain, raced camels in the desert and wrestled my water bottle back off a huge monkey in Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I never thought I was much of an animal person, but looking back on it I’m a full on Steve Irwin!
Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Natali Drake is an accredited member of The Society of Authors and writes as N J Simmonds. She is a freelance brand consultant and writer and has had her work published in various UK newspapers, websites and publications including The Mother Book. In 2015 she co-founded The Glass House Girls, an online magazine for women who need to be heard. Originally from North London, Natali now divides her time between her two homes in the South of Spain and The Netherlands where she lives with her husband and two daughters. 'The Path Keeper' is her first novel from the series, her second book 'Son Of Secrets' will be available February 2018. Follow her writing adventures at njsimmonds.com.
Thanks so much for dropping by, Natali, and telling us about your travels.