Elaine Spires is a novelist, playwright and actress. Extensive travelling and a background in education and tourism perfected Elaine's keen eye for the quirky characteristics of people, captivating the humorous observations she now affectionately shares with the readers of her novels. Elaine spends her time between her homes in Essex and Five Islands, Antigua (W.I.).
Thank you so much for inviting me to guest-blog today!
This is one of the most frequent questions I am asked about my books: Why do you give most of your writing a travel background or theme?
The obvious answer to that is: because of my own background and experience within the travel and tourism industries. Generally speaking - and I know there are many exceptions to this - but generally speaking, writers write about what they know and what they are familiar with. I have always been fascinated by travel. My dad was a merchant seaman and I grew up listening to his stories about the places he visited, which all sounded so romantic and exciting to my primary-school mind. He was a good story-teller and I would be transported to places such as Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Los Angeles, Panama and New York. He totally left out the dangers he faced continually as an 18-year-old stoking in the bowels of a merchant ship that took part in the North Atlantic convoys; he only told me of the amazing sights he'd seen, the interesting people he'd met and of the fun he'd had. And so the seed was sown.
My own love affair with travel began when I had the opportunity to go on a school trip to Majorca when I was 16. We went by train and boat (I kid you not!) but I will never forget standing on the deck of the ship watching the wonderful sight and blaze of lights that was Barcelona by night gradually fading away as we sailed out into the Mediterranean, and then waking up in Palma the following morning. I had never seen such bright, intense daylight. The sun was blazing down, reflecting on the water, the roofs of the city's historic waterfront buildings and the white, palm-lined avenues in the distance. I decided there and then that travel was to be the world for me.
And so it was; I worked in travel and tourism as a younger woman in Majorca, Ibiza and Corfu as a holiday rep and a resort manager and then, after teaching tourism and Spanish in a sixth form college back in UK for six years, I went back to the coal-face, as it were, in my middle years working as a tour manager accompanying groups of single people to worldwide holiday and tourism destinations.
Following on from this singular experience, writing the Singles' Trilogy was a logical step; writers write about what they are familiar with and, certainly in my case, what they love. I work on the assumption that if I am crazy about a place and I write about it successfully, then my readers will enjoy it, too. I like to take them somewhere they are unfamiliar with and make the whole place, it's people, scenery, atmosphere, colours, sounds and smells come alive to them. I love getting feedback from readers who tell me they felt as if they were actually drinking rum punches round the pool at the Mango Tree Resort (Singles' Holiday) or standing in silence in a canter at sunrise, afraid to move a muscle, watching tigers in Ranthambore National Park (Singles and Spice) or dancing the night away on New Year's Eve at the Blue Boar Inn (Single All The Way.)
The greatest joy I get as a writer is when people tell me they finished my books with a burning desire to visit the places they've just been reading about. That is a very special feeling and one of the main reasons I love to include travel in my novels. A review for Singles' Holiday said the location 'was almost like another character because Elaine made it so alive'. I was really happy to read that because it had been my intention to make the setting of the action a real part of the story, making it, in effect, another 'character' in the tale because to me, it gives the story another dimension.
And if the book is set in a foreign country I can add cultural differences, food, language, dress into the descriptive mix and even use them within the plot development.
Of course, if I'm being totally honest, from a purely selfish point of view, by writing about places I have visited I can relive my own experiences again. It's like looking at old photos (which I often do to get my inspiration) and I find it nostalgic, therapeutic and inspiring!
Conversely, by writing about places I may have only scant knowledge of, I have to research destinations and that means my 'to visit' list is growing. I also like to make the reader aware of certain aspects of the travel and tourism industry they may be unfamiliar with; in my case singles' holidays, the travel industry's most successful growth market in recent years. In spite of this there is still sometimes a degree of stigma connected to going on a singles' holiday - erroneously in my opinion - and going on one for the first time takes courage. However, I hope that through my Singles' Trilogy this type of holiday is shown in a positive light and that readers would recognise that and see that they can be a great experience.
And having written about older female tourists with younger, local men (Sweet Lady, Singles' Holiday, Singles and Spice) and older women guests with foreign hotel workers (Single All The Way) I know I have to redress the balance and write at least one book which examines the sex-tourism industry to countries like Thailand and the Philippines, where elderly European men go in search of young partners, often bringing them back to UK as their brides.
And other questions I always get are 'What happened to Eve? How does her story end?' Eve is the fictional tour manager in the Singles' Trilogy. And to complete her story she would have to go back to Corfu. So, although the book I'm working on at the moment is set in England in 1950s and 60s, (working title - The Banjo, due out early 2016) I know that I will venture abroad again in future books, partly for the reasons I've just mentioned but simply because I still find the whole world of travel and tourism exciting after all these years.