A trip to Biarritz changed her life forever! Author and travel writer Michelle Jackson on her world of books and travel. Read all about her best travel advice, favourite destinations, and future projects right here…
The Novel Traveller: An Exclusive Interview with Michelle Jackson
Your first book ‘Two Days in Biarritz’ was inspired by one of your own travels. Did you ever imagine that a holiday would literally change your life?
I didn’t see it that way at the time, but I now do believe that travel can change your life. When I started writing, I had to find a sense of place for my characters and I found it easier to write about places that I liked and where I had enjoyed fond memories.
When I was on the trip to Biarritz with my friend, we went for a memorable lunch in the Basque town of Bayonne and plotted and planned what my book would be about. When I returned to Dublin and started to write the book I actually put our lunch into a scene. I find it fun to place my characters in locations that I have been as it is easier to describe the surroundings and little details like the decor, food, the people around and even the smell of the environment.
What are your first memorable travel experiences? Have you always loved to travel?
I used to keep an atlas by my bed as a child and look up capital cities and geographic features from around the world. I’d dream of one day travelling to the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower. Coincidentally, my parents brought me to Biarritz on my first continental holiday abroad and France was always a favourite for my family. When I was in college I would spend summers in London, but the real travel bug didn’t hit until my twenties when I covered a lot of Europe and ventured to other continents.
For your books, you try to ‘find the heart and soul of a place’. How do you do it?
Before I travel to a new destination I will usually research artists, writers or musicians who lived in that place and absorb their creations. I read Hemingway voraciously before my first trip to Cuba and continued to read him before writing my third novel ‘One Kiss in Havana.’ Artists of all forms are usually good at picking up on the vibe of a country or place and I especially enjoy learning about the indigenous cultures wherever I go.
While driving through the American Heartland I made sure to experience a Native American festival and made time to meet and talk to different tribes at their cultural centres. My fifth novel 5 Peppermint Grove, is set in Perth and follows the story of my character’s emigration to Australia. At the time it was written many families were relocating to Australia due to the global recession, including one of my dearest friends. I was able to relate to the sense of loss I was feeling and put those emotions and experiences into the book – I also got to visit my friend in Australia too which was a bonus!
Where do you want to travel to in the future? What is your dream destination?
Top of my list is Machu Pichu and I hope to travel some time next year. China is also on my list and I’ll be going there next October. The Dalai Lama says that one should go to a place they have never been beforeat least once a year and I agree. This year I travelled to Thailand for the first time and I loved it so much.
I stayed on Koh Yao Noi in a hotel called Paradise and it truly was a little piece of heaven! We enjoyed yoga twice daily and incredibly delicious, healthy food. The pace of life was slow and easy and I think it is a magical destination for families – I travelled with my best friend since I’ve been 12 and we took both of our daughters who are now the same age that we were when we met. We enjoyed manicures, massages, making it a really girlie retreat.
Though travelling is a big part of your life, you once said that you never want to move away from home. What do you most cherish about your home town and Ireland in general?
I live in a small fishing village, called Howth, located about 30 minutes from Dublin city by train. Howth is a peninsula and surrounded by the sea with spectacular views and nature in every corner. Most mornings I walk the pier and listen to the gulls and I never tire of listening to the waves lashing against the shore. I always recommend a visit to Howth to visitors coming to Dublin. We have some of the finest restaurants in Dublin too, Aqua is my favourite at the end of the pier and guests will feel as if they are sitting in a ship. The Abbey Tavern has a great history and is a cosy pub with turf fires and great entertainment.
Ireland is a very desirable location and has seen more visitors this year than ever. I do believe that the Wild Atlantic Way has a lot to do with this and now with Ireland’s Ancient East, our wonderful ancient heritage and architecture is taking centre stage also. The quality of hotels and food in Ireland is very high and I always enjoy a chance to find somewhere new to visit and am constantly surprised when I do in my own backyard.
What is the best travel advice you can give? What are your best tips?
I think do your research before picking a destination. Check that you are travelling at the right time of year for that location – don’t go to India during the rainy season or the Caribbean during hurricane season. You can be lucky and get nice weather, but if you are making a large outlay on a big holiday you need to pick the best time to travel.
Find out how much the average meal or glass of wine will cost in your chosen destination – you might get a cheap flight somewhere, but run out of money quickly if the cost of living is incredibly high. Go to your local library and get a good up to date guide book of your chosen destination – or Google from a reliable source like Lonely Planet or the Holidayguru of course.
Finally, visit a friend…there’s nothing like meeting up with a local to get the inside track on a city or destination. I don’t mean land on their doorstep and ask to stay, but meet up for a drink or a bite to eat, catch up on old times and learn from their experience.
What was the most interesting trip you have been on so far?
I think the Seychelles is one of the most beautiful places on earth and a blueprint for the Garden of Eden. The island of Praslin boasts native fruits, Coco de Mer, that have Adam and Eve symbolism. I remember lying on the beach and looking up as countless shooting stars sped past and thinking that I was in paradise. La Digue is magical with the most unusual rock formations and natural landscape. It is no surprise that it is a top choice for honeymooners.
Have you experienced much of a ‘culture clash’ before?
I found Morocco and especially Marrakesh very different and didn’t especially enjoy the experience, but perhaps I need to review. It was a personal feeling about the vibe of the country.
What is your favourite insider sport around Ireland?
I love northern Ireland – the food is always excellent and I think the Giant’s Causeway is well worth a visit. Newgrange in County Meath is one of the most important historical sites in the world and I’m really proud that we have it on our doorstep!
What is your best reason to travel more?
I love experiencing travel with my family and while my kids are happy to travel with me I really enjoy making new memories. I’m always looking for inspiration for my books and travel means learning new things so I intend to keep it up for the foreseeable future.
What destination will your next book be based around?
I’m writing a Young Adult novel at the moment and part of it is set in Australia – it has a secret theme that I can’t reveal, but hope that it will be explanatory when it is finished.