Friday, January 28, 2022

Week 7: The right kind of difficulty

The English travel writer Paul Theroux once observed that, for travel writing to be effective, there must be some kind of difficulty for the traveller. Otherwise, the writing is mere 'chatting', by which I expect he meant that the writing is about leisure, relaxation, holiday talk. I think it's a fair principle, although I would add that the nature of the difficulty needn't be physical or logistical: sometimes, internal difficulties are more powerful than the external ones. In the case writing fiction, they are also usually the more present. What is the problem that the writer seeks to explore? What is at stake for them in doing so? What turns the story from an account of events to a question that seems urgent or necessary?


This week, the Queensland government announced the end of international border restrictions on entry to the state. After almost two years of quarantine and limits on the numbers of international arrivals, the border is re-opened, and one major difficulty for travel is removed. And yet, in the same week some governments around the world signalled that Australia is now seen as a more risky destinations (because of increases in Covid cases), and that travellers from Australia may face greater restrictions. It seems that opening borders can lead to closing borders; one door opens and another door shuts.

In such moments, I'm tempted to defer my own travel plans. But then, I try to remember that travelling has never been easy, at least when viewed in a wider historical frame. The last thirty-odd years of relatively cheap, easy, and reliable travel is, in a way, an historical oddity. For, travelling has usually been fraught with danger and difficulty, with uneasy border crossings and uncertain receptions. With that in mind, yesterday I bought a ticket to Europe, for a bit later in the year when I have a long period of leave and I hope to spend a few weeks in Greece and Iceland to work on new writing projects. Perhaps by then the difficulties will have eased, or there will be new, more internal ones in their place.

Mostyn House School, Cheshire