All I wanted in the hot, fly-buzzed Australian summers of my childhood was to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Trips away were rare and always an expedition, in a hot-Holden station wagon, jammed between my siblings, wet tea towels draped across the windows, concealing miles and miles of identical scrubby gumtrees that marked the endless roads.
Our annual trek to the ocean began each Boxing Day. So did the passionate debate. How many books could I take? Surely the ocean would be entertainment enough? I always argued of course that books were far more important than say clothes or cooking implements. There would be those moments between swimming and making camping ground friends. For those moments I needed a book.
Then, the agonizing choice had to be made.
There were of course the new books I got for Christmas. They were always the most exciting presents, better than Lego, better than my first lipstick. The bright hard covers sometimes with a matching dust jacket, thick creamy pages and that new book joy of turning the fresh pages for the first time and wondering where it would take you.
But you couldn’t rely on new books alone, what if they disappointed? I had to have my reliable wishing chairs, family classics all. Where would I want to go, Enid Blyton’s green and greedy summers, Anne’s red-earthed Prince Edward Island, Norah’s Billabong, or to Narnia to visit Lucy and Aslan?
Should I take all of a series or a sample of each special world?
Looking back I realize that all my favorite books had one thing in common; a good plot sure, and engaging protagonist definitely, but the most fundamental thing was that I needed to be swept away to somewhere else. Books had to contain that magic journey to somewhere else, where the setting was one of the characters of the book.
As I grew up I travelled and discovered the pleasure of literary journeys (that is for another blog) and big city living. I quickly realized that even then I still needed my wishing chairs. Who could saunter through Bath, without dipping into the “Black Sheep”, drive though Yorkshire without James Herriot, fly from London to Paris without re-reading a little at least of a “Tale of Two Cities.”
Lucky for me ebooks were invented, I might otherwise have been trapped under the weight of my luggage or at least run out of underwear.
Then, for love and money, I had to move kicking and screaming or at least with a substantial pout to Canberra, to quote Bill Bryson - “Canberra, why wait for death.” and reader, those first few years were hard and interlaced with a lot of weekends in Sydney.
But the city grew on me slowly and sneakily, gums developed personality and in their own way were just as beautiful as silver birches, there was something grand about a city designed on sweeping curves where whenever you look up there are trees on the horizon. Then there is the dance of the public buildings as they light up the lake at night, the blockbuster art and war stories in them.
Theatre of politics on my front door step, popcorn at question time anyone?
I made good friends and had the long dinner parties where policy is passionately debated and the world set to rights. Finally, a growing cluster of cool little coffee shops sprang up, wineries are just a few minutes away and I can still afford theatre tickets.
Now I am a writer my ambitions are modest. I hope to transport someone for a little while, I had always thought I would choose somewhere exotic and almost certainly historical, but as I started to plot I had a ruby slippers moment and I realized I wanted others to come on their magic wishing chair to Canberra.
The city I love and never wanted to live in.
Canberra is a modest beauty with a dark underbelly and wins people over in the end. So would she be Lisabeth Salander brooding, tech savvy dangerous or Hermione Granger blunt, wild haired, hardworking and passionate? Or maybe right now she is Dorothy in her Ruby slippers dancing down the yellow brick road to that most rainbow place, Oz.
FJ Roberts is working on a Canberra noir series “The City in the Park”.
If you want to find out how a Cyber spy with stage fright ends up in the spotlight at Carols, her first short story is on pre-order as part of Canberra Romance Writers Anthology “It Happened on Christmas” - https://www.amazon.com/Happened-One-Christmas-Collection-ebook
FJ Roberts can be found hanging out on Facebook when she should be writing at https://www.facebook.com/fionna.roberts