My Travel Thursday interview this week is with New Zealand author Kirsten McKenzie. Kirsten is on an archaeological dig at the Roman fort of Vindolanda at the moment but answered my questions about how her travels have inspired her writing before she went. Kirsten has always lived in Auckland, New Zealand, apart from in 1996, when she lived in Harlington High Street, under the flight path of the Concorde, and worked at Heathrow.
Welcome, Kirsten. Do you like to travel? What is your favourite means of travel?
I love to travel. Living in New Zealand, you are obligated to travel. It is an expectation that all Kiwis do their ‘OE’, their Overseas Experience. Which usually involves doing a Contiki tour through the main centres of Europe, inebriated, then working in London, again, mostly inebriated. Or at least it did in the 1990s… I didn’t quite follow the normal path, and didn’t earn enough money to waste it on drinking. All the money I earned was spent on travel. I came back to New Zealand with 45p to my name…
Train. I love traveling by train. It is far more relaxing that any other form of ‘on land’ transport. But you can’t go past a cruise up the Nile!
What countries have you visited or lived in?
I’ve done my best to get to as many countries as possible. Let’s see – Australia (more times than I can recall), Fiji, New Caledonia (three times), Vanuatu, Vietnam (for work that one), Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa, Egypt (twice), Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, UAE, Cuba, USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France (several times), Italy (twice), Germany (three times), Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland, Austria, Russia, Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Czech Republic, Argentina, Brazil. Whew!!
What country/place has made the most impact on you? Why?
A tough question that one. The time I spent visiting Hemingway’s house in Cuba was incredibly special. And I’d go back there in a heartbeat. I have a love for Paris. And the green green grass of England, even though we have our own here in New Zealand. It’s more the grass edging Hadrian’s Wall which pulls at me. Such incredible history.
Have you featured any of the countries/places you’ve visited in your novels? Tell us a little about them?
When I first starting writing Fifteen Postcards, I wrote about India, because that is a country I desperately want to visit. The colours, the spices, the smells, the vastness. So that’s why I incorporated it into my first two books. My reasoning was that if I wrote about it, I’d be forced to go there sooner rather than later.
6) Has any country/place you’ve visited ever given you inspiration for a story?
In 2015 I spent two weeks on an archaeological dig at Vindolanda, an hour by train from Newcastle. The most magical two weeks of my life. I loved it so much, I wove a tiny tribute to it in my second book – The Last Letter. And in August I’m going back for another two weeks. My plan is to expand on that storyline for the next book in the series. Digging up Roman forts, where people lived for centuries before New Zealand even had people. There is a magic in pulling pieces of pottery from the earth which you know people used and appreciated at the time.
How do you do your research? Do you use google or actually visit the place?
Living in New Zealand, Google is my best friend. My second best friend is Twitter – it is amazing how many people are willing to help answer the weirdest research questions. I’ve had museums in New Zealand and the USA happily tweet me back answers about menu cards and handkerchief collections. I’ve found traveling distances between churches in small towns. People are brilliant.
Is there any country/place you would love to write about but haven’t visited yet?
I am finally going to India in October this year! As I’m typing this, both arms are aching from the vaccinations I had to have now, before I travel in October. Two weeks we’re away. It will be magical. But I will have my trusty notebook and pencil with me. I never travel without them. Everything can inspire you if you’re open to the world. And the third book will be so much the richer for me finally visiting India.
What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you while travelling?
We spent part of our honeymoon in Tasmania, in Australia. We did an evening tour of the old court house. I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life. Our guide must have been an absolute professional, because he scared us so much, we ran out of there, and ran through the streets of Hobart back to our hostel!
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever seen/done while travelling?
I was lucky enough to travel to Saudi Arabia with my husband, and we were flown by private jet to the Shayba oil field in the Empty Quarter. We dined out there on the sands, and watched the sun set over the red dunes. An amazing moment, and one of my favourite photographs. There is no civilization and nothing but sand for over 250,000 square miles.
For many years Kirsten McKenzie worked in her family’s antique store, where she went from being allowed to sell the 50c postcards in the corner of Antique Alley as a child, to selling $5,000 Worcester vases and seventeenth century silverware, providing a unique insight into the world of antiques which touches every aspect of her writing.
Her time slip novels in the Old Curiosity Shop series have been called Antiques Roadshow gone viral, and The Time Travellers Wife meets The Far Pavilions.
Her first horror novel was released in June 2017.
Now a full time author, she lives in New Zealand with her husband, daughters, and her SPCA rescue cat, and can be found procrastinating on Twitter under the handle @kiwimrsmac.
Kirsten’s website – http://www.kirstenmckenzie.com/
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