I knew I would write about travel one day. Leaving home – whether for pleasure or work, or as immigrant or a refugee – has become a central experience for more and more people in the world, so writing about travel is a way of writing about modern life and the global forces that affect individual stories. And travel has played a significant role in my own life. I immigrated to Australia from Sri Lanka, I’ve lived on three continents and while I was writing Questions of Travel I moved from Melbourne to Sydney. I travel on holiday as often as I can, and I spent a decade working for a publisher of guidebooks.
I wanted to write about the wonder of travel – the pleasure we take in new places – as well as the strangeness of passing through foreign countries to which we have little or no connection. So often the scenes we encounter there seem less real than those back home; we return from our travels and say, 'it was like a dream'. Tourism can be a very superficial form of engagement with a place; on the other hand, a tourist, whose eyes are sharpened by unfamiliarity, might well notice details that locals don't see.
I hope the novel makes readers think about travel. For instance, it's often said that 'everyone travels these days'. The reality is that there's an increasingly sharp division of people into the global rich and the local poor; tourism is a luxury commodity to which most people in the world don't have access. But I was always less concerned with analysing travel than with asking questions such as who travels? who doesn't? what takes us from home? what brings us back?
That was some of the white noise going on in my mind as I wrote Questions of Travel. But ideas and intentions are only a few of the ingredients in the weird brew that makes a novel, and not necessarily the crucial ones. In her review of The Recluse by Evelyn Juers, the critic and writer Kerryn Goldsworthy noted 'the motley assortment of small details, scraps, dream images, old stories and new ideas from which most fiction writers assemble their characters and plots'. That's a perfect description of the mix, and everything that goes into it emerges transformed.