One of the perks of being an established writer is the wonderful opportunities it can offer. In my case it led to me becoming a cruise lecturer. I began volunteering to run writing workshops as a passenger on cruises with a large number of days at sea. This eventually resulted in me joining an agency. After a couple of cruises running workshops and another giving talks on writing, I was asked if I was interested in doing a course to become a port lecturer (the person who gives a brief history of each port, describes the ship’s tours on offer and the things passengers might like to do independently). I enjoyed preparing the talks, but I must confess it was very time consuming and, as many cruises can contain up to eight or nine different ports, a great deal of work.
Out of the blue this summer, I was contacted by the cruise line’s lecturer organiser to say that the company had a world cruise coming up in 2019 and were thinking about possibilities for passenger activities during sea days on the first leg. She thought several of them might be interested in keeping a holiday journal and knew from my CV that I’d run writing workshops on board other ships before, and asked for my thoughts. I wasted no time and emailed back immediately with ideas for eleven works for each of the sea days on the specific cruise she was considering. Two days later I received the offer of Writer in Residence on a three-week cruise from Athens to Mumbai leaving in five weeks’ time. I jumped at the chance. Who wouldn’t?
Be a traveller not a tourist
We did a couple of workshop exercises on using the senses and one of the things I suggested was that we should not simply be passive observers but immerse ourselves in all the sights, smells and sounds around us and make a note of own responses and reactions. It was fascinating how, when we were out on tour, people would turn to me and make comments such as, ‘Smell the incense,’ when we were in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and, ‘Can you hear the lanterns tinkling?’ as we were walking in the market in Muscat in Oman.
For those hoping to keep a holiday journal, I suggested they took note of the unexpected. It made for some fascinating stories back on board. The one I like best was from someone who saw a woman dressed in a burka plus long black gloves, taking a selfie in the museum room in the library in Alexandria.
One the biggest compliments I received was when someone said in one of the later workshops, ‘After all your advice, I noticed so much more when we’ve been out and got so much more from all the trips than I would have done otherwise.’
I ran a short story competition and was delighted with the response. Not only did I receive far more entries than I ever imagined (how they found time to write 1000 words when tours took up all the port days – six were 10 hours or longer! – and there was so much going on during the days at sea with six lecturers plus things like dance lessons, quizzes, films and shows every evening), the standard was amazingly high. I drew up a short list of three people and we all had dinner together on the penultimate evening. The prize winner was chosen by the Cruise Director who announced the winner and present the prize – a bottle of fizz – at the end of the meal. She also received a signed copy of one of my books.
Choosing the shortlist was a difficult task, so much so I drew up a longlist of six entries which I have now put up on my website under COMPETITION on the banner. Like almost all the entries, these stories are the continuation of pieces that they began in one of the workshops.
One question I was asked more than any other was if I would be setting any of my future novels in any of the places we’d visited. Never say never, but I already have the settings for my next three novels, so I don’t have any immediate plans.
I do have some wonderful memories – the first glimpse of the treasury at Petra and an amazing temple in Mumbai. I met some wonderful people and made many new friends. Writing can be a difficult lonely activity at times, but it can lead to some amazing opportunities. Being a Writer in Residence has its challenges, but I’m so grateful to what was an amazing and unforgettable experience.