Where do you seek your travel inspiration? Travel magazines? Pub conversations? A dart thrown blindly at a map?
Like many, I’m an ‘all of the above’ kinda girl. I can easily wile away hour after hour daydreaming about travelling, my house is bedecked with memory-conjuring travel memorabilia and I’m obsessed with cooking dishes inspired by past trips.
I relish any opportunity to ditch reality and drift away to faraway climes, and whilst there are endless ways to arouse daydreams and desires for exotic adventures, I find travel inspiration at its most sublimely irresistible when it’s served up in literary form. With travel as the muse, writing really comes alive, immersing me in a seductive world that feels as real as the customary glass (ok, bottle) of wine I sip as I’m reading.
It’s not hard to see why. Travel writing is a fantastic cathartic release, enabling the writer to seek solace in the written form of treasured memories and experiences, and take their reader there with them. It’s what I adore writing about travel, and I’m constantly reading others’ travel writing to inspire not only my next trip, but my writing itself. And whilst I encounter inspiration daily, I’ve found a stark difference between good writing, and the sort of writing that makes the hairs stand to attention on your neck and your eyes dart frantically from line to line, thirstily drinking in each page as you are transported to the world between the covers.
Torre DeRoche’s debut novel was definitely that kind of writing. I’ve followed Torre on twitter for a while, completely enamoured by the tales she shares on her blog, The Fearful Adventurer. Gifted with an inspiring, relatable style of travel writing, Torre combines brutal honesty with thoughtful and beautiful descriptions of her adventures, making her blog utterly compulsive reading. So when she tweeted the offer of a free copy of her novel, Love with a chance of drowning, I was intrigued by how her writing would translate into a longer format. It arrived on a Monday. I’d devoured it by the Wednesday.
Love with a chance of drowning is an honest, moving and completely inspirational memoir of Torre’s trip of a lifetime. An Australian on a temporary hiatus in San Francisco, Torre meets Ivan, a handsome, fearless Argentinean adventurer, in a bar. They fall in love and despite a crippling fear of water and a promise to her family that she would return to Australia within the year, Torre makes the life-changing decision to join Ivan on his dream to sail across the Pacific on his humble, well-loved sailboat. Love with a chance of drowning charts the highs and lows of their trip, in bewitching, candid technicolour.
There are so many things I loved about this book. Firstly, the trip itself. Wow. The South Pacific is elevated on an ethereal pedestal on my own must-visit list, a dreamy mirage that mystifies and enthralls me. Torre’s ability to vividly depict her experiences of sailing from atoll to atoll in the South Pacific is such that I genuinely felt like I was there with her. I drank in the sight of the turquoise ocean, the dense green forestation and the crystal-white beaches. I heard the chatter of the locals that they met, felt their warm embraces, listened to the gentle (and not-so-gentle!) lapping of the water against their boat. I tasted the fresh island fruit that they ravenously craved during their long periods at sea and the sheer luxury of ice-cold beer after weeks of putting up with lukewarm liquid refreshments. I even felt the heat against my skin and the fish surrounding me as they snorkeled.
Torre has a talent at conveying Utopian scenes that make you delirious with lust for her experiences, and as you read you have to keep reminding yourself that this actually happened to her, rather than being a figment of a brilliant imagination.
I also loved the ‘love story’. If you’re put off by the clichéd, chick lit-style ‘will they won’t they’ genre, then you’ve nothing to worry about it here. The story was set around the adventure they shared, the leap they took to embark upon this adventure, and what this meant for their relationship. But rather than veering into gushy, vomit-inducing territory, Torre shared the reality of travelling with your lover, warts and all. Learning to live with each other, working together and sharing an extraordinary adventure whilst in the throes of a relatively new relationship – it’s a story of real love, not Hollywood love, and it’s all the more endearing for it.
Above all, I was incredibly inspired by Torre’s honesty throughout Love with a chance of drowning. Sailing from San Francisco to the South Pacific Islands may sound like a dream-trip, which it undoubtedly was, but Torre didn’t shy away from the hard times. As a reader I felt her severe pangs of doubt, her intense frustration at she struggled to learn how to sail, her terrified fears as they sailed across the middle of the ocean and her cravings for the most simple of elements that we take for granted – dry land. She didn’t hold back on the arguments that she had with Ivan, or the technical difficulties that they encountered. She especially didn’t hold back on relaying the times when things went very, very wrong, sometimes life-threateningly so. Yes, their trip was incredible and all the cons were outweighed by the exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime highs, but it was also bloody hard, and Torre’s memoir is especially engaging for her balanced reflection of the hard times, as well as the good.
Although it was the kind of book that left me completely bereft when I’d turned over the last page, I also felt energised, as if I too had been on their adventure. And that’s the beauty of Torre’s writing. She talks to you as if she’s your best friend recounting her tales over a bottle of red, and you leave thinking “if she can do it, then so can I!”. And this is the power of really great travel writing. The experiences shared need to feel achievable, realistic and inspirational, otherwise what’s the point, other than writing for your own self-indulgence?
Torre’s debut stuck an exquisitely written middle finger up to convention and tradition. If you want to sail around the world, then why shouldn’t you? If you can’t do something, such as sailing, learn! A shining beacon in a crowded genre, Love with a chance of drowning is a stunning memoir, and a poignant reminder that when you really push yourself to achieve something, truly amazing things can happen.