Angela Elwood is due to publish with us on the 27th April, 2017. We contacted her and asked her a few questions about her upcoming book and what inspired her to write it.
How would you describe A Year In Flip Flops and who would you say it is aimed at?
A Year In Flip Flops (AYIFF) is the first book I have written. It is an insight into why I chose to travel, the preparation, an introduction to each of the countries I visited, things that made me smile or laugh and what it was like to return home after a year’s absence. I think for me I was constantly surprised before leaving how almost everyone remarked on how brave I was being to travel so far, for so long, so far away and alone. I must admit, this did make me hesitate before embarking on the trip but I was always reassured by the thought that I was only a day away from home and if I wanted to, I could return. I had to try. For me, the biggest motivator was to avoid the regret of not having plucked up the courage to leave. I wrote the book because I realised I could not describe, in a few sentences, my experience. I also became convinced that travel was easy and cheap, as well as pleasurable and cathartic. It was good for me to have space to reflect and heal myself after years of singleness and lone-parenting; to prepare for the next stage of life. The book is aimed at other women my age who find themselves at a similar stage of life.
The book is about your travels around SE Asia. What made you decide to turn your experience in to a book?
I am convinced that there are many women who are in the same position as me and are wondering if life has finished with them, once the kids have left. At no other time in history have women been so autonomous, fit, financially secure and able to take a trip of a lifetime. If I could do it, others could too. I wrote it with these women in mind. It is difficult to describe my experience in a few sentences, easier through a book.
Unlike many people, you did your travelling later on in life. Why did you wait so long and what made you decide to go?
I have always been fascinated by travel and people who travel. Even as a child, I loved any type of travel and even packed my younger brother up to embark on my first world tour at the young age of six, only to have that intention scuppered by my mother! I start the book with an account of this; I think I spent half my school life looking out of the window! Boarding school killed any thought of further education for me, and after finishing I headed straight in to retail work. Life took over. Marriage, kids, divorce, single parenthood, business. It was not possible to travel for long trips during this time although I took my children on foreign holidays each year and went to China and Australia alone when they were old enough to be left with their Dad for a period of time. Life silenced early dreams and I simply got on with it. It was the thought of both the kids leaving that brought me to think again about choices for myself. I realised that I had become middle aged and invisible, that I would be alone in a big house after their departure. I saw a clear choice: I either gave up and gave in, or I tried something new. I was standing in my kitchen and I just said out loud, “I'm going to take a year off; a time to think about my future”. I knew in a moment, it was to SE Asia that I wanted to go.
What was your best experience whilst travelling and why?
The realisation that I was no longer invisible, that I still had a place, and something to offer; even though I was alone travelling, I never felt lonely. I think travelling solo, and at my age, made me stand out. Time and time again, people talked to me, offered me food, a drink, a seat, gave me directions, complimented me, examined any needlework I was doing; people smiled at me, no longer looking through me. I had spent the last few years with teenage twins…anyone who parents teenagers will no doubt experience their distain or indifference. With this feeling of coming alive again, came a daily wow factor of thinking about where I was or where I was headed that day. There are too many incidences to relate here that gave me pure pleasure, but most of the pleasure came from little details or small actions, from other people around me.
Alternatively, what was the scariest moment? Was there a time when you wished you had stayed home?
I think the scariest moment was being on a plane between Bangkok and Myanmar. We experienced terrible turbulence from a hurricane that was going through India; we were all thrown about as the plane plummeted. I am not a great flyer and was really scared. In the seats, along from me, were a group of monks who were praying frantically and hanging on to their seats! On landing, we all got off the plane really quick, being so pleased to get down in one piece! I did not, at any time during the year, wish to return home.
The only time I cried was when my son came out to see me in Singapore and I had to say farewell to him at the airport. Although I was sad to see him go, I did not want to return with him. I guess that the only other difficult time was my birthday and Christmas, but then you get to realise, it’s just different and let go of any expectations.
Is there a location in particular that you would recommend to someone looking to travel? Why would you recommend this place in particular?
This is a totally individual choice. I loved something about every place I visited. There was always something that gave me joy, made me smile or laugh. The only advice I would give would be to stop and really look at where you are; breathe in the smells, look at the colours, taste the food, listen to the sounds, touch textures or walls around you. Take your time. Appreciate. Watch people. Watch the traffic. There's a beautiful world out there.
Will there be a sequel to AYIFF? Is there more travelling in your future?
I am planning a sequel to AYIFF and it will be entitled 'Teacher In Flip Flops'. When I returned home in April 2016, I could not settle. I had been offered to carry on teaching in a school in eastern Thailand, away from the tourist trail and amongst the rural rice growing region, up on northern Isan plain, which borders Laos and Cambodia. There were many things that challenged or amused me during my time in teaching in Thailand, and living in a Thai home. The people are very different from me, both culturally and socially. I have had to work out how to teach the 150 children English, without the aid of an interpreter and scarce resources. It has been bewildering and brilliant. In addition to teaching, I've had to overcome loneliness and isolation. Having said all that, it has been a rewarding experience and one that I would have missed out on, had I worked with other English speakers in a different school. There is great opportunity to describe the day to day running of the school, lesson planning and activities. Also, the way the children interact with me, and events in the school calendar, are both entertaining and interesting. I am planning to travel more in this part of the world; Hong Kong is two hours away from Bangkok, and I would love to travel through Indonesia and Borneo. The Silk Road is another idea that fascinates me.
You have mentioned that you taught English abroad. What was that experience like?
I absolutely loved it…what a privilege, to share my language. The kids are easy to teach and want to learn…that's the difference, and the pleasure.
I have worked with adults in my career, and have much experience as a trainer and manager within the retail environment. I have worked with underprivileged kids in a Cardiff school in small groups, working on reading skills in a voluntary capacity. I volunteered to teach English at a project in Cambodia and found that, not only did I love it, it was something that I could do really well. I returned to the project twice to teach. During my time in Thailand, I was approached and offered the position of English teacher in Korbua school.
Other than this book, do you think you will write others? Perhaps in a different genre?
I am an adoptive parent, and would like to write about this experience; the trials and the tribulations. It was a difficult road to take and, although I would not do it again, I would not be without my twins. They are 20 now. I feel very strongly that adopters are not provided with adequate or appropriate support.
What advice would you give to any young writers who wish to be published?
Go for it! Write, even if it's only for yourself……
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