Home is a lighthouse.

I am writing this on an overnight bus from Kosovo to Montenegro, where I will be reunited with Kotor, but this post is not about how wonderful Kosovo was (and it really was) or about the home I am going back to, it is about the home I just came from.

Skopje. Let’s not forget where this Balkan love affair began all those years ago. I know it’s hard for the travellers I meet to wrap their heads around why I have been back to this eccentric city 4 times (5 by the end of this trip). While drinking rakia and talking to travellers in the garden of my friends’ new hostel (Lighthouse Hostel Skopje, you have to stay here, seriously) I realised, I had been away for nearly 3 years but these people were still as exceptional as I had remembered.

I have been back in the Balkans for a week, and it has taken me this long to piece together my feelings and settle back into my happiness. The jetlag has been put behind me, but even in those tired weary days I was filled with the usual warmth that being in this part of the world brings, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

I didn’t realise how much I had missed Skopje. I did not take anything for granted, not even watching the sparrows fly around the rose bushes while drinking a strong cup of Turkish coffee, and certainly not the people whose company I have always enjoyed and who always make me feel as if I have always been there even when years have passed us by and so much has changed.

And so my bus pulls into Kotor after a long and arduous journey from beautiful Kosovo, and I am glad to be here but I am also glad that when those tear stained final days appear I will be going back to Skopje where it all began as if that’s the way it always was supposed to be since the beginning.

Be not afraid of where you are going, of who you are, or what might take you by surprise. The best moments are not to be anticipated, only lived.

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Go forth and absorb…

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Photography  by Erika Kochanski.

Heaven on earth does exist. For me there are a several places that have conjured up that feeling and one of them is being alone in a library full of old books. Their musty smell, the dark creaking wood under your feet and the cold feeling at your fingertips as you run your hands along the black metal gates that protect their fragile priceless pages. Hundreds of years of history and I’m lucky enough to be standing in the middle of it and I am filled with respect of dead authors and their living words.
As a writer these places mean more to me than expensive museums and art galleries. They are great too, but my funds do not stretch so far and so these are the places I turn to. I seek them out and they humble me, and travel should be humbling.
Who says seeing great sites has to be expensive? Not all the great sites in this world have been made into tourist traps. Some are free and uncommonly known. The Chetham and John Rylands libraries are two examples of my favourite sites in Manchester, and they need not cost you a penny to see (although I did leave a voluntary donation in honour of preserving these precious books).
The best part is that if you look hard enough you will find gems like these hidden in every part of the world. Not just old libraries, but unique places that will touch you just by standing in their presence. Mountain peaks, old ruins, the important places made of legends you hold dear, or unique architecture that sends chills up and down your spine. Art is everywhere. We take it into our minds like we breath air into our lungs and we take just as little time to appreciate it. Travel is that opportunity, so go forth and absorb.

Consumed.

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Consumed. My new friend Kaitlin has used this word on multiple occasions about her stay here in Kotor, and the longer I am here the more I understand what she means. Kotor is consuming me, us, and when the time comes for us to leave I am sure to feel further consumed by the overwhelming sadness that will follow.

Tonight marks 3 weeks for me here at Old Town Hostel, and double that for Kaitlin. When you stay so long in one place you develop this strange cycle of attachment, and my addictive personality is warring hard against my usual Vulcan logic at the moment. I know I must leave and I know where I am going is wonderful, but my heart is so torn about moving on.

This is where I became a person. This is where I finally stripped my heart raw and let my head run wild.

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The art of travel.

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Photo by Erika Kochanski.

And then here I am, drinking what I’m told is a “real Macedonian coffee” at 9pm with Maki, and he’s telling me all about how much Skopje has changed in the past 10 years, people’s common misconceptions, what it’s like running the hostel, and how rare it is to have guests like me who come here to relax and enjoy the surrogate home they’ve made for us travellers. If you are open to it, it is very easy to feel at home and welcome here. I am aware that I am a different kind of traveller, still foreign, but I think he can see my appreciation for this quirky city. I hope he can. Then he tells me about his family, what it’s like to live here, and shows me a new perspective. Why? Because I chose to stay in tonight and read a book, sitting with wet hair and pyjamas on their comfortable common room sofa.

I spend so much time calling myself antisocial, yet I am now starting to realise that is not actually true. I have drunk rakija with Peace Corps, wine with the English, eaten dinner with Bulgarian, French, American and Dutch. I have met a Macedonian painter, architect, and a German documentary film crew while discovering the beauty of Matka with a girl from Finland. There are so many different aspects of being “social”, and for so long I have prescribed myself the label of lacking. I was wrong, or listening to the wrong people maybe? Regardless, I listen to Maki talking passionately about things, occasionally on the verge of frustration, but his face is always kind and words true. I can respect that.

The phone rings and Maki flies up and down the sharp spiral staircase with such expertise. I see travellers navigate it everyday, their eyes opening up wide in terror when they first lay eyes on it with their luggage hanging around them. New travellers come and go everyday and the staff work hard but their warmth makes this place what it is: a home away from home. If you take the time to watch it all happen around you, you develop a serious respect for who they are and what they do. They take you in, under their wing. It’s not just Maki, it’s the whole extended family of the hostel. It’s how they take care of everyone and how patient they are. It’s the homemade wine Maki’s father gave me. It’s how they all know your name because you’re the girl who is hanging around for more than two days.

The world is a teacher. Travelling is a lesson. Don’t be precious. Feel the adventure. Pace it. Interesting things unfold when you do things differently. There will be moments you may want to withdraw and there will be moments you want to reach out, but it’s all part of it and there’s really no wrong way to travel so long as you exercise a little mindfulness. Forget the shoulds and listen to your heart (as hokey as that may sound).

Fly the coop.

wpid-dsc_03852.jpg.jpegThe overwhelming (yet extremely rewarding) challenge that is travelling. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, among other things. I’ve got just over three months of backpacking ahead of me and, while I trust my ability to organise and prepare, I do feel very much like this time I’m winging it. I have no doubts that I’ll find my feet, and be able to jump any hurdle along the way, but after three decades of being the extreme planner, I’ve become one of those girls who simply just wants to know I at least will have a roof over my head and let the rest figure itself out. Years of making future plans that fall apart, all the travelling that I have done (to renew myself after potentially crippling moments), and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can live in the now more than the what was and what could be.

After all, now is all we’ve got, nothing else is as assured.

So, I’m sitting here sorting through my things, deciding what is worth taking and what isn’t, and realising that it doesn’t really matter what I pack. It doesn’t matter how much I prepare. I’ve never been to any of these countries that I’ll be visiting, and I don’t know another soul who has been to any of them either, so really, as long as I have a hostel bed waiting somewhere for me at my destinations and something to write on, I’ve got everything I need and the rest is just icing on the cake. I mean, every place has coffee right? That’s the real essence of life right there, and I have enough solo-travel behind me to make it through some potentially pretty amazing experiences.

Let’s fly the coop. In this context, the coop is not a physical place, it’s a mental state.

Published: Polarity and Indecision.

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Photo by Erika Kochanski.

As of yesterday I am officially a published author. I can freely say to people as I casually hand them my business card, “I wrote this book. I am an author.” All those female authors out there, those Australian women writers, the thousands upon thousands of good fiction books filled with romance and dreams that are floating around this amazing planet of ours, and now I can finally consider myself among them! I’m part of the writing dream. I have an indie drama novel covered in my own art — what more could a girl want?

The answer to that question is pretty simple: READERS! I want people out there to be consumed by my words. For better of for worse I want reviews and even for people to share pictures of my book in different places as they experience it. On shelves, in hands, in cafes and on coffee tables or in different countries. I want people to read it and love it – or hate it if that may be – and as I travel the world this year I want to hear about it and see that it was worth sharing. That all the money and countless hours put into it made even just one person feel how the world is filled with both hope and sadness at the same time and it is strangely beautiful.

It’s an odd feeling being published, and I am a little apprehensive because for all this time it has been under my protection. I have kept the story under my wing and it has been safe. However, I don’t want to simply live a safe life. If that were me I wouldn’t be jumping on planes to foreign lands and leaving everything I know behind to live out of a suitcase. I wouldn’t have this strange asymmetrical bob hairstyle. It is a risk to share such an intimate piece of you, even if it is complete fiction, because the world is full of judgment, but it is also full of potential.

So if you are looking for a good fiction book to read by a new young Australian author or if you know of someone who loves to read (it would make a great gift), head over to Amazon or Createspace and purchase yourself a copy of Polarity and Indecision. Currently it is selling in print format, but I assure you that within a week or so I will be able to update you with more links to an eBook version and listings on other online book distributors (Barnes and Noble USA, Book Depository UK, Fishpond, Booktopia and Angus and Robertson Australia) as they become available. If you do buy it and read it, please share your experience with me.


“Ana Reinhardt has spent the last few years living alone, working as a medical receptionist at a local clinic, and getting back on her feet after dropping out of university and watching her family move to the other side of the world without her. She thinks she has moved beyond it all, beyond the depression and everything that followed it, but she still doesn’t believe in love. When she begins dating one of the doctors she works with, she realises that maybe she does deserve a chance at a real relationship, and maybe her life doesn’t have to be so lonely. With four close friends who think the world of her, she discovers that family comes in many forms, and while running away across the glove is a good short-term solution to dealing with pain, in the long run you have to find something bigger to hold onto in your heart or else it will all fall apart very quickly.”

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Proof of an author.

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Photo by Erika Kochanski.

 

I am reading my book. The book I wrote. The book I have read more times over than any other book I have read in my life. However, this time it’s different. This time it’s the proof copy sent to me from my publisher. This is meant to be the “flimsy fall-apart in your fingers” version that the printers apparently slap together quickly in order to keep the publishing process moving smoothly along. I have been assured that official copies are going to be of an even higher quality, but considering I’m already incredibly happy with this “proof version”, I can only see smiles in the future for all involved.

My book. It has moved around the house since I received it yesterday. It has sat on every table, every shelf, next to every book I’ve ever loved from authors I have sat up high on pedestals that are very much out of my reach. Regardless of how highly I regard them, I get a little thrill seeing the spine of my book lying against the spines of theirs and fitting in so nicely. I like to believe they’re making friends, if books could do such a thing with other books.

Until today it wasn’t real, this idea of being considered a women’s fiction author. Not just that: I am an Australian writer. My book will be accessible online around the world. The book might be set here in Australia (not to mention visits to several other countries as well), but it’s really set in my heart. To think I created this story from start to finish out of nothing except the grey matter inside my head. The journey the characters make, the way they interact, all of it. If you ask me, I honestly don’t even know where it comes from.

It is hard for me to read it objectively anymore, because I am overly critical of everything I do. I now understand how easy it is for other authors to skim over a typo and have it make it to print, and how the costs of changing it sometimes are not worth what you would be fixing. When you’ve become so familiar with something, each time you read it you spot something or imagine it better. The fact is, at some point you have to stop fixing and let it go. You have to set it free and let things fall where they may. People may love it, or they may hate it, but the sleepless hours put into creating it and the thousands of dollars that you can’t expect to get back unless you’re incredibly lucky, none of it really matters anymore. Not at this stage. Why? Because here it is. For better of for worse, I can hold it in my hands and say, “I made this. These are my characters, this is their story, and I love them dearly.”

So tonight I continue reading through my little dream, remembering where I was at the moment each passage was created. Every time I look at the cover I’m reminded that it too was my handy work. All the tears, money and tantrums have finally come to fruition. Not long now and it will be available for sale online in both print and eBook formats. Only time will tell what the rest of the world thinks. I hope you get wrapped up in it as much as I did writing it.

 

The birth of a blog.

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At some point as an author you have to decide whether to blog or not to blog. But I am a writer, and an avid traveller, and I have interesting things to say and to show you. But where to begin? Well, it makes sense that my first post be about where I’m coming from in order to give you a basic low down on who you are potentially following and why I’m worthy your attention.

Let me begin with my book. Polarity and Indecision is currently in the final processes of publishing. My experience writing this book has been long and hard, and as with many first time authors writing their first novel, I have had moments where I hated it and wanted to remove every piece of its existence from the world (or even sometimes throw my laptop against the wall). Luckily I didn’t, and the years of hard work are starting to pay off (well, not in the monetary sense yet). Why didn’t I throw in the towel? Because I had a pretty good team of professional women behind me.

To begin with, Gail Tagarro of Editors 4 You helped me refine my text into something much more worthy of calling Australian fiction. Not that what I had written to begin with was all that bad, but I’m a perfectionist and although all the people I had tested out the book on during its early raw stages told me to turn it straight out into eBook format and sell it online, I wanted to put the time and money into giving it a decent chance at obtaining a wider reader base. Gail helped me develop my writing, clean it up, and produce a product I was happy to move on to the next stage with.

That next stage was publishing, to which I was introduced to Jenny Mosher at IndieMosh. As anxious and apprehensive as I was, having trudged along as far as I had, the process was much less daunting than I had expected. I knew straight away that I wanted both print and eBook options (there’s something about holding a real book in your hands), and their publishing options as laid out on their website made it easy to find a package tailored to my self-publishing needs. She outlined pretty quickly what she needed from me, and referred me on to her daughter for the cover work.

Working with Ally Mosher proved to be just as enjoyable as working with her mother. They’re a pretty seamless team. Ally made the formatting very simple for me as I had brought my own cover art to the table and prepared a very easy mock-up design for her to replicate. Being an indie artist I get a kick out of seeing my own artwork on the front of my own book. Once I approved the official cover design, Ally referred me back to Jenny for the rest of the work on the internals. Everything was handled very professionally and with obvious care and respect.

l’m still working with Jenny on the internal proofs, but they’re getting very close to ready for print and eBook, and the best part is that the book will be available not just to the Australian market but also internationally accessible. This is reassuring as an new female author in Australia as writing good fiction, drama, romance, or all of the above is not enough to guarantee sales. In has been widely proven that novels by women writers aren’t getting picked up and read or reviewed as much as their male counterparts, and so we need to work harder to reach and audience.

So while I wait for my book to be ready for release, I am preparing myself. I created this website and I am reading a lot of blogs like Savvy Self-Publishing which have proven to be incredibly helpful, and while discovering the uses of SEO, I’m also preparing a list of reading communities like Goodreads and Nothing Binding to start new author profiles on. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am enjoying the hard work of preparing my book for the English book readers of the world. This blog will double as a place for me to share my travel experiences as a solo female traveller. It’s not just all about writing great books, it’s about experiencing life to the fullest because how can a girl expect to write a decent storyline if she hasn’t experienced the world first hand?