The magic of discovery…

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I spent a good deal of last night writing a blog entry about magic, it’s intangible and inexplicable air of possibility, and how I have spent the past three and a half years trying to understand the particular brand I find of it here in the Balkans. Looking over my words I have yet again not been able to capture it, yet I continue to jump across magical moments here as though they were stepping stones. I’ve built bridges between places and people but also enjoyed settling for long periods of time in this town of Kotor that I have singled out so particularly. I move around within its stone walls as if it were my home and I wasn’t some strange Australian girl who had weasled her way in and disrupted their lives repeatedly.

I keep collecting intangible moments here, wondering if it’s possible to continue sampling this place indefinitely or if my luck will eventually run out, but as I look around at these smiling faces, hearing their hearty laughter, I know the memories of their magic will last within me. I know this because I have been back here only a few nights and it feels like a fortunate lifetime.

If there is one paragraph I can rescue from my scrapped blog post from last night it is this one: Can I take these people with me? As I watch them all I love them even more and no photo or video could capture them as they are in this moment, in this place, at this very point in time. Their magic is in the faces they pull at each other in jest, their booming voices, and the way they somehow let me be part of all this in a way that seems like an exception to the rule. I am a foreigner but somehow I also belong to their family. They call me an honorary Montenegrin, although I will never know how I earned this title.

The music is always better when Vlado plays it. The company is always better with my Montenegrin girl gang around. The night is always better when a song, a person, or a passing hug in an empty street reminds you of why it is you keep coming back. Travellers all ponder whether to extend their stay here without being able to put their finger on why, but I know why. This place is something to be felt, not abstractly described. These people are to be enjoyed, not analysed.

That point applies to every aspect of this entire country though. I spent an entire day on 360 Monte Travel Agency’s Great Montenegro Tour just two days ago and I have been trying and failing to capture its essence in words. Though I have wonderful photos (as you can see), the truth is they don’t demonstrate the feeling that this didn’t really feel like a tour to me rather than a day out with friends. Slavko was a wonderful host, leading us around this beautiful country and making us laugh. It was a social day as much as it was informative and interesting, and while we were all tired by the end noone seemed to be in a rush to get back to town either as we enjoyed one final stop for coffee and cake.

I know I have to start planning my exit strategy, but I am glad I can take my time doing it at a snail’s pace, and as I do so I will soak it all in. This town. These people. While I know I will be once again overwhelmed when it is time to leave I will never take the unique magic of this place for granted. It may be a long time until I feel its embrace again, because I don’t know what the universe has in store for me from here, but as always I hope this is just one more incredible window in time and not the last.

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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.

Japan here I come…

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Photography by Erika Kochanski.

This little piece of metal and plastic. I bought it over a decade-and-a-half ago, around the time I used to steal travelogues on Japan. You know, before they handed them out freely and used to keep them hidden behind counters at travel agencies for serious clients who had serious potential for purchasing tickets, not young teens with sticky fingers.
 
This little piece of plastic and metal sat in a drawer for years before it got its first use: flying to the U.S. to spend time with my then boyfriend and meet his family. I was thankful that it was finally useful, even though in my heart I still pined for it to be used in Japan. When I told him this, we started planning to go. I bought [more] books and excitedly wrote [more] lists of things we could see, but this dream slipped away yet again when I realised it was never going to happen, that we weren’t meant to be, and so I stuck this little gadget back inside a box in a drawer and there it has stayed ever since.
 
It has travelled in that box to every place I have ever rented and lived, and now it sits back in the same drawer it was first put in all those years ago (although that drawer has been stylishly painted and refurbished since then). I had travelled to 23 countries outside of my own in that time, seen the world in so many different forms, and yet I still continued to deny myself the one place I desired to see the most. A denial for good reason perhaps – a certain stigma had been created around it through various events – and so I didn’t find myself worthy of ever bringing this dream to fruition. Until now.
 
On Monday I was tired of dreaming. I threw aside all my other plans and research, the half-a-dozen other countries I was mistakenly putting ahead of it on my list as if purposely keeping true dreams on the back-burner, and started reconnecting with old ideas again. Over time they had become less tainted by the past, and so a new excitement grew inside stemming from the old.
 
On Tuesday I bought a ticket to Japan.
 
On Wednesday I took this little piece of plastic and metal out of its box and smiled while looking at it for the first time in a long time. Out of all the things I have donated to charity to downsize my belongings while travelling abroad, this I was never able to let go of and now after all this time it will finally be able to realise its potential (as do I).

What a way to see out 2016 – an emotional roller-coaster of a year already – and get me ready for my 2017 life teaching English abroad. It is crazy wonderful how time moves our desires around in circles until we reach the places and maturity levels needed to go after them properly. I don’t think I would ever have been able to fully appreciate the opportunities presented me these next 12 months at the level I currently am if it wasn’t for the pain, hardship and sacrifice of my past. It has made all of this that much sweeter.

Spring in all its glory.

Spring

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

I am sitting here in this beautiful old town we call Buxtehude (featured in my book for those who have read it or intend to). Known from the Brother’s Grimm fairy tales, this city will be my home for the next couple of months before I go off backpacking. This year I’ve elected to hit less countries over a longer period (stretching out my visits so my exploring is a more relaxed as I do so much on foot). Apart from Germany, planned travel includes Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Turkey and Malaysia. Thank goodness I’m good at saving.

Back in 2011 when I arrived in Germany for a year long stay, I got my first taste of what it was like to see Spring emerge as a spectacle. I was also fortunate enough to see the entire year of seasons pass in full, something I had never experienced before having grown up in tropical Queensland. Although through travel I had seen all the seasons in various stages, the experience of seeing each season as a whole with all the traditions and transition was magical. It is one of the things I am looking forward to seeing again.

Right now Spring is emerging. It is budding everywhere. When I arrived the cherry trees had their blossoms already and many of the trees were still bare. Now I’m seeing the tulips and daffodils spring up everywhere from the side of the road to people’s gardens. It’s not just the flowers though, there’s also the wildlife. On my evening jogs back home in Australia I’d cross paths with all sorts of parrots, kookaburras and kangaroos. Here I’m running into black birds, wild hares and deer as I run along dirt roads that run between fields.

There’s more to this place than the flora and fauna, although because I am particularly fond of nature I do tend to notice these things first. All matter of things I’m rediscovering and realising that I did miss them. Less obvious things, like the way bakeries smell here or the way the buildings and streets look. It’s the taste of things that haven’t been eaten since the last visit and words forgotten until seen on a menu or inside a recipe book. It all comes rushing back, and while things do also change there is comfort also in the things that don’t.

So now that I’m finally getting over about seven weeks of various illnesses (four back in Australia plus another three here), I’m looking forward to what’s ahead for the rest of 2015. My head has been so foggy lately that it was difficult to decide what to write about. I have gotten some lovely responses with regards to my book (plus one not so nice which kind of threw me backwards a bit, but that’s the world of writing I suppose and I have gotten past those negative words and focused on the many more positive ones that outnumber them).

 

Travel beginnings and ends.

Past Travels

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

 

“Nothing perishes in the whole universe; it does but vary and renew its form.” — Joseph Campbell.

I sure hope that’s true, that all things reform and carry on searching. That’s what we’re all doing, aren’t we? Searching and moving forward, and as we do so together we find new truth in ourselves and each other. Collectively we are always changing and affecting; we are but one energy split into countless pieces, moving together and apart. I wonder what pieces I will encounter this year on my newest journeys in writing and travel.

“‘Why not’ is a slogan for an interesting life.” — Mason Cooley.

I have walked, climbed, swam, hiked and trudged sometimes ridiculous distances just to seek something new. Whether it has been through bustling modern cities, old towns, crumbling ruins, lesser known beaches or even rocky mountainsides, in any case my battered and bruised feet have found it worthwhile. Every blister has been forgiven in the face of awe and inspiration. Every weary yawn in turn revived in the celebration of new sensations. Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had have been as a solo female traveller. If this is my past, then I can only expect great things from the future.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell.

Tomorrow is my last day in Queensland, Australia. I have a rough plan for the next 9 months ahead of me, but beyond that there is much unknown. I have ideas ‘beyond that’, but I have learned that sometimes ideas are best kept secret until their fulfillment. Why? Because ideas can be fragile, so you have to protect them until they’re big enough or strong enough to stand on their own and become tangible plans and truths.

“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.” — Vista M. Kelly.

I’m ready to go searching…

 

Published: Polarity and Indecision.

Books

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.”

Createspace Amazon
Kindle Smashwords


Proof of an author.

Proof

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.

Happy Birthday
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?