CLARE VALLEY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
I grew up here, leaving aged 17 to work in Adelaide (as wardrobe girl on Here’s Humphrey.) From there, I moved to London, Sydney, Melbourne, Ireland. In 1995, my Irish husband and I returned to live in Clare for a year, renting a cottage on the Riesling Trail, a short walk from my family home where my parents were still living. It was life-changing to come back as an adult. I worked on food and arts festivals, promoted my own musical shows in local wineries, and got to know people from my childhood again through adult eyes. I also started work on my first novel, set in the Clare Valley. Twenty-two years later, my 12th novel, The Trip of a Lifetime, is also set in the Clare Valley. You can take the girl out of the Valley but …
I came here first as a 19-year-old, for a holiday with a friend which turned into a two-year stay. Initially I felt overwhelmed and homesick. Then I got work in a series of late-night music clubs. London became an adventure playground. It was only years later that I saw the sights in daylight.
In 2002, my husband and I spent five days in Hanoi as a bridge between our Australian and Irish lives. We arrived late at night, taking a taxi through quiet and dark streets. Waking early, we threw open our hotel curtains to see crowds below: street markets, motorbikes carrying families, cyclists galore, a riot of noise, colour and smells. My five senses were on constant alert there.
My husband and I visited New York for the first time in 2005, for our 40th and 50th birthdays. From the moment we arrived, I felt like I had extra cells in my body. I’ve been back several times since, for research trips and book tours, and I get that same burst of extra energy every time.
My first visit as a 19-year-old was a disaster. I was pickpocketed. My friend and I tried hitchhiking, spending countless freezing hours on dark roadways. I’d had an Irish penpal for three years, and decided to visit him unannounced at home in County Kerry, expecting mutual love at first sight. Sadly, no. The 24-year-old radio DJ who’d been writing to me from his attic flat in Tralee turned out to be a 16-year-old spotty schoolboy in a handknitted vest, still living at home. His mother answered the door, sighed and shouted up the stairs, “Here’s another one, Anthony”. Despite the rocky start, Ireland’s scenery and people cast a lifelong spell over me, a third-generation Irish-Australian. It was like finding my own cage in the zoo.