For a while now I’ve been toying with a story. It’s a quick thought that stretched into an idea which might, maybe, perhaps, possibly turn into a BIG thing. This idea isn’t so much an elaborate story with an intricate, winding plot – nor is it a sequential tale with a standard beginning, middle and end. Instead this idea is simply a person I made up.
Yet at the moment I can’t see this person clearly. I mean, I see her in the distance, I see her as if through a prism or a hazy fog of dreams – that’s to say she’s not even really a character. I don’t know whether she’s a big fan of Grimes, Jose Gonzalez or N.W.A. I haven’t asked whether she has a favourite film or a proclivity towards Expressionism or Modernism, I don’t know where she’s from or what sort of books she likes to read. I don’t even know her name yet.
My favourite characters in films, games or books, are characters with these sorts of questions fulfilled – when I think about these sorts of personal tidbits about a character is when they’ll begin to leap off the page and become something more to me than a dumb string of loosely connected words.
Right now there is one stable image that I’m working with, an image which might flesh out all the characters for me: it’s an environment, a country; vast and subtropical, it criss-crosses Africa between thousands of miles of fields, plains and desert. It’s a winding strip of land that influences millions of lives, both the people in those stranded communities and the natural wildlife that surrounds them.
Of course my response to these feelings was to simply shrug them off. I’m not a scientist; I’ve never studied biology, astrophysics, satellite imagery or the field of genetic mutation. I can’t name more than half a dozen African countries (or first names) without fumbling for my phone and I certainly can’t bear the thought that I’ll likely misrepresent the problems and the people if I continue to write about them.
As I pushed these ideas further away from me, I slowly recanted the myth that writer’s should only write what they know. But the more I thought about this place, the more I enjoyed experimenting with these ideas, and then I wanted to be in southern Mali, consequently I wanted to learn about Arabic and the environmental devastation which at this very moment is combing its way through the Sahel.
So I realised that the only way for me to visit this place was to write about it. And then it struck me: writing is tourism.