In my early twenties, I spent two years travelling and working my way around the world. It was an exciting, engaging and enthralling adventure that I will never forget. Travelling on a shoe string budget, I began in Europe, travelled across Russia and China, moved down through South East Asia and into India before going across to Australia and New Zealand and, finally, into South America. After I came back from my travels, I felt inspired, invigorated by my experience. I had kept journals whilst I was away and wanted to try to use them to create something, but at the time I wasn’t sure what.

R.D Stevens

R.D Stevens

A couple of years later, whilst doing some creative writing classes, I had an idea for a novel. I wanted to create a story that revolved around the search for meaning. I thought that it would be an interesting concept to try to explore this in the context of someone going on a literal search. I decided upon the idea of a young man searching for his sister after she had disappeared whilst travelling abroad. When I considered the setting for the story, I wanted to be able to authentically represent a part of the world in which the protagonist would instantly feel out of place and yet, at the same time, experience the wonder and amazement that the world can offer.

I had been waiting for the chance to use the journals I had kept whilst away and turned to them for inspiration. Reviewing my travel notes and thinking back to my time there, I felt that South East Asia would be the perfect setting for the story. There is such a rich depth of variety, colours, tastes, sounds and experiences in South East Asia that I felt it would be the ideal place to throw my protagonist in at the deep end. Travelling in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand can offer a visceral experience in which the beauty, awe and corruption of the world are never too far away.

In creating the world in which the protagonist, Ethan, inhabits, I drew from my memories of the back-packing scene in South East Asia: the conversations with strangers on bus journeys; the late night parties and philosophical discussions; the characters and personalities encountered along the way; the nature and intensity of the fleeting yet meaningful relationships formed in such an environment; the stunning beauty of some of the scenery; the pleasure seeking escape of being somewhere you might never be again; the desire to be individual and meaningful; the recreational drug use and the search for answers; the disdain for, and lack of understanding of, ‘real’ life; and the impact that this industry can have on those who have to live through it.

Thinking of the old adage ‘write what you know’, in setting Ethan’s search for his sister in South East Asia, I was able to draw from my experiences in order to faithfully represent the world into which he nervously enters. In ‘The Journal’, the setting acts as a character in its own right, always present throughout Ethan’s journey and always pressing him to do more and challenge himself to address the questions that he faces. As any experience of a different culture and lifestyle should, my travels challenged me to consider many aspects of the world around me. For me, this became a challenge to turn my travels into a story, and I recommend others to take up that challenge too.