Writing while travelling (with kids!) – Catherine Bennetto

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By Catherine Bennetto

For the past four years my husband, two young boys and I have travelled constantly. During this time I worked occasionally, home-schooled our children and wrote my first novel. As I look back I wonder how the flamingo I did it. And what I’ve realised is, even in countries where you don’t speak the language and your only support network is your mother on Whatsapp (slightly groggy from either time difference or whisky consumption), if you truly want it to happen you can get it done.

On a Caribbean island I hired a highly recommended local nanny while I wrote in a house with venomous centipedes, no air-con and a fan blowing directly into my face so I didn’t drop sweat on the keyboard. The nanny ended up being a criminal mastermind who, it was later discovered, had organized a three-gunman hold-up and made off with 30,000 Euros.

In Budapest I hired an Australian physiotherapist (this time recommended by family), who took the kids to communist exhibitions while I wrote in an apartment where the power went out 10 times a day, and we all caught giardia from cracked pipes leaking sewage into our taps. In Malaysia we had Emma, a primary school teacher living with her footballer boyfriend, who was so pretty my son didn’t learn a thing. Then lovely, gentle Raj, the Indian professor who taught my boys animation from his garage. In Cape Town I found someone, who knew someone, who knew someone who could pull a few strings and got my boys into a local school. Thank flamingo!

4c1747_6bd42858a3b3414ba06d596b22676cd3~mv2I’ve written in wall-less hotel lobbies in the Caribbean with chickens running past and poolside in Thailand, Mauritius and Greece. ‘Oh poor you. How did you cope?’ you say? Yeah, I get that. But months alone with language barriers, two kids and no friends can be very lonely and much less fun than it sounds – despite the mostly stunning locales. The enormously strong, exceedingly cheap and exceptionally good pina coladas made up for it though. And the four-year tan.

Desperate for more writing time, if I saw children who spoke English, I would bribe my boys with ‘If you introduce yourself I’ll get you that Spiderman figurine.’ My boys would glance across at the targets; assess their interest then either mooch over or up the bargaining fee. They always won. But in the end, with play-dates at new friend’s houses and another hour to dedicate to the book, so did I.

More often than not I’ve been given deadlines when we were embarking on another big move. Not once did I say ‘I can’t do it – I’m travelling’. I was always travelling! I said ‘sure’, took a moment to freak the flamingo out then got on with it.

I’ve had all four of us down with some strange bug we picked up in some strange country that had my five-year-old fainting on a tram track in 40-degree heat. Every single one of us needed constant access to a toilet for a period of six weeks while moving from Hungary to London to Singapore to Malaysia. I thought we’d never be well. And the emails I sent to my agent said ‘All going great – yes I can make that deadline.’ I was going to make that deadline even if I didn’t make it to the bathroom.

Catherine Bennetto has worked as an assistant director in the film and television industry, working on shows such as The Bill, Coronation Street and Death in Paradise. She can generally be found travelling the world and spends her time reading healthy cookbooks (not necessarily cooking from them) or at the beach. How Not to Fall in Love, Actually is her first novel.


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