In June of 2015, I packed my biggest suitcase, struggling to resist my over-packing urges and make it under 50 pounds. I hadn’t planned to go on this trip at all, but one of the professors leading it visited a class of mine and told us all about the two-week study abroad opportunity in London. I was convinced. My mom made me a packing list to check off at least three times, and I all but taped my passport to my person. Off to London. I could likely fill a book with all of the knowledge that I gathered on the trip, but perhaps one of the most valuable literary lessons learned was how much physical surroundings and travel can help foster one’s writing.
While in London, we visited many churches and integral settings to our assigned books. We saw Highgate Cemetery, and its iconic angel statues, for its primary role in Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels, The Museum of London for its part in Jennifer Bradbury’s Wrapped and Canterbury Cathedral for its influence on the modern spin of the Canterbury Tales: Telling Tales by Patience Agbabi. That’s just to name a few. I enjoyed seeing how each setting had inspired and impacted these pieces, honing the writing talents of each author. The peaceful and bright Highgate Cemetery evoked images of the two young main characters playing among tombstones, and the intricate Museum of London felt a natural template for a mystery and adventure story. Nearly everything in England is steeped in an amount of history that a newer country like the United States cannot even fathom. Often, writing will tie back into some of that history.
Besides observing how one’s environment led to unique plots, I was to keep a journal and write a few entries of my own, including poems. In my work, I detailed some of the poignant images I encountered, from the way the ivy caresses the headstones in Highgate to the reflection of the clouds off The Shard to a persistent dog stalking a squirrel. I especially marveled at Stonehenge in the midst of the Summer Solstice festival. These images went into a book of poetry, compiled throughout those two weeks. I’ve never been fantastic at writing poetry. But despite that, something about the fresh environment and dignity with which the buildings stood, where they had stood for generations, gave me inspiration. In London, I wrote some of the best poetry of my life.
Leaving London, never having quite gotten over my jet lag and with an ache in my back from snapping pictures of stained glass windows and high arches in the churches, I took with me the confirmation that there is so much more of the world to see than the States. The atmosphere and pulse of London varied greatly from the big cities I knew growing up. Since then, I’ve resolved that the best way to breathe new life and new stories onto the page is a change of environment. This only feeds my love for travel, and I can’t wait to see where I get to go next.