As I write my book of explorations through southeast Asia earlier this year – in search of paper and surprises – I am bombarded with sensory flashbacks. These days I’m writing of Thailand. Again my skin burns as it did when I was there at the hottest time of year; I taste the searing savory dishes available at street markets and tourist restaurants; and smell jasmine garlands and underwashed foreigners at guesthouses.
Every morning I keep up with online work and paint every afternoon. Then write a thousand unpolished words every night. My notes are fleshed into raw narrative that links encounters and a trail of clues from cultures two thousand years old or more. Only after the first draft’s complete will I refine my writing further. Every day I experience the same terror as I sit down to the keyboard: “I’m not a writer,” I think. “I’m an artist. What the hell am I doing?” Then I scan the scattered phrases I’d jotted in notebooks, often while riding pillion behind a motorbike driver. They bring me back to roads through mountains and isolated villages, to conversations with hilltribes and noodles spattered all over my guides. I forget I’m not a writer, and just write – as long as it takes that day.