Inventing buses – moving from non-fiction to fiction

Although this might sound completely crazy, one of the things I’m getting really excited about now that I’m writing fiction, is that I can invent a completely fictitious bus; a bus that can take any imaginary route, depart at any imaginary time, and needn’t bear any resemblance to real life. I think I will take an inordinate amount of pleasure inventing just such a bus…

Why on earth would that seem exciting to anyone? you might be asking yourselves.

I’ve worked on well over a dozen guidebooks in my time and in their case, the opposite is obviously true – guidebooks need to be full of facts. Had I invented “imaginary buses” back then, the publisher would most probably have been sued.

My first guidebook job was working on a guide to Mexico and anyone who knows Mexico will know that there is no “National Express”. Instead Mexico has a large number of private bus companies, covering different routes and when I started, part of my job was to check all of them throughout southern Mexico. Most of the schedules, routes and ticket prices weren’t available online back then. I literally had to trundle off to the bus station in each town I was including in the book and double-check all the information with each bus company in turn – the most time-consuming, least fun part, of the guidebook writer’s tasks.

I’ve probably been wanting to invent imaginary bus routes and times ever since…

The sheer relief of not having to stick to the facts would be enormous!

Travel writers have been known to take some liberties and bend the rules at times – I, myself, have on occasion woven two journeys to the same place into one, in my features, or changed the setting of an interview, or the décor of a bar, perhaps. Still, that’s a far cry from creating fiction. As a travel writer, to all intents and purposes, you are documenting the world as you see it, not inventing it as you go along. After many years of travel writing, fiction feels incredibly liberating. Finally no one cares what time the bus from Mexico City to Puebla leaves, the restaurant opening times are irrelevant and if I want to write that my character’s favourite bar in Coyoacán is open at 4am on a Sunday morning, I can. And maybe it is? Stranger things have happened in Coyoacán, the part of Mexico City where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera made their home in La Casa Azul.

Because here’s the thing – although I do far less travel writing than I used to, travel will always be a part of me, and it merrily spills over into my fiction. Places I’ve been, people (and cats) I’ve met, conversations I’ve had, things I’ve seen and experienced, food and drink that I’ve sampled – these things all form part of who I am as a writer and a person, and they regularly crop up in my fiction too. Hopefully these elements may even make my fiction more interesting and, perhaps also more accessible to people from different parts of the world.

That said, my first work of fiction, out later this spring, is not about exciting locations, culinary delights or international characters. Instead, it’s all about another favourite topic of mine – cats. Watch this space for further announcements. And when I finally get around to inventing that imaginary bus, I think a double-decker book launch is definitely in order.