The big trip to the USA has been and gone. I was constantly awed by the places we visited, and that was increased ten-fold for the writing related stops. To walk the streets my characters had, to engage my senses the way they would, was an experience I can’t find words to describe. It was almost sad, as if they had been there and I had missed seeing them by a matter of days. Strange, especially when you consider they are works of fiction!
The bridge dominated the area, the magnificent structure spanning the Thames River between New London and Groton. Like all large pieces of engineering, I found it fascinating and beautiful. The river itself opened out in a similar way to the Derwent River here in Hobart and I found a lovely familiarity in that, as though the two places were somehow related. Seeing places that were so familiar to me was satisfying – I didn’t need to be told what certain structures or places were, or where they lay in relation to each other. The streets of New London were a little different to what I expected, but the feeling was right.
The submarine museum – wow! The website states that it takes one to one and a half hours to see it, but we were there for almost three hours! The displays, both hands on and other, were fascinating. I particularly loved the periscopes that went out through the roof of the museum. You could look into them like a real submariner and scan the surrounding area! The tour of the submarine, the USS Nautilus (the first nuclear powered sub) was excellent. They had the areas set up with mannequins so you could get a true idea as to how cramped the spaces were. All in all, a place worth visiting.
New London will also live in our memories as having the best taxi drivers – friendly, chatty, informative, and all round nice guys.
I feel no compulsion to revisit New London. Knowing I have written the first draft of the third book is probably behind that feeling. I wanted to visit the place, to see where my story is set, but having done so I was ready to move on and not return. I guess it was as though I was content to let my characters live their lives without any more scrutiny on my part. A weird feeling, but it’s a kind of closure for me.
It was strange to visit somewhere I’ve never been before, but be instantly comfortable because I knew it so well. Arriving was emotional. We flew in over the city and I saw the memorials from the airplane window. Leaving was just as hard, but I was ready to go on to the next stop of the holiday. I will return there one day, and knowing that made the leaving a little easier. We barely scraped the surface of all there is to see in that wonderful city.
The hardest thing about visiting DC was allowing time to sit and absorb it. There is so much to do and we had so many things we wanted to see that sometimes I had to force myself to slow down and take a long look around. The White Rose series still has books to be written, so it was as much a research trip as an affirmation (like New London). The experience of seeing the FBI headquarters building (which window would have been Warren’s?) was one of the most incredible moments of my life. I’d dreamed about it for so long, and I have fulfilled that dream. Our hotel in Crystal City, where my main characters live, was another satisfying experience. We spent some time walking around the streets and it was so perfectly right for the character’s home.
It was everything I could have hoped for, and more.
DC gave me so much more than just that. We were fortunate enough to be allowed to tour the Pentagon and we drew double luck with our guide. Jesse is a sergeant in the US Army and I can’t speak highly enough of his knowledge and his willingness to share elements of his overseas military experience. We followed the tour with a visit to Arlington Cemetery, a profoundly moving place. Jesse belonged to the same Regiment as the Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and he gave us a lot of background on their training, expectations, and dedication. There were twenty-nine funerals at the cemetery the day we visited. Twenty-nine. We heard the sound of the gun salutes several times while we were there – a sobering experience. I felt a deep sense of connectedness with both of the places we visited that day. It’s been a long time since I left the RAAF, but I felt the strength of purpose, the commitment to country, the preparedness to make sacrifices, of those around me. A reminder of my own choice to serve and the reason why my writing revolves around law enforcement and military. A kindred spirit. It was an honour to be there, and I will never forget it.
Where to from here?
There are more stories to be written, memories to be sifted, ideas to write down (before they escape!), and the real world to be embraced again.
I made a dream come true. Not a bad feeling.
And my character’s world is now real to me and lives in my memory, not just my imagination.
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