My Life In Travel: Martina Cole, novelist

'The first time I visited Sydney, it blew me away'

First holiday memory?

Going in the caravan with Uncle Jimmy and my mum to Herne Bay in Kent when I was about six. We'd been to Ireland before, because my family are Irish, but we'd never really been on holiday. I remember playing for hours with the other children at Reculver Towers, this big Roman fort. And every time I hear that song "Wichita Lineman" now, it brings back the memory of my parents dancing on that holiday.

Best holiday?

We always have great big family holidays. Last year I took my grandchildren to Los Angeles, then on to Las Vegas where I took them to see Bette Midler and we met David Copperfield. We ended the trip with a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. It was fantastic to see the children's faces. We flew back across the Hoover Dam as it was getting dark and the whole of Vegas was lit up.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

I'd probably have to say Eastbourne. I've got a beautiful caravan in Pevensey Bay on the outskirts. I write when I'm down there because I can hear the sea. I've got a boat in the harbour, so we sail to Brighton as well.

What have you learnt from your travels?

That as much as I love to see the world, you can't beat Britain. I've got a place in Cyprus, where it's hot all the time. We have a pool and I spend the whole summer there, but I always miss England.

Ideal travelling companion?

David Bowie. He was my first big love. Imagine being on a lovely cruise with him! I'd ask him all the things I've wanted to about his music and find out what he's really like in person. It would be wonderful.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I like the beach, depending on where I am. I took my daughter to the Amalfi Coast last year, and there's so much culture there that we didn't need a beach. But otherwise, if there's a beach and nothing else, I'm happy.

Greatest travel luxury?

Johnson's baby wipes. I use them to clean the grandchildren or to take my make-up off. They go everywhere with me, especially if I'm in the middle of nowhere, they're really practical.

Holiday reading?

I've recently opened a bookshop in Karakum, Cyprus – so I've got everyone and anything in there. I read Emma Donoghue's book Room on the plane, ordered it for the shop, and bought six copies to give to friends. I also love the Tudors. I've just started getting into a historical novelist called Margaret George; she's American, but she's got such a good grasp of British places and history. Books are an essential part of my everyday life, but especially on holiday, it's wonderful to be able to immerse yourself.

Where has seduced you?

The first time I arrived in Sydney, it just blew me away. My father was a merchant seaman and as a child I'd heard so much about the city from his travels. It was amazing to see it for myself. I remember sitting there on the first night, in the harbour with views of the Opera House, witnessing the things I never thought I would get to see as a young girl.

Better to travel or arrive?

I like travelling, it's just such a nice experience, especially in first class. If I'm going long haul, I like it to be nice.

Worst travel experience?

I was going to speak at this tiny library in the middle of nowhere in the North of England. I hadn't been published long and I was travelling on my own. I arrived at this really scary hotel and kept expecting ghosts to jump out of the walls; I didn't sleep all night. It was freezing and I was packed and ready to go two hours early.

Best hotel?

It's a three-way tie between the Cape Grace in South Africa, the Four Seasons in New York and the Kempinski in Du bai. Another one I really loved was the Goodwood Park Hotel in Singapore – a really beautiful place.

Favourite drive?

Through the Deep South from Memphis to Nashville. I went with my friend who's mad for the blues, so we did Beale Street in Memphis and visited Graceland. I went for her, but I ended up having such a good time that I'm looking for a house now on the Mississippi River. I love the food and the Southern hospitality.

Best meal abroad?

One of the best meals I've had was overlooking Sydney Harbour. I had shrimp to start, shrimp for main and shrimp for dessert. Another day I got taken out on a yacht and all we ate was homemade beef and salmon rolls; it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Dream trip?

I've been to most of the places that I've ever wanted to, but there's one thing I'd like to do with my son and grandson: a rail trip in Japan. We love trains. Later on this year we're going from New York right across to San Francisco on Amtrak. It's going to be fantastic.

Favourite City?

Buenos Aires. It's so exciting, for its mix of danger and beauty. I haven't been for years, but it would be brilliant to go back.

Where next?

I'm planning a book tour to Australia and New Zealand, probably with a stop in Dubai and Singapore.

Martina Cole is speaking at Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate (21-24 July; harrogate-festival.org.uk) Her new book, The Family, is published by Headline, £7.99

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