Passport: Marilyn Bowering - `It was the first time I'd seen trees cased in ice'

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The Independent Travel
After I finished my Masters degree, I went to the island of Paros in Greece. I desperately just wanted to be anywhere away from Vancouver Island, where I grew up, I was young and I wanted to write. I had a Canada Council grant and wrote some poetry and started a novel. I spent about a year there until I knew it was time to leave. That seems to be my pattern: I am happy to be somewhere for a year or two, and then I always feel the need to go back home.

"Whenever I travel I always expect to be able to produce some work, but rarely has that happened. In 1992, when I was in Seville, I was trying to write the part in my book which is set in the Arctic. I was sitting there in 45C heat and it was impossible - I could not do it, I was blocked, and that lasted for nearly two years."

Back in the colder climes of Canada, Marilyn was able to finish her novel, set in Winnipeg, with dramatic scenes in Korea and the Polar ice- cap.

Although entitled to a British passport because of her Scottish husband and English grandfather, she travels on her Canadian one: "I've travelled with both. It is a shame they don't put many stamps in passports these days, but I have kept my old ones to remind me of my travels".

In the winter of 1986, pregnant with her only child, Marilyn and her husband decided to go to Europe, convinced that parenthood would curtail their adventures. "I decided that, as I was going to have a child, I would never travel again and that would be it. So we took off."

They hired a car and drove to Cologne and through the Ardennes. "Oddly enough, it was the first time I'd seen trees cased in ice." Vancouver Island, in the south west, has a temperate climate and doesn't get hard winters like the rest of Canada.

"We stopped in a village near Malmedy, in Belgium, to look at a memorial to 26 American soldiers who had been shot by the Germans during the Second World War. A lady came out of her cottage to ask what we were doing - she had seen our German licence plates and wanted to check up on us. We talked and she invited us into her house for coffee and told us her story. As a young girl, she had been taken to see the bodies of those young boys. When we met her, it was Christmas time and close to the anniversary of their deaths.

Because of Christmas, a lot of the shops were closed. "In Clervaux, in Luxembourg, I was wandering around window-shopping when I spotted this ceramic pear-shaped bottle. It was beautiful: rosy and gold with a little green leaf on it. I fell in love with it - it really was exactly the same sensation as falling in love - but I couldn't do anything about it because the shop was closed.

Two days later, I told my husband I had to go back for it - I just had to have it. It was very emotional and totally irrational, but I bought it. Years later, I sprayed oven- cleaner on it and ruined it, but that is another story!"

Novelist Marilyn Bowering's latest book, `Visible Worlds', is published by Flamingo, pounds 10.99.