“For the story.”
In the midst of the party, I glanced at the fellow travel writer’s wrist, at the looping, cursive handwriting inked on the inside of her arm. I’ve always said I would never get a tattoo – I’m terrified of needles – but maybe in an alternate world, that inky phrase etched on skin would have been mine.
The reason? I love reading stories, and I love to write them.
As a child, there were the stories based on Enid Blyton adventures, printed neatly in old school jotters. Then there were the epic romances written for teenage school friends; the funny columns in the student newspaper; the interviews in my local paper. For me, it’s always been ‘for the story.’
This might be a travel blog, but one thing that ties all my passions together – travel, books, current affairs – is writing.
I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t write. When I was clearing out my childhood cupboard in the Outer Hebrides this summer, I discovered a ring-binder, a relic of childhood and teenage memories stuffed full of loose sheets of paper, crammed with short stories and unfinished chapters of novels, and pretend articles for the tween magazines I used to love. (RIP, Bounty, Bliss, Shout, and Mizz).
The discovery reminded me of something I sometimes forget amidst the deadlines and tweets and Instagram controversies: I love telling stories. And for the past six years, since I pressed “publish” on that first post on 24th November 2011, I’ve been telling them here, on Stories My Suitcase Could Tell.
In what feels like the blink of an eye, I’ve gone from writing short updates at my kitchen table in the Outer Hebrides that only family members read, to writing stories for thousands of you each month from my home office (aka desk in the spare room) in New York City.
If I’m honest, it still feels slightly surreal.
There have been all sorts of changes and surprises here over the years. Short, personal diary-like entries became travel stories. A photo of the back of my head became a smiling profile picture where you could see who I am. A pen-name came and went.
The homepage design has had about nine lives (this current version being the longest). I’ve learned how to use SEO to improve Google search results, and insert videos using basic code – heck, I’ve even learned to take videos in the first place!
Thanks to this blog, I’ve gone on safari in Kenya, interviewed the stars of Outlander on the red carpet, and appeared on British news to talk about the US election. The biggest surprise of all was attending the glitzy Cosmopolitan Blog Awards ceremony in 2014, where Stories My Suitcase Could Tell was named “Best Travel Blog.”
And year six of blogging has been just as full of learning curves and adventures as the rest.
My weekly newsletter – a more personal version of the monthly updates I used to share on here – became a monthly one. I took part in three brilliant press trips (to Long Island, Chestnut Hill, and the Finger Lakes) and learned that while they’re a whole lot of fun, they’re also a lot of work (the only time you stop working on a press trip is when you’re asleep!).
This summer, I spoke live on BBC Radio 5 in the UK (thanks to the producer reading this blog post), where I gave my views on the USA’s lack of sausage rolls. My new Armchair Travel Series was launched in June, a pet project that combines two of my life-long loves, books and travel. I even cut myself off from technology for nearly a week in California, and came back online to tell you all about it.
The biggest change in year six, though, was that my blogging and journalism careers came together.
I’ve been blogging on here for six years, and writing for newspapers for ten, but I’d never thought to connect the two strands of my career until Sherry of Ottsworld mentioned it to me at BlogHouse Philadelphia in 2016.
This year I saw first-hand that each path of storytelling complements the other: my journalism background helps my blogging, and my stories here have acted as an additional portfolio for the editors I work with.
Thanks in part to the archive of stories here on the Outer Hebrides (and most importantly, your support in reading them) I’ve been able to write about my favourite place in the world for the likes of BBC Travel and Buzzfeed – definitely big “pinch me” moments for someone who’s been scribbling in notebooks since the age of eight.
But of all the things blogging here for six years has brought me, the one I’m most thankful for is you.
Yes: you. This blog would not be what it is without every single person who reads these stories, comments with their own experiences, likes the Facebook posts, or opens the newsletter at the end of each month.
Whether I know you through the computer screen, or whether blogging has brought us together “in real life,” getting to know the people who read this little corner of the internet has been the highlight not just of my sixth year of blogging, but of them all.
Because a blog is not just for the writer; it’s for the reader, too. It’s “for the story.”
And whether you’ve been on this crazy blogging journey with me for six years or six weeks, it means so much more to me than you know. So thank you, again – and let’s see what year seven of Stories My Suitcase Could Tell brings!