Without a doubt, year nine of Stories My Suitcase Could Tell has been the quietest one yet.
This was the year that borders closed, the world slowed down, and we all retreated indoors in the face of a global pandemic, so it’s safe to say it hasn’t been the ideal environment for a website based on travel writing!
In my ninth year of travel blogging, I’ve published just seven blog posts. As I sat down to write this annual blogging retrospective, my first thought was that I haven’t written much this year – unsurprising, given the circumstances. In reality, though, I have been writing, maybe even more than ever.
In these strange times (I almost wrote “unprecedented” there, a word I’m sure none of us ever want to hear again after all this is over!), I’ve returned to ways of writing I haven’t practised in a long time, and tried new things, too.
When lockdown first hit, I returned to journaling, as it’s called these days. (When I began keeping a record of my days in the pages of a teddy-bear emblazoned notebook with a lock and key at the age of eight, it was just called “keeping a diary!”)
In the late spring, I attempted the 1000 Words of Summer challenge, run by author Jami Attenberg, where you write 1000 words a day for 14 days straight. Although I didn’t quite make it to the full 14,000 word count, I learned an important fact about myself as a writer: if I don’t write first thing in the morning, when my mind is fresh and before the responsibilities of a nine-to-five and life get in the way, it simply will not get done.
In the autumn, I’ve been logging on in the early hours of the morning to the London Writers’ Salon Writer’s Hour, writing in silence with hundreds of other writers around the world, linked together by our laptop cameras and Zoom accounts.
And throughout the year I’ve taken part in writing workshops, something I’ve never really done before. I signed up for an online Plan Your Plot class with novelist Laura Jane Williams; joined a thought-provoking online creative writing session with the Scottish Book Trust and author Malachy Tallack; and was selected to attend an online book proposal workshop by the literary agency Gleam Titles.
So I’ve been writing, still, even if the stories haven’t made it to the pages of the blog quite yet.
And just when I thought 2020 and year nine of blogging had no more surprises up its sleeve, in October I found out I’d been named as one of Scotland’s Top 100 Women in Tourism!
The list recognises the achievements of women in all sectors of the tourist industry in Scotland, so I was honoured to be included alongside fellow Scottish travel bloggers, not to mention marketers at Visit Scotland, hospitality stars at luxury hotels, and all kinds of brilliant tourism businesses across the country.
It was a shock, I can tell you – I didn’t even know these awards were happening! – but the lovely messages that came in from friends, family, and readers when I shared the news made me feel so grateful to have such a lovely community around me. (And community is something we all need in 2020, virtual or otherwise.)
The news of the award also gave me a boost to get back into the habit of blogging again.
In the first few months of the pandemic, it didn’t felt right to me to share travel tales when we were all stuck at home keeping ourselves and others safe.
But now that the pandemic has lasted longer than we could have imagined back in March, I’ve realised I do want to keep sharing my “suitcase stories,” even if all they can provide are a couple of minutes of armchair travel or some inspiration for future adventures. That’s what I’ve always hoped they can do, really, regardless of global circumstances.
I’m sure the 23-year-old version of me who sat at the kitchen table in the Outer Hebrides and published her first blog post would be incredulous at everything that has happened because of Stories My Suitcase Could Tell.
The fact that I’ve been writing here for nine years – through multiple jobs, a move to the other side of the world, and even a global pandemic – feels a little bit surreal. And the fact that you all still come here to read my stories, even when the blog posts are few and far between (like this year!), means more to me than I can say, so thank you.
On that note, here’s to nine years of Stories My Suitcase Could Tell. I’ll be raising a wee glass of Harris Gin tonight in celebration – and wondering what on earth year ten has in store!