This article was first published in Hearts Talk, Romance Writers of Australia magazine
When other eleven-year-old girls had their sights set on becoming a ballerina, nurse or vet, I dreamt of journeying to far off lands, uncovering ancient secrets and immersing myself in new cultures and languages. Unfortunately maths and science weren’t my strongpoint so I never realised my dream of being an archaeologist but I didn’t let that stop me—instead I became a tour leader, specializing in Latin American history, and spent years introducing people to the wonders of South America and beyond. At the time I had no idea these experiences would lead me to writing fiction.
There are some times in life when the significance of a moment isn’t fully realised until much later when our trusty friend—hindsight—whispers in our ear and points out what we didn’t see at the time but later becomes oh-so obvious. That happened to me the first time I set foot in Argentina. At that period in my life I was obsessed with mountain climbing. Not the trek up a big hill kind of climbing, but the ice axe, crampons, beware of avalanches Sir Edmund Hillary style of climbing. I’d spent a significant amount of time in the Himalayas honing my skills so the next progression was to travel to Argentina and climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas. I’d been so busy focusing on climbing Aconcagua that I hadn’t given Argentina as a cultural destination much thought—until I arrived at Buenos Aires airport. Clearing immigration and customs, I stood in the arrivals hall, Spanish conversations flying around me and I had an overwhelming sense of returning home, a feeling I’d not experienced anywhere else.
I had a few free days to explore the city known as the Paris of the Americas before flying north and undertaking a gruelling climbing expedition, so I whiled away hours in museums, historical sites, and people watching while I sat in a café sipping coffee and eating incredibly delicious pastries. As I wandered down the tree-lined streets the same feeling I’d experienced in the airport washed over me—a sense of returning home.
On my last day in Buenos Aires I visited San Telmo, an historical district with cobblestoned streets, baroque architecture and a world-renowned antique market held every Sunday. As I rounded a corner, tango music floated through the air as locals and tourists crowded around a young couple dancing tango in the plaza. I knew of the famous Argentine dance but had never experienced it live, so it was a pleasant surprise to witness it for the first time in the home of tango.
A young woman with hair pulled back in a chic bun, long limbs and a stunning red dress, danced with a handsome man in a stylish suit. They looked into each others eyes and he held her in an embrace like she was the most precious being on earth. As they twirled around the small plaza, they danced as if the bystanders had disappeared into the ether and the world belonged only to them.
For the following months I was on the mountain my thoughts kept returning to the tango couple dancing amongst ancient buildings that held secrets from the past. What if one of them was from a tango family that had a turbulent relationship with the dance? What if the relationship between tango and real life was so entwined that neither could survive without the other? What if a dark secret from another generation had a major impact on this young dancer’s life and, perhaps, rewrote the history of Argentine tango forever?
The questions tumbled in my mind but I shoved them aside, thinking my overactive imagination had once again gone off on a tangent. But as I flew back to Australia, heart broken because I was leaving the country I’d fallen in love with, the questions nagged me. Eventually I forgot them and carried on with my life working as a travel consultant in Australia, travelling to far-flung corners of the globe and dreaming about one day returning to my beloved Argentina.
It didn’t take long before that dream was realised and over the course of a couple of years I flew to and from South America, crying every time I had to leave. Tired of the tears and sadness, I eventually said adios to Australia and moved to Argentina, immersing myself in the land where I felt most at home. Learning Spanish, working as a tour guide, and trying to master tango and other Latin dances became my life and after a while those niggling questions about the tango couple I’d seen on my first visit resurfaced. But I continued to ignore them, happily enjoying my life as a twenty-now-thirty-something living on a continent with an abundance of cultures, landscapes and history to explore. And let’s not forget the Latin men … but that’s a whole other story!
Unfortunately the time came for me to leave Argentina and I journeyed to Peru and set myself up in a gorgeous apartment in Cuzco, the capital of the Incas. Working as a tour guide and in an Irish Pub (because why wouldn’t there be an Irish pub in Peru?), I lived in the Land of the Incas and my inner Indiana Jones in Heels unleashed herself with great force. Spending my days trekking through the Andes, meeting archaeologists, helping out on digs, taking travellers to unique and little-known historical sites, fed the adventurer in me and I dined on that for as long as possible. Eventually, though, it was time to return to Australia to try and fit back into my old life—a feat nigh impossible.
A radio journalist interviewed me about my travels he asked why I hadn’t written about my journeys. And once again, a significant moment in my life unfolded yet I didn’t know it at the time. His question stayed with me and not long after I entered a travel writing competition and won. The story was published in a national travel magazine and after seeing my words in print, the writing bug resurfaced.
Like many writers, I spent my early years writing stories and walking around with my head in a book but the years I travelled and lived overseas meant I didn’t make time to write stories. I did, however, keep travel journals, although they will never see the light of day in the public arena! Figuring my writing might not be all that bad if it won a competition, thoughts of fiction bounced around my head until I finally opened up a word document, blank page staring back at me. Taking a deep breath I started a ten-year journey that would see me write four manuscripts, receive hundreds of rejections, find a literary agent I adore and sign a three-book deal with a publisher I love. And with hindsight whispering sweet nothings in my ear again, I can see the significant moments throughout that journey that have led me to where I am today.
I liken my first three manuscripts to my apprenticeship pieces. They were all set in exotic destinations, had history woven into the dual timelines, a mystery and a family saga—that I now know are my author trademark—but I kept missing the mark even though I got close to publication a few times. It wasn’t until those tango dancers I’d seen so many years ago in Buenos Aires floated back into my conscience did the idea for Luna Tango take shape. Those initial questions that had bugged me on the highest mountain in the Americas formed the basis of the story and as I’d been honing my writing skills through courses, other manuscripts and critique partners I’d met through RWA, I felt ready to undertake what is now my love letter to Argentina, Luna Tango.
I’m not done with travelling and I doubt I ever will as the Indiana Jones in Heels is still alive and she’s raring to surface at any opportunity. Now a mum with two young kids I do my best to foster a desire in them to learn other languages and discover new cultures, experience travel in mysterious lands, and to follow their dreams no matter what. Even at their young age they are avid storytellers so there might be a joint project in our future. Perhaps years from now my old friend hindsight will revisit and whisper in my ear but for the time being I’ll embrace the moments, significant or otherwise, and enjoy being on this wondrous journey called life.