A road trip to Oklahoma inspired a real journey to the heartland
Michelle Walsh Jackson’s travel writing has inspired her latest novel
Michelle Walsh Jackson: Journey to the Heartland is a story of love and all that makes us human and connected, with a big dollop of spirituality thrown in for good measure.
Writing a book is a personal journey that each author takes alone. Fulfilling a book contract can feel similar to running on a hamster wheel, with frenzied attempts to be more inspiring, better, stronger and greater than your last book.
I stepped off the wheel in 2013 after completing six novels and one non-fiction book for good measure, as I was truly spent. It wasn’t intentional to reinvent myself but my wanderlust and a travel-writing opportunity drew me away from the world of books. Instead I wrote features and articles for newspapers and magazines, snapshots of different cultures and events that I took on my travels.
I was transported with each new trip that I took, whether it was a state in America, a country in Asia or the joy of ticking Machu Picchu from my long bucket list. At the back of my mind was the knowledge that this was time well spent. More often than not I brought one or both of my children on my travels, to broaden their minds and teach them about life and culture in a way that cannot be compared to any learning in a classroom. We’ve struck funny poses on The Great Wall of China, we’ve kayaked through hongs in Thailand and got a fit of the giggles in the Amber Room in Catherine’s Palace in St Petersburg.
Travel writing took me on safaris, to Mardi Gras, Space Camp and the Kentucky Derby. But it took a pandemic to stop me in my tracks and make me evaluate all that I have seen and all that this great world has to offer. Indeed Mark Twain was correct in asserting that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.
One of my pivotal adventures was in 2014 when I set off on a road trip through Oklahoma with my father. I packed a copy of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath in my suitcase to help inspire and evoke in me the history of the state. I found a place filled with warm country folk, eager to lend a helping hand and live a simple life that has been complicated by a world dominated by big corporations dictating the future.
We stayed on a working ranch and saw the care and passion with which these people tended to their cattle. I observed the similarities between how the great depression came about and the warning signs of where the US was progressing to. I was overwhelmed by the stories of the Native Americans and the decimation of their land and cultures, yet they still have such wisdom to share. With all these thoughts in my head, the seeds of a novel were germinating.
In 2016 I started my novel Journey to the Heartland and tried to find inside myself what I was writing about. 2020 was a year in which the world changed forever and during the pandemic was the perfect time to reassess and finish my book. America’s Heartland, and the states in the mid-west stretching across the continent, conjure up a way of life that is fast disappearing. As we have had to look within ourselves during this period of introspection and isolation with the global crisis that is Covid-19, I assessed how much of the past needs to remain and the importance of learning from our elders.
Journey to the Heartland is a story of love and all that makes us human and connected, with a big dollop of spirituality thrown in for good measure. In a post-Covid sanitised world it has never been more important to reach into our hearts and connect with our spirits. This is part of the message conveyed by my character Patrick Cullen, who is a fountain of wisdom and common sense despite his failing eyesight and advancing years.
As an author I’ve always been amazed at the cycles in history and, in the words of the German philosopher Hegel, the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. We are living in a time where it is more important than ever to learn from our history.
From this melting pot of ideas I’ve crafted a book that gives readers much to discuss. It is a book with scope for much discussion and it is the Hope Foundation Book Club’s read for a special fundraising event on March 18th. You can sign up online with a participation fee of €10 for the event.
Journey to the Heartland is published by Thenovelpress.com and can be bought online from Kennys.ie bookshop in Galway with free postage anywhere in Ireland. Having written for several years for The Irish Times business section, I realise that it is more important than ever to support Irish businesses. Although the book can be downloaded on Amazon, we do need to look after our home-grown industries and I’m actively promoting buying Irish and local now more than ever.
Although we can’t travel at the moment we can still talk about it and following on from my travel broadcasts with Ivan Yates on Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder, I’ve started The Novel Traveller Podcast. It is available on all usual channels and goloudnow.com. I’ll be speaking to a different guest every Friday about their travel experiences, kicking off with an interview with Ivan himself. Keith Barry, John Sheahan, Madeleine Keane and Sallyanne Clarke are lined up to contribute with some advice and news from those in the travel industry too.