I have never fallen in love. Not with a person, at least. Yes, I have loved people, and been smitten, and captivated, and perhaps even mildly obsessed on occasion, but the love that has been explained to me by a friend as euphoric and even dangerous? The love that makes you lose reason, that holds couples together for fifty and sixty years? No. Never. Not even close. Perhaps I am not a romantic by nature. In university my first serious boyfriend wrote All My Love Forever on my bedroom mirror in lipstick. My roommate was charmed by this while I was furious he’d used a brand new tube of Lancôme to scrawl his message. His love lasted another four months, and I used up the rest of the lipstick. Call me practical.
I may not have found my true love in human form, but I have fallen in love with places, and I do this with alarming regularity. It happened the first time when I was very young and went to Florida with my family. From the Howard Johnson’s we stayed at, to the orange sherbet they served in little glass dishes to the ghosts at the Haunted Mansion at Disney World, I was head over heels for all of it. You could put that down to the enthusiasm of a child, but it has happened many times since then. On my first visit to New York City I stood in Washington Square Park and experienced what I call my energetic peace. I wanted to run and dance and sing, and I wanted to sit and savour at the same time. That’s what it feels like to me, to fall in love. When I landed at Bangkok airport and had the same feeling I looked at my travel friend and said, ‘I’m going to love Thailand.’ I was right, I did, and I still do.
My greatest geographical love affair to date has been with France. Northern France, more specifically, although I love all of it. The feelings of emotional connection I had as I walked the streets of Bayeux were the starting off point for my debut novel The Time Between Us. It was 2009 and a friend and I were exploring the battle sites and memorials to those who fought in both world wars, armed with his grandfather’s letters from the Great War, and me, wondering where my grandfather had fought in World War II. When I stepped from the train in Bayeux, something extraordinary happened. I started to walk, like I knew exactly where I was going. I may be a global traveller but my sense of direction is not the best. Give me a map and after a few minutes, I will probably give you tears. This did not happen that day as I crossed through the train station, my travel buddy following me for the first time ever. As we made our way down the street I looked at him and said, ‘This is crazy, but I feel like I’ve been here before.’ I knew, right then and there, I would write about it. I just didn’t know what.
Those few days, visiting Omaha Beach and Juno, and wandering through small, perfect villages that has seen so much destruction, an idea started to form. About a French girl who falls for an American before he becomes a soldier. It felt like the cobblestoned streets, the shutters on the houses, the shops on the main street, were whispering words in my ear, and I knew if I got quiet it would all come to me, what I wanted to say about falling in love with this place. In the end it both was, and wasn’t, that easy. Much like life, and travel. I grew to love my characters, even the ones that annoyed me, but from the moment I stepped into Normandy, my love affair with the land has never faltered, even when a French train strike caused me much grief.
A friend once said he felt sorry for me, that I’d never fallen in love. I don’t see it this way. I think I fall in love over and over again, with cities and towns and streets and sunsets and beaches. The world is made up of all these things, and I like to think I have fallen in love, just on a global scale.
The Time Between Us by Marina McCarron, published by Head of Zeus [Aria], is out now in paperback.