LOUISE CUSACK

The Cruising Author

I recently went on my first cruise. It’s been a long time coming, but I was scared of the ocean (love to look at it, just don’t want to be on it) so the time had never been right, until I was offered the gig of being a Special Interest Speaker on a cruise, and I thought This is a year of firsts (see Game for a Change), why not!

Why indeed…

I won’t bore you with my two-day-terror as we crossed a known rough patch of ocean (known to everyone but me, thankfully, or I may not have had the wherewithal to go) but would rather share the sparkly parts of the journey. Firstly:

Food

Anyone who has ever been on a cruise will know what I mean. Cruise companies do food very, very well. There are multiple restaurants (bistro, a la carte, poolside, intimate cafe, gelateria, you name it) and most serve multiple styles of food. All whims catered to: Indian curries, wood-fired pizzas, sushi, tropical salads, roasts, the list goes on. Most are open all day, some half the night, and if that wasn’t good enough, there’s 24hr room service. As a vegetarian, I occasionally have to work hard to source a nutritious meal, but not on a cruise. Everyone is catered to. No one misses out, and gluttony is the order of the day. Then there was:

Pampering

Beds turned down every evening with chocolates, afternoon hors d’oeuvres served to the stateroom, waiters everywhere looking to serve you, and on your weary way back on board after an exhausting excursion day, hot chocolate and warm towels to welcome you ‘home’.

Entertainment

Everywhere. Honestly. Everything from classical strings to reggae to soft rock spread out across the ship during the day, and at night, spectacular stage shows with world-class performances – either Broadway style shows, piano or violin recitals, big-name US comedians. You name it, they had it. Plus all the fun stuff people are apparently used to on cruises: bingo, bocce, ballroom dance classes, gambling, shopping.

My talks were part of the entertainment program, so instead of being ‘teaching workshops/talks’ as I’m used to presenting, they were to be infotainment. This meant fun and laughs sprinkled amid the info, which was a delight to plan and prepare, and even more fun to deliver. I presented 5 one-hour sessions over the course of the cruise on various topics related to writing, unlocking creativity, research and development of ideas, the power of story, using your own life to create stories and writing in different genres. My audience built over time and basically fell into two categories: Those who wanted some intellectual stimulation and were curious about how writers work. And those who wanted to write and were keen for tips. Of the latter group, many came up to me afterwards and said things like “Now that I’m retired I’ve finally got time to pursue my dream of writing a book, and thank you for inspiring me to get started!” So it was lovely to have been able to do that. Part of my career mission statement involves helping others achieve their dreams, so I was thrilled to have achieved that.

Larnach Castle – perfect research for a fantasy author

Was it a fabulous experience? Absolutely! I am so glad I went. Was it what I’d expected? No, not at all. It was way more glamorous, exciting and exhausting than I could ever have imagined. I took books with me to read and got none of that done. When I wasn’t on a ‘working’ day either presenting a session or chatting to people and socializing (also part of the job for Special Interest Speakers) I was on a shore excursion. The shore excursions were free time, and I got to do some amazing exploring, but all of that required energy and focus as well, so to be honest, there was very little downtime and by the end of the 12 days I was exhausted! Knowing what I know now, I’d probably pace myself better and have at least one day out of five relaxing on the ship (ignoring the port we’d docked at) and maybe having spa treatments or lying by the pool with a book. Napping. Napping would be good.

The extroverts among us would fare better, I think. I’m great at presenting, but being an introvert at heart, I need to crawl into my shell regularly to recoup, and I think that element of the trip was lacking. Next time I cruise, I’ll be more organized with pacing, and also checking out the route to make sure it’s smooth sailing all the way!

So that’s my story, now I’m curious about you. Have you cruised? What did you love about it? What would you do differently next time? I’d love to hear.