Mila Gray on ditching the day job and following her dreams (all the way to Bali!)
16 March 2015
By Pan Macmillan
My husband and I quit our jobs in London in 2009 and took off on a round the world adventure with our then 3 year old daughter (our journey is documented here). We were looking for a new place to live. Somewhere where we could follow our passions and live a more sustainable life. We ended up in Bali where we’ve lived for almost 5 years.
I wrote my first novel Hunting Lila while I was still working full time in London (for a charity). I wrote in the evenings after my daughter was asleep and edited the manuscript on the train on the way in to work. It took me a little over four months. I sent it to agents the day I left the UK and while I was waiting to hear back I started work on the sequel, Losing Lila. I wrote that on the beach in India.
On the beach in Goa - where I wrote Losing Lila
Nine months later I had a three-book deal with a major publisher. Since we’ve been in Bali I’ve written about thirteen books, (though some still languish in a bottom drawer!) Everyone always remarks that it must be very inspiring to live here but for me it’s not really about the place. Though it is beautiful here, I can write anywhere. I usually write sitting on my bed but I’ve been known to write in airport lounges, on buses, in cafes, in cars. I just need my headphones and music.
What Bali does offer is an ease of living, which means I have a lot more time to spend on writing. There are few distractions.
The garden in Bali
Having said that we’re moving back to London at Christmas for six months before heading off on another adventure, probably to North America. While Bali is great for writing I feel like I’m missing out on the face-to-face aspect of publishing and screenwriting. I don’t get to meet fans or sign books or connect with people in person. So I’m looking forward to the vibrancy of city living again, though I have to admit I’m not too excited about the weather.
For me life is about the adventure. Although, stepping off the ledge with no safety net in place does require nerves of steel (or maybe just plain naivete). But the thought of staying in one place for too long makes me claustrophobic and restless.
I draw inspiration from travelling and experiencing other people and other places. I tell all the students I occasionally teach that in my opinion the best thing they can do if they want to become writers is to go out into the world and have adventures. In the words of Henry David Thoreau: ‘How vain it is to sit down to write, when you have not stood up to live.’