Author: Kari gave up teaching in order to focus upon her writing

19 May 2022

Visit Carolyn (Kari) Gillespie on Instagram, Twitter and her Website

About you

Born and raised in Scotland, four years ago I moved South and now live in the Surrey Hills. After reading English at Oxford, a short career in publishing was followed by a longer career as an English teacher. On the wall above the smartboard in my classroom, the words ‘language is power’ made no secret of my agenda. Foremost in my teaching came a message that our experience of the world is formed and shaped by the words we choose; a close second came the creation of an environment that was comfortable enough for children to pause, to think, and to take the risk, to stretch a bit further and to reach, and reach. Underneath the board a second mantra was pinned: ‘Noli Timere’ it read, in 750pt Ariel Black. Finally taking my own advice, when I moved south, I gave up teaching in order to focus upon my writing. I recently completed and MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Surrey, for which I was awarded a Distinction.

My first book, Pilgrim, is a memoir of my journey to Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage of some 900kms. Long-distance walking is recalibrating for me: I find renewal and inspiration in the landscape and the people I encounter along the way. Two years ago, I walked the Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester to Canterbury and although plans to walk the Via Francigena are currently on hold, I hope to begin the walk as soon as I am able. I have written a collection of poems for children called Wonder Child – about a child’s encounters with awe -and recently finished my first novel, Visitation.

My work has appeared in Oddity magazine, Coin Operated Press’s Poetry zine and Scotland Outdoors. My poem, The Shadow Butterfly, was Highly Commended in the Wells Festival of Literature, 2021 and I have been shortlisted in both the Soutar and Fish poetry competitions. I was a panellist at the Guildford new Writers Festival 2020 where I read an extract from Pilgrim. I spoke on BBC Radio Surrey about the benefits of reading during lockdown and, I run creative writing workshops in schools.

Why do you travel?

I travel to shrug off the habitual. I am someone who enjoys a quiet life, and I’m very happy at home with the dog, making, writing and pottering in the garden. It would be all too easy to stay put. But when I’m most comfortable, that’s when I start to atrophy. And it’s only when I push myself out the door that I start to regenerate. Life, for me, is a sequence of births and deaths. Travel can be the trigger of something new. It helps me to see things afresh, to see myself afresh.

What’s your go-to travel hack?

Pack light, but pack things that have a sensory impact. For me, my puffa jacket felt like a hug; the smell of Aesop fabulous face oil recharged and a bag of Liquorice toffees tasted like home!

Got any gear you can’t travel without?

I love my Berghaus base layers. They feel great, wash easily and dry fast!

What destination are you eager to go back to?

I’m heading back on the Camino in September. This time I’m following the costal route from Porto to Santiago de Compostela, and am carrying on to Finisterre.

How do you stay safe when you’re travelling?

I tend to team up with other walkers in sections of the Camino which are too isolated. Although I often walk alone, I usually have a buddy within my sights. I check in with family at the end of the day so that they know my location and my destination for the following day.

What’s the best way to experience a destination like a local?

The best advice I had was ‘Don’t eat in a square or anywhere with pictures on the menu!’ If you see a queue for a bakery, stand in it! You won’t be disappointed.

What’s your favourite word in another language?


How has travel changed in your lifetime and how will it change over the next 25 years?

When I am on pilgrimage I am often struck by how little this tradition has changed in the last 1000 years. You walk, you eat, you sleep. If you’ve got those three things sorted, nothing else matters much. I hope the spirit of the Camino remains unaltered in the next 25 years.

When and where are you next travelling?

I am heading off on the Portuguese Way in September. I can’t wait!

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