Singles Holidays are a surreal experience, and I ought to know; I’ve been on one or two – actually around a dozen. Most of the vacations I took between the ages of 35 and 45 were singles holidays, either alone or with a female friend – a fellow singleton. If you’re… um… single, singles holidays are a good way to get away for a bit of sun and relaxation, when co-ordinating diaries and budgets with friends has become too complicated. My favourite destination was Turkey, where small coastal towns and villages and wooden twin-masted gulets can’t be beaten for warm hospitality, dependable sunshine and great food.
Whilst the atmosphere can be stilted at times, singles holidays are generally sociable and good-natured affairs where you can join in and make friends or slip away by yourself if you please, accountable to nobody but yourself. Most such holidays are hosted or otherwise corralled, to encourage some mingling, usually around food and drink – which isn’t unreasonable when you consider that most people have come away on a singles holiday to be with other people. Otherwise you’d go away on your own, wouldn’t you?
But here’s how it can turn out: You’ll spend one or two weeks with between twenty and thirty strangers. Some will be easy-going and friendly, some tiresome and irritating; still more will be decent but dull; and there will always be an oddball or two, unique personalities, not necessarily in a good way. Invariably women will outnumber men by around 2:1, which isn’t great – if you’re a woman. The faces of this motley crew will fill your photographs but dissolve from your memory. Months later, you’ll struggle to recall the names of more than one or two.
It’s not all bad though. I would never have travelled to Turkey on my own, yet over several singles holidays I developed a deep affection for its exotic, laid-back charms. I met one of my now closest friends on a singles jaunt too. And I’ve even entertained one or two holiday flings – which burned hot under the summer sun and fizzled to nothing once the chill of the English autumn got into their bones. That’s the nature of holiday flings though, isn’t it?
When I first contemplated writing a novel, I took myself away on an Arvon Foundation writing course. Write what you know, the tutors said, and it seemed like practical advice. But most of what I could claim any familiarity with seemed dull and uninteresting. With my imagination stirred by four years of creative writing, I would not say this today, but that’s how it appeared to me at the time.
One thing stood out – those singles holidays. Most people I asked were fascinated by the singles holiday concept, the environment, the behaviours, the… potential. Some saw it as adventurous or exotic, others as sad and desperate. Many felt those people willing to embrace such an experience were either brave… or bonkers. I’m not quite sure where they thought I fitted into that summation and I didn’t want to ask.
For a writer, a singles holiday is a self-contained scenario, like a locked room in some ways; one location, more or less – a sumptuous one at that; and an uncomplicated timescale. For a novice like me, that’s encouragingly manageable. Plus I understood the scenario, the mentalities and motivations. Then you need characters, and that’s where it gets properly interesting; because you can dispatch a potent cocktail of personalities away on a fictional singles holiday.
Once I got to recalling my memories and formulating my characters and story, I found the singles holiday setting was fertile ground for fictional misadventure. Now Singled Out is ready to be sent off on its own adventure – to agents, publishers and who knows where – I’m excited by the story that has evolved from that first germ of an idea. I only hope others will be too.