My name is Justine Houyaux and I live in Belgium. I am a PhD researcher in translation studies and my research focuses on the untranslatable in the French translations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (if you’re interested in Alice, Lewis Carroll or translation, take a look at my research blog). But this blog isn’t about my research. This blog is about my other passion, which is travelling — or, more precisely, living out of a suitcase.
I hope to give you itchy feet and to share some of the tips and strategies I have discovered along the years of crossing borders and packing luggage. I mainly travel in Europe, and I am particularly fond of the U.K. where I try to spend as much time as possible, especially in Wales and in the South of England, but I have nothing against a quick trip to Malta, Switzerland, or anywhere else. I focus on travelling smart and on a budget (with the occasional splurge on champagne because life is short). I also enjoy getting lost, which is what travelling is all about at the end of the day.
As a writer, I have been published in magazines in Belgium (Le Vif/L’Express and The Bulletin) both in English and in French, and I sometimes have the luxury of writing with my partner in crime Gareth Rhys Davies (not that Gareth Rhys Davies) about all sorts of conspiracy theories, not to mention the occasional bout of political ranting. I have also written a few scientific papers which no one seems to have read so far and I have participated in writing competitions, but er… it’s a tough world out there, innit?
When it comes to travel writing, my influences are Nellie Bly, Bill Bryson (do read Down Under, Neither Here Nor There and Notes from a Small Island; they’re hilarious) and John Higgs (Watling Street is a masterpiece and if you disagree, I’ll fight you West Side Story-style and it will be terribly embarrassing for everyone involved). I see my own travel writing as feminine and humorous. There are very few famous female travel writers and with all due respect to Bill Bryson, he’s certainly not the author who’ll tell you what to do if you get your period one day early during a mountain hike. It’s a thing.
The title “The Unexpected Ms. Houyaux” is a nod to the first book of the Mrs. Pollifax series, “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax” (1966) by American author Dorothy Gilman, in which a widow accidentally joins the CIA and starts travelling the world. I read those books when I was a child and I remain very fond of the character of Emily Pollifax. Of course, my resemblance with her is entirely limited to our common love of travelling and our tendency to befriend strangers. In other words, I am definitely not a spook under cover. (Note: Yes. Yes, I do realise that it is exactly what a spook would say. What can I do?) The part of Mrs. Pollifax was even played by Angela Lansbury in 1999, so quite frankly, there’s nothing not to like about her.
I used to be a university lecturer, but I am currently on a sabbatical in order to do some soul-searching, finish my PhD dissertation and finally find out whether I am cut out to be a writer. I live in an old house in Mons, Belgium, with Jon, my partner, and Virgule, our obese cat whom we constantly have to try to discourage from eating his own weight in wet food.
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