In this holiday season, some thoughts on Travel Writin, taken from my 2014 novel “Ashes for Salmon” – still up there for sale on Amazon.
1 -Thoughts On Travel Writing
In a suburban bookshop, perusing the numerous travel books, I notice there are plenty of books about people who have been many different, distant, far-flung exquisite and exotic places. There are also a few books by writers who haven’t been anywhere far off, exotic, decent or even interesting. I suppose the point being that they have written about places no one would ever dream of going because they are so dreary, and this fact alone makes them of interest.
1) – Travel writing does not appear to be about one person going many different places. There are many different books by many different authors, but each person only ever seems to have been one place. Many books also concern the same place. You wonder if the various authors didn’t get a reduced group travel rate and all go together. The only difference between the books seems to be how the various authors got to where they were going and what they did when they got there.
2) – There are those travel books telling the reader about the author’s travels and there are those travel books telling the reader what to do when he or she gets to the destination (guide books for want of a better name). In either case, how can you be sure that the author has actually been to the place they have written about?
3) – A lot of travel happens in books. There is perhaps more travelling done by book than by any other medium.
4) – If you don’t like where you have travelled to by book, it is easy to close the book, put it back on the shelf, and choose another journey. Far simpler than actually having all the trouble and expense of going somewhere you don’t like. Why on earth did you go somewhere you didn’t like in the first place? You should have read about it before you went.
2 – Considerations for travel writing
- A suitable departure point
- Choice of destination
- Means of conveyance
I suppose you are going to leave simply from where you come from, however most travel writers like to choose a symbolic departure point. Going from London to Paris, you might well leave from Trafalgar Square and end your journey at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Leaving from a symbolic departure point does of course entail some “pre-travelling” before you begin your journey.
The choice of destination is actually not of paramount importance. If you are going somewhere though, it is always best to have somewhere to go. A final destination (of sorts). Whether you actually make it to your final destination or somewhere else matters little, just as long as you end up somewhere, anywhere or nowhere (even the last two are very valid and real destinations). It is important to have some vague geographical objective even if only to know which way to turn when you get to the end of the street. Would it much matter, though, if you had a last minute change of heart and chose to go in a different direction to that which you had originally intended? If you are going round the world, you are going to come back on yourself anyway.
Means of Conveyance.
My mum used to say that she “didn’t come up the Clyde on a bicycle.” Now there’s an interesting mode of transport for a fluvial journey. The means of conveyance to take you TO and FROM or FROM and TO very much depends on where you are going. Crossing the desert by camel, travelling round France in a 2CV car – but do we really want to read about something so clichéd? Impossible, or incongruous, means of transport for everyday journeys and incredible journeys using everyday means of conveyance. Motorbikes are very popular but what about travelling round France on a camel or even coming up the Clyde on a bicycle?
3 – The Purpose Of Travelling
The purpose of travelling is (obviously) to change air, get a new perspective, do something different, discover new cultures, or have an adventure (you choose).
Travelling, therefore, is going somewhere else to have a new experience and then, at some point, come home.
The place has to be interesting or exciting enough to make it worth your going there in the first place.
Travel writing therefore is essentially writing about it all – telling others about what you did, when you went somewhere – like writing your holiday postcards, but, when you get home, AND making it sound interesting enough to make others want to go there, and also to get it published.
This afternoon, I am in a bookshop in Bromley. I could write about my travels to, in and around this sinister corner of South London BUT Bromley is perhaps not exotic enough.
4 – What have people written about?
Riding round India on an Enfield motorbike and stopping off on the way to talk to some interesting locals and knock up a curry using some “real” ingredients that you will never find in your local supermarket.
Farting around Northern Italy on a Vespa – visiting typical Tuscan and Umbrian villages, popping in Renaissance churches, zooming round vineyards for a wine tasting, then eating in an authentic little restaurant and chatting fluent Cappuccino with the locals.
(You could do the same in France in a 2CV – come to think of it, as I peruse these books, I can’t find any about rolling round France in a 2CV.)
5 – Other Writings
Plenty of works about walking the Pilgrim ways of Europe (always accompanied by a donkey) – Compostela, Canterbury, Fatima and Lourdes. Voyages of self-discovery by agnostic types who don’t really find God, but certainly drink plenty of wine on the way.
Round China On a Train.
My Trip On the Trans Siberian.
Floating Down the Canals of France.
Round the USA On a Harley Davidson.
Round the World On the Smallest Boat You Can Find.
I might try my hand at travel writing. Just have to think of places I have been and all the interesting or idiosyncratic people I have met. Where can I start?