Tagged with "travel"
Source of Inspiration
Category: Writing
Tags: writing inspiration travel

Source of Inspiration

Travelling is my thing. You could almost call it an addiction. I started at 20 years old when I emigrated to Australia, but I didn’t stop there and have been travelling ever since, whenever I can. It’s hard to say which is more important to me or makes me happier – travelling or writing. Basically, I can’t do one without the other. So it’s hardly surprising my first published work was non-fiction in the form of travel features for magazines.

It wasn’t until I was a member of Writers Abroad and became more confident (and successful from time to time) that I realised I could use the same material, gathered in my travels, for fiction. And I also found this much more fun. And more fulfilling. Apart from what I write from our members’ Monday Muse prompts which often come totally out of the blue, just about everything I write includes a setting taken from my travels.

A couple of months back I went on a camping trip around Namibia, travelling with like-minded (mostly!) folk in a small group. Sharing my life, from sun-up to sun-down with ten other people I’d never met before was quite an experience and in this situation I got to know them quite well. It would probably surprise them – if not you, as writers – that several of them, especially the stronger characters in the group, will turn up in one form or other in my fiction. Some already have. Along with certain situations experienced there. At times there were scenes that reminded me of William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’. If not as dramatic, a peppering of poetic licence could make them so.

It’s rare for me to base characters on my friends or to use a setting from just outside my back-door. For me, both these are too familiar and don’t inspire me, although I admit it occasionally happens. Rather, it’s extraordinary places and novel circumstances that stimulate my imagination.

I know that many writers write very successfully about ordinary people in ordinary places, who perhaps do extraordinary things, and possibly more people can relate to this, which might bring them more success. It would interesting to know where your inspiration comes from. From real life? Home? Or away? Or purely from the depths of your imagination?


Travel Writing Tags: Writers Abroad writing travel writing journalism ex-pat writers

I was invited to give a talk to some students studying an MA in publishing during a recent visit to London. Their tutor asked me to focus on travel writing, since a number of them were particularly interested in it.

I wouldn’t call myself a travel writer, although I have written a number of travel articles over the past few years. But I have picked up a few tricks of the trade in the process. I also treated the students to some of the mistakes I’ve made, since that’s a salutary lesson in itself.

The travel writing market is very competitive and a lot of experienced journalists are already in it. However, many outlets exist and I am living proof that it is possible to get into it if you can persuade editors that you have something to offer. And, as ex-pats, we have travel destinations on our doorsteps.

Know your market: studying the magazine or other outlet you want to write for is crucial. That means understanding what audience(s) they are aiming at. It’s no good writing a piece about hip night clubs in Las Vegas for a mag focusing on family holidays or budget breaks for one targeted at top executives.

Find a new angle: how many articles have been written about the Eiffel Tower or skiing in Colorado or honeymooning in Bali? Thousands. So offering a fresh angle is important, e.g. abseiling down the Eiffel Tower or getting married underwater in Bali or, less fancifully, finding restaurants in France that cater for vegetarians (they are not thick on the ground). Readers want to know about the quirky sights and hidden gems.

Introduce the personal touch: write about experiences you have had, which brings it alive. Try not to write about places you haven’t visited, since you risk getting found out and your piece will be less authoritative.

Talk to the locals: this supplies local colour and authenticity. Even if you don’t speak much of the language, you can find ways to communicate. Dialogue is good and breaks up chunks of text.

Treat your piece like a story: have a beginning, middle and end. Introduce colourful characters and a bit of drama. I once started a piece about a mountain walk with an anecdote about the hang-glider who came down in the middle of our picnic.

Photos: no travel piece is complete without them and you should treat your piece as a package. Editors often source tourist office images but your own will illustrate your story more precisely. These days, you don’t need a sophisticated camera. In some cultures, people don’t like to be photographed, so always ask first.

Check your facts: things change fast, so verify everything before pressing send. Hotels close down, flight times alter, etc. I almost got caught out when writing a feature about restaurants in a French city. I wanted to include a café that had magnificent décor but which I hadn’t visited for a while. At the last minute, something told me to check it out. It was closed for renovation for three years. Fortunately, I was able to substitute another one.

These are some of the things I’ve learned by trial and error. What other tips do you have? 

A Picture Sells a Story Tags: travel articles photography


A Picture Sells a Story

I wrote an article instead of a blog, creature of habit that I am. Still, it may be worth editing for a writing magazine. So now I’ve made it vaguely blog-like. Apologies if it’s too long. I’ve deleted loads. There’s just too much to say.

Having written features for travel magazines, I know it’s good quality photos that sell a story. Dare I say, as a writer? Perhaps the pictures sell it more than the actual words. The text must still be interesting and informative, but if my pictures don’t please the editor, I know there’s a chance of rejection.

So, what do editors want? Almost invariably, high resolution images. I’ve had editors ask for ‘a minimum of 1Mb, preferably much more’ or ‘a minimum of 2500 pixels on the longest side’. I’ve been asked for a selection of ‘thumbnails’ before an editor even considered my pitch. Most supply guidelines.

It’s easy to be deceived by the quality of pictures on a computer screen. Don’t they look great? But they need a high enough resolution to work as well on the printed page. It’s all about how many of those little dots – pixels – you can squeeze in. For publication on line, this is probably less important, as the images used are often smaller, unlike the full A4 page of a glossy magazine. My camera has 10 million pixels, and just adequate.

I hear you say, ‘But I just point and shoot. The pictures are fine.’ It’s almost true with today’s technology. But if you think ahead, you won’t need to trim later to get rid of  dull foregrounds, overhead cables or patches of shade. Trimming loses you precious pixels. It’s all about framing.

Everyone knows the best pictures are taken early or late in the day. Nothing beats an early morning shot across the water, with reflections so clear you could use the picture upside down. But what if you’ve only one day – usually the case for me – to rush around getting material for an article? I plan ahead.

Inevitably, I’ll take some shots at midday, but I try to arrange museum visits or eating for the ‘bad light’ times and save the ‘good light’ times for my most important shots. For example, I work out when the sun will light up a particular place of interest, when that ‘bustling street’ will fill with people, and when the sun will be behind me for the shot I hope will grace the opening page.

I only include people in my pictures if they’re there for a reason. For an article about hiking in the Pyrenees, a figure with a backpack would add to the scene. In a picture of a salmon river, I’d search for a fisherman to fit in the frame. People are also useful to give a sense of scale. Think Ayers Rock. Or the biggest snake you ever saw. Without something to compare their size to, who’d believe you? 

Most cameras these days have fully automated settings which work as well as most photographers. Personally, I like to take lots of shots, both manual and automatic. Listed below are what I try to remember and often forget. Please add your own. So I can steal them for my article!

              Fill the frame, not forgetting to take a selection of upright and           horizontal shots

              Take your pictures early or late in the day whenever possible

              Take lots of shots. Most, but not all, should relate to the text

               Learn how to adjust the shutter speed and exposure settings for difficult light – night shots, snow

              Use people and objects to make a point in the scene, or to give a sense of scale

              Plan your day/visits with the angle of the sun. Time is money!

              Experiment with different angles, side-lighting, quirky       subjects. Editors want original shots and don’t want to resort to local tourist office pictures which have appeared elsewhere


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