What am I working on?
I am working on a non-fiction account of life in the Welsh Borders. I conceive of the project as a travel book without travel. Well, with the merest modicum of travel. Around five-mile diameter is my remit. Having written two travel books on continent-sized regions (South America and India), I was anxious to switch geographic expanse for subject depth. You’d be surprised – indeed, I am surprised – just how many fascinating stories can be contained in a five-mile radius.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘genre’. Only because it seems to have so little sense when it comes to ‘travel’. The term covers so many sins … as well as hiding one or two real gems too. But within ‘travel’ writing, or whatever we must call it, I’m conscious that we all write in a Wikipedia age. So I actively try to steer clear of facts and figures, of historical anecdote or literary reference. Anything that can be looked up online, essentially. I’m not the only ‘travel’ writer to have come to this conclusion – of that I’m sure – but I believe passionate that the need for real-life, muddy-boots, in the pub, on the street reportage and research has never been more important. If people can find what you’re writing via Google, then find it they will – and find you, they very well might not. Plus it’s a whole lot more fun to take the world outside as your library and inspiration, not Herr Google.
Why do I write what I do?
I’m passionate about recording the lives and life experiences of every day people – people like you and me. Politicians don’t especially interest me. Celebrities and football stars even less so. Anyway, the world is running after them. Give me the rest; I’m more than happy with that. A quick qualification though: it’s the ‘everyday’ but that I identify with. But these everyday people are not ‘like’ me as such. Even their everyday-ness is different. As it must be for every individual. It’s understanding just how different everyday people are that I find so stimulating. Why do they do what they do? Think what they think? Dress like they dress? Ask that of all those around you and not only do you turn up some incredible, hidden stories, but it forces you to reflect on your own way of seeing the world – which is surely what life and learning are all about?
How does my writing process work?
I throw myself into the research process at first. I speak to everyone and anyone who I think might speak to me and might have something, anything, to say. If you have no agenda other than a listening ear and a healthy curiosity (and a friendly disposition, I guess), then few doors are closed. In fact, the challenge I’ve found is to know when to stop talking and actually sit down and get writing. Once I can second-guess what people are going to say, then that’s a good indicator that it’s time to sit down and write. But I love the research phase, which makes it difficult to resist asking question of just one more person, pursuing that other lead, chasing that elusive inquiry … but stop you must: a) because people tire of your questions after a while, and b) because eventually you have to get it all down on paper.
Here are two writers whose work I very much enjoy and admire. Presuming they agree, they will post their blogs on 17th May.
Hugh Thomson: winner of the first Wainwright Prize for Nature and Travel Writing and one of the finest writers on South America (and other things), here’s his Amazon blurb: “Hugh Thomson believes strongly that the world is not as explored as we like to suppose. He writes about the wilder corners of the planet, from the edges of Peru to the Himalayas, looking for Inca ruins and lost cultures … In 2012 Random House published ‘The Green Road into the Trees: An Exploration of England’. His previous books include: ‘The White Rock’, ‘Nanda Devi’ and ‘Cochineal Red: Travels through Ancient Peru’ (all Weidenfeld & Nicolson), and he has collected some of his favourite places in the lavishly illustrated ’50 Wonders of the World’.
John Gimlette: John is an award-winning travel writer, having won the prestigious Shiva Naipaul Prize for travel writing in 1997. He is the author of four books: ‘At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels in Paraguay’, ‘Theatre of Fish; Travels in Newfoundland and Labrador’, ‘Panther Soup: A European Journey in War and Peace’. ‘Wild Coast; Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge’, launched in February 2011.