Is travel writing dead?

Is travel writing dead? Granta 137 has asked that question, and, before I read what international travel writers are saying about the topic, as travel writer, I thought I should answer it myself.

First of all, what is travel writing? Is it a guidebook? Yes. Can it be a blog? Yes. Can it be an article in a magazine? Yes. Can it be a setting in a novel? Yes. And, can it be pure fiction, or the embroidered truth? Unfortunately, yes.

So, the question, is travel writing dead, depends on which genre within the genre you are talking about. For me, and my style of travel writing, it’s about telling stories about what I’ve seen and done. It’s not PR work. It’s not interviewing my computer. And, it’s not embellishing my photos – what you see is what I saw.

Travel writing can include a destination overview or round-up, accommodation choices, personal experiences of fear & laughter, advice or ‘how to’ articles, food, a journey or transport, events and festivals, history, health advice, nature, animals and, of course, personality profiles. They can also be a memoir.

In the past, I told students to ‘encourage with description, tempt with flavour, resolve doubts with fact, take an unusual viewpoint, introduce fascinating people, reveal little known information, offer practical advice – of course they don’t all have to be in one story. And what doesn’t work?  Stating the obvious, squeezing everything in, clichéd descriptions, trite phrases or a passive observer view’. It’s not a letter home to your family unless that’s how you are going to structure your book, your column, or travel book.

So, given these parameters, of course travel not writing is not dead: all the time I’m reading works by people writing along these lines in new and old literature, on the web, between the covers of books, and on my e-reader or tablet.

What is dead is the number of outlets available to reproduce such travel writing. Magazines and newspapers – which used to devote many pages to travel writing weekly – have drastically reduced. Along with this reduction is the huge decrease in dollars paid to the writer. My income is a pittance to what I used to be paid only a few years ago, and it’s very difficult to negotiate a payment – it’s mostly, “this is what we pay” and a take-it or leave-it attitude.

Pages in magazines and newspapers of course have reduced as circulation numbers and travel advertisements have also plummeted. Glossy flyers, posters in travel agent’s windows, and the Internet have replaced those adverts. No adverts equals no money equals pages reduced equals travel writers not needed.

The other reason local travel writers are not used are that editors are given free PR material to reproduce and, or, they use stories from the publishing stable of their international colleagues. This means in New Zealand we read stories written by British, or American, journalists and not something in a Kiwi voice and with a kiwi attitude to travel – and they are different.

Hear ends the rant. And, now on a wet Sunday afternoon in Wellington, New Zealand I can now devour my new Granta book and see what some of my admired, or unknown, travel writers have said about the topic.

Do you think travel writing is dead? What’s your favourite type of travel writer?

The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji cruising

Connecting dots – from a book group to a national historic landmark

Life is funny sometimes – it arranges connections between things then ensures you follow the dots. I’ve had such an experience recently.

Mid-2016 my book group had set the topic American politics as our subject for reading around. Given that it was election-year I was actually sick of American politics as even in New Zealand our TVs were full of it.

So, while some chose history, others presidential (or hopefuls) biographies, I went looking for stories about the wives – and of course it was only wives given America has never had a female leader.

I found one about Betty Ford, called Betty a Glad Awakening – I chose this as, it wasn’t current times, I knew an A&D counselor who had attended the opening of the treatment Centre in LA that bears her name, and have known people who have attended a rehab centre – so thought this topic and book could be of interest. It was.

The next connection, or dot, along the way was a couple of months later hearing a presentation in which the speaker talked about an article in a Times Magazine and a list of ‘80 days that changed the world’.

Not having seen it, but interested, I looked it up and found, among these most diverse days of . . .
The First Talking Picture
The Overlooked Miracle
The Mouse That Roared
Wall Street’s Bad, Bad Fall
A Disobedient Saint’s March
Movies’ Moral Crackdown
Birth of the Superhero
Storming into Poland
Churchill Takes Charge
What I Saw at Pearl Harbor
D-Day: Saving a Continent
Flying Faster than Sound
The Dawn of Israel
New China is Born
. . . and at number 13 in the Time’s list, ‘AA Takes Its First Steps’ – a loose connection to the book.

Two days later I’m visiting the historical home (Stepping Stones) of one of AA’s co-founders Bill W and his wife Lois. stepping-stones-webimg_9562

So, that’s why I say life is funny: that a thread ran through my life this year – from a topic in my book group in Wellington New Zealand, to visiting New York, USA, to hearing about a magazine article, and as a result, visited Stepping Stones which has been a national historic landmark since 2012.

All I can suggest is check out the list and see if any connect dots in your life, holiday, or interests.

 

 

 

 

How to be a good social media friend. It’s easy peasy – and helpful!

 hh office 2 20160805_133930Here’s a simple message from yet another writer sitting alone in a room: they’re tips on how to be a good Facebook friend, and blog, or another social media, follower. It’s easy peasy and helpful. Firstly, the basics: bloggers love readers who  . ..

 

  • leave a comment
  • click ‘like’
  • award a star or some such thing
  • assign a rating great, poor, fun, informative
  • sign-up to be sent new blogs by email
  • send our blog link to Facebook or Twitter etc
  • answer a question we may have posed
  • recommend the blog to others

It’s often called ‘netiquette’ BUT really is just being a good social networking friend to both the person blogging, or posting on Facebook, and to your other friends too. It’s rare to just ignore something someone says to us – so, me posting on my blogs is me saying something to you.

So how to be that good friend?

Just like all those funny, or cat video clips we watch and repost, it’s really helpful to your writing friend, or photographer, or artist, to repost their work too. Artists and writers need people to read their work or consider the artwork whether this is by pencil, paint or camera, or keyboard.

Another helpful way is to comment on the piece, ask a question, or tag a friend telling them, “hey Pat you will enjoy this” or “how about we go here on our next weekend break Peter”. Your friends will value the fact you were thinking of them, and are introducing them to artists, writers, or bloggers they too can follow, events they could attend, books they may like to read.

So see, it is really easy to be a good friend to your writing friend, your favourite photographer, or local artist – and that tiny commitment will make a huge difference to them, us, me!

Sitting at home – creating without any feedback is difficult, and for travel writers like me, it’s often the interaction I have with my followers that shows tourist destinations or activities that yes, this is a person we should invite to our city, country, or event. The more they can see that people follow me or enjoy my writing the more likely I am to get invitations or commissions to write more for you to read.J

One word of warning though, if you are anything like me, you need to do this instantly you see the blog or Facebook post or it will be gone forever, lost in all our other daily activity and busy minds! This doesn’t have to be a big chore, once a day would be wonderful, or even weekly! Monthly?

And, if you do repost my blog links (or posts) to my pages on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media like StumbleUpon or Instagram I’d be really grateful: so, ‘thank you’ in advance.

And, just for you, here are my social media links – which are you on and I’ll follow you.  Webpage  Facebook  Twitter  Google+ Tumblr  Pinterest  Instagram

HH office

 

 

 

Breakfree, WORD, and a Piano!

20160130_104623Staying in this ever-changing, emerging city is, for me, best done by having accommodation in the city centre, so thought I’d tell you about the hotel I was hosted in earlier this year. Breakfree on Cashel (Street) impressed me as soon as I arrived as, the electric jug was easily able to be inserted under a tap for filling: why is this simple thing so rare around the world!20160130_100324

See more I wrote about this hotel which I can recommend … and not because they hosted me for two or three days!

More and more is opening in post-quake-five-years-on Christchurch and I’m excited to be going down again in a couple of weeks – this time for the WORD Writers and Readers Festival in the newly opened The Piano Centre for Music and the Arts( official opening in Sept) at the end of New Regent St and directly behind The Isaac Theatre Royal

Isaac Theatre Royal
Isaac Theatre Royal
The Piano as it was in February 2016
The Piano as it was in February 2016

Tips on how to be a good social media friend.

How to be a good Facebook, social media, friend, or blog follower is quite simple. It’s called ‘netiquette’ an online version of etiquette. Basically, it’s just being a good social networking friend to both the person blogging, or posting on Facebook, and to your other friends too.

use IMG_6302

So how to be that good friend?

Just like all those funny, or cat video clips we watch and repost, it’s really helpful to your writing friend, or photographer, or artist, to repost their work too. Artists and writers need people to read their work or consider the artwork whether this is by pencil, paint or camera.

Another way is to comment on the piece, or ask a question, or tag a friend telling them, “hey Pat you will enjoy this” or “how about we go here on our next weekend break Peter”. Your other friends will value the fact you were thinking of them, and are introducing them to artists or writers or bloggers will no doubt trust your taste, after all you’re friends so will have much in common.

If you have read one of my books, could you also add a wee comment about it on Amazon. Links to my blogs, Facebook pages (four of them!) and other social media pages are on my webpage for easy access.  www.kiwitravelwriter.com

So see, it is really easy to be a good friend to your writing friend, your favourite photographer, or local artist – and that tiny commitment will make a huge difference to them. Sitting at home, creating without any feedback, can be difficult, and for travel writers like me, it’s often the interaction I have with my followers that shows tourist destinations or activities that yes, this is a person we should invite to our city, country, or event. The more they can see that people follow me and enjoy my writing the more likely I am to get invitations or commissions to write.

One word of warning though, if you are anything like me, you need to do this instantly you see the blog or Facebook post or it will be gone forever, lost in all the other daily activity and busy minds! This doesn’t have to be a big chore, once a day would be wonderful.

And, if you repost blog links (or posts) to my pages on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media like StumbleUpon or Instagram, add a hashtag # (eg #kiwitravelwriter or #travel or #goodblog) I’d be really grateful: so, ‘thank you’ in advance.

 

 

Dame Ngaio Marsh – New Zealand’s Queen of Crime

One of the worlds queens of crime, Dame Ngaio Marsh  was born in Christchurch, New Zealand and a while ago I wondered if her house had survived the quake: I’d assumed ‘yes’ given it’s wooden and is in a relatively unscathed part of my old city.

The “Ngaio Marsh house” suffered only minor damage during the  2010 /2011 quakes that rocked the city.  Sited on the lower Cashmere Hills meant the damage to the area was less than other places the city and Canterbury – a chimney had been demolished and the sewerage pipe was broken but repairs have been made to both.

Their website said “The house was well shaken, creating a considerable mess with small items and books widely distributed over the floor. However, nothing of special significance was lost apart from a few pieces from Ngaio’s glass collection.”

So, the house remains basically as it was and is still open to visitors – as are most things in Christchurch.  See what Wiki says about our beloved Christchurch treasure –  Dame Ngaio Marsh

I took these photos during my last visit to the house in May 2010 – my first visit was for a fairly wild party in the early ’80s – not long after her death!

Just some of her books .. how many have you read?

Once upon a time a fire-breathing dragon . . .

Warwel Dragons fiery breath IMG_4673

Once upon a time, a fire-breathing dragon, with taste for young female flesh, lived in a cave in Krakow according to Wincenty Kadłubek (1161-1223), Bishop of Cracow and historian of Poland.

When nearly all the city’s young girls had been eaten, the King promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who could kill the beast. The legend reports the Wawel Dragon was finally slain by a cobbler’s apprentice who fed the creature a roasted lamb which he had stuffed with sulphur and hot spices.

After the dragon had devoured the tasty sacrifice a powerful thirst hit him so he went to the river to drink. He drank and drank and drank but became even more parched and continued to drink until, so full of water, he burst.

As with all good stories, on his wedding day, to Princess Wanda, the poor apprentice lad was fittingly renamed, Prince Krak, Dragon Slayer.

Today, the dragon’s den, in the 12 million year old cave at the base of Wawel Hill, and a fire-spouting dragon statue, are both part of Krakow’s literary trail which celebrates its status as the world’s seventh UNESCO City of Literature.

Wawel Hill, home to the Royal Castle, is a favourite setting for many a national myth and legend and when I first saw it, on a grey monochrome morning I could well believe the stories of supernatural powers held by a mysterious chakra discovered there in the 1st century.

IMG_20141019_103313

Dunedin (New Zealand) knows, as now the eighth city of literature, that to become a UNESCO City of Literature, there are several requirements in terms of the quality and diversity of initiatives. They include the role of literature in its broadest sense in the everyday lives of the city’s inhabitants, a range of festivals and literary events, and an abundance of bookshops, libraries and other institutions involved with books and literary heritage.

Some of Krakow’s claims for being considered a literary capital were that the first Polish language books were published there in the 16th century, and that it was the first Polish city to hold scriptoriums, libraries and printing houses.

As book lover, in Poland at the end of the tourist season, I was disappointed not to be able to take one of the monthly, guided literary walks. It was even more disappointing that despite two emails to the literary and tourism websites I received no response to my request to hire a guide for an individual tour of the literary hotspots. It’s very easy to overpromise and under deliver. To add to the difficulty the tourism office in the city square did not have the brochure-map either – they sent me to another office where I was given their last English one.
With sixty-one points of interest detailed on the map, they cover historical sites; literary addresses, libraries and bookstores, literary cafes, literature in public places and, Nowa Huta, a 1949-built city for the workers. Until this year, this area was home to the annual Krakow Book Fair, Poland’s most important meeting of readers and some 500 Polish publishers. Portrayed as an ideal city in Stalin-era literature, it has been the setting for many poems and human interest stories. Alongside the book fair, the Conrad Festival takes place – a prestigious literary event, it’s considered one of the most noteworthy occasions in this part of Europe and has attracted crowds of readers for many years.

Outside the old city wall, the moat has been filled in, providing a ring of green – Planty Park. As well as monuments to writers and other artists, it is also home to dozens of benches honouring writers with connections to the city. One easily recognised was Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark, the 1982 Booker Prize-winning novel which was later adapted to film for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. QR barcodes on all seats, helpfully link the visitor to virtual collections of text and recordings of the specific author. Of course Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory is on the self-guided walk too.

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There are close to 80 bookstores and almost 30 antiquarian bookshops in the city, with one of the buildings in Market Square housing a book shop continually since 1610. I walked to the Massolit Bookstore hoping to talk with one of the three ex-pat owners about the literary meetings, events and political debates which are held there. They were not available so I did what time-rich travellers do and just sat, enjoying coffee, a chocolate brownie, the international newspapers and the old world ambience.

In the Main Market Square (where you can spend hours) every hour, on the hour, a bugle plays from the four points of the compass in the high tower of St. Mary’s Basilica, and this too has a literary connection. It was immortalised in the first book by Eric P Kelly, The Trumpeter of Krakow, which won the 1929 Newbery Medal as the year’s most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. An American journalist, academic and author of children’s books, he was briefly a lecturer at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

Interestingly too, Krakow is part of the International Cities of Refuge Network and, in the Villa Decius, one of the Renaissance complex sites of literary and cultural salons, a refuge is provided for persecuted writers.

Finally, two Nobel Prize Winners in Literature had their homes in Krakow: poet Czesław Miłosz (1980) who returned after many years in exile, and poet essayist Wisława Szymborska (1996) until her death in 2012: I only wish I had been able to get a deeper insight into this walkable city’s past, present, and undoubtedly bright literary future.

This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Post, Dunedin, New Zealand.