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

Travel writing for free?

This is a chain of posts and comments from my Facebook page and thought it was worth sharing with a  wider audience. Thanks to all the writers / journalists/ bloggers who commented … I have removed names and links to their FB page to stop spam etc

Here also is a rant from Harlan Ellison (I love ranters who I agree with :):) )

Heather Hapeta has shared a video with you on YouTube
Harlan Ellison — Pay the Writer
A memorable (and timely) rant from the upcoming feature documentary on Harlan
Ellison, “DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH”. Go to www.dreamswithsharpteeth.com for
more excerpts!!
See the full trailer here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=dmfzKKM49uY

From  Heather Hapeta‘s Facebook page earlier this year.

“Recently I was asked to write a monthly travel column for a NZ online fashion mag. For no reward  – they seem to think it’s worth $1500 a month in promotion for me!

As I tell my travel-writing students ‘you will find it hard if not impossible to get published’ … and, ‘don’t give your work away’! I’m wondering what others think of this “it’s worth blah blah blah

replies ……

LW  Promotion? So another mag can see that you write well and offer you are job for no money? I never work for free; that is called a hobby. Just my thoughts.

SET Agree – what is it that you would be promoting via the column?

Heather Hapeta yes that’s my gut feeling LW .. would be writing on travel topics .. so only promoting wherever I write about I guess .. plus the links to my pages. Its not like I’m a tourism company and promoting that.

NA Knowing how many visitors the site receives and from where would be interesting. How are they calculating that magical $1500?

HB Once you do stuff for free, you establish your market value. You’ll always be doing stuff for free after that.

DM I was once offered cash to write about a company’s new car but knew it would kybosh any future career. ‘What if it’s no good?’ I asked. ‘Oh you can’t criticise it and we’d have to have editorial sign-off.’ they said. I said they must be joking and never heard from that particular PR bloke again, though I’ve driven and written about several good, bad and indifferent cars from the company since. A hundred quid was a lot money in those days, too.

MH Myllylahti There is not such a thing as free labour. That is just pure exploitation.

Heather Hapeta They sent me all their site stats .. although they have more Facebook ‘followers’ I have 3 or 4X the #s on twitter/WordPress etc . but I’m 99% sure no is my answer. .. thanks everyone

DH  Good decision

DM  Tell them you’ll accept that $1500 each month on a cheque?

LH  Heey Hugh….YOU’RE SO RIGHT! Embarrassingly….I’ve only just come to work that out now?? Classy! HA HA HA HA! Working for Pro bono is definitely a habit I have to break!

Heather Hapeta LH why do you do pro bono work?

LH  Hmmm…Hi Heather…I have a neurological condition….and therefore a patchy work record ie Employers were anxious about employing me because they were worried that they would have to deal with my bad memory and organisational skills ( hmm they are…BAD…) so I did pro bono work to try and say to the journalism, communications, PR and Marketing industries that I am capable of writing articles….BUT Capital Community Newspapers have stopped taking work from me now anyway ( there new editor says they wont take freelance work now!) so doing pro bono work might be over anyway!

Heather Hapeta LH  do articles etc on your own blog for them to see your skills :):)

LH  Hi Heather! Yes….Thank you…..I wasn’t whinging about life as a journalist ( though reading my last post may give this impression!) I will do something like this….I’ve just been made redundant from NZUSA as their communications person ( they ran out of money for the role) so I will have to do something like this, I think to get into another comms role! This is the first week of unemployment after 7 months….and its all a bit….Daunting ( is that the word??)

Heather Hapeta very daunting!

PHW  Cash is king. Tell them to read Adam Smith. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Smith)

BK I did pro bono work in radio copywriting as a sort of foot in the door training thing. I got paid work out of it, from the radio station – they’d get me in when people were sick. So it can work. But that was quite a lot of years ago now.

AG It’s awful, isn’t it. I was recently asked by a website to write one 300 word lifestyle article per week. The writer of the ‘most shared’ article on the site per month would receive $25 while the writer who had the most shared articles overall per month got $50. Depressing.

BK  And that model of course encourages people to write lowest common denominator, clickbait, trollbaiting stuff.

Heather Hapeta You have all convinced me to go with what I knew was right. Will write a blog re the issue and send it to the company

JB  Tell them if it’s only worth $1,500 promotion then it’s not really worth your time?

DBK I wouldn’t do it for nothing just like they wouldn’t sell advertising for nothing. Tell them to get stuffed – you can SELL your work; how can they qualify their statement regarding value? Is the by-line likely to attract more work? I doubt it. But keep trying elsewhere and if you need advice email me off this page….I’ve had a lot published over the years and been paid well for it. Incidentally do you belong to Travcom?

BK And if Vinny Eastwood can self-promote his “journalism” and get such high numbers, so can you. You don’t need them to raise your profile.

Heather Hapeta David Burke-Kennedy yes I’m with Travcom … also sell my work in many international places …airline mags newspapers etc but it’s getting harder and harder!

DBK y yes it is…but don’t devalue your work by giving it away unless there’s a really good reason. Hope that’s not like telling an experienced writer how to suck eggs…

Heather Hapeta I was querying it as Travcom now allows articles that have not been paid for to enter the comps .. in trade for free trips. So think giving work away is more common than we think. Was testing the waters really … glad lots of staunch people out there!

JT  NEVER give your work away…unless it is for charity. My brother, photographer Rob Tucker, used to charge peanuts for his work, until his wife took over the books and quadrupled his charges. He never looked back.

AC Go with your gut, Heather. It’s not worth anything at all to you if no one pays.

AL Absolutely, Heather – they’re trying to make it seem like they’re doing you a favour by publishing your work. Of course, the truth is the other way round – where would their magazine be without content?

JB  Going back to what Brigid said about a foot in the door … what say ye KJAs to a request from a place you’d really like to work for? Still yeah but nah?

BK  I think the circumstances of the job market have changed quite a lot and you would need very clear boundaries about how little free stuff they would get for their non-buck. Because more and more outlets are looking for content they don’t have to pay for, in order to cut costs.

JB  Sorry my own experience: was unemployed, started doing a column for free for the editor of a paper that I admired, just to keep my profile up, the publisher then read the columns, remembered me from years of conferences, had an empty slot, said thanks and hired me. So, fa’afetai Samoa Observer! It’s not the NYTimes but I never wanted that anyway, small island papers is where I started and what I still love to bits – plus SaOb is feisty-as for a *small* paper (huge by island standards) ….. point being, if it’s for an outlet you love, take a punt, they may just have an empty slot. Or one may come up? 2 senes worth from Samoa.

AL I think the situation for Heather is a bit different (feel free to correct me, Heather!) in that she is an already established writer and the magazine wants to publish work in an area in which she is already known. If they were saying ‘let’s give it a whirl for a couple of months and then we’ll pay you’ that would be a bit different I suppose, but this looks more like ‘let’s give it a whirl and you can keep working for us for nothing’. Having said that, Jason, I started a 30-year-plus career in radio by working for nothing every weekend… and like you, when a paid position came up, I got it!

JB Ah, sorry Heather, was talking in general terms, rather than being Hapeta-specific, but should have said so .. thanks Allen, exactly what you said.

JW  I don’t think you should do it for free. Unfortunately it lowers the bar for everyone trying to make a living. I have a parallel experience as a musician. I got asked to play for free twice in the last fortnight with the benefit to me of ‘getting my name out there’. I explained politely that I have been performing professionally for 20 years now. If people want something for free then they could at least acknowledge that you would be doing them a service and not pretend they’re doing you a favor.

KM  Sounds like bollocks. Ask for $500 a month or get stuffed.

FL  I left a job recently and a former journalism student of mine was interviewed for the position. She was asked to write an article for the paper – I wonder if she was paid for it? She’ll find out this week if she’s got the job. I was asked to write an a…See More

PHW If you want exposure, file for Salient. And do it well. There. I said it.

MS I am finding more and more that the less you get paid for your skills, the more people seem to want from you and often the more troublesome the client. As hard as it is, I’ve said No to a couple of things lately. Interestingly, jobs paying properly came along to fill that space…

PHB It goes without saying I hope that as professionals we refuse to be commission stories without offering payment.

 

Oil, oil, oil, death and courage

Oil, oil, oil, death and courage.

Freedom of speech and Courage Day – read the above article – published in The Press, Christchurch New Zealand .. the link is to my blog!

Writers Walkway: Wellington Waterfront

Last week I attended the launch and unveiling of four new quotes on the Wellington Writers Walkway – and the honouring of  the writers and their city, or the city their quotes mention.

These tributes to the city by the sea are dotted  around the  Wellington waterfront as typographical sculptures in wood and concrete.  Use your smartphone to guide you around the sites and learn more about the writers behind them. See it here. ( or download the brochure or pick it up at the Wellington i-site centre.)

It was also wonderful  to meet 3 young woman travellers, from Malaysia, who said “it’s great that you  honour your writers this way”. Funnily, one of the woman lives in the city I land at in my Borneo trip (Kuching, June – August 2013) and who I now will meet for a coffee after I’ve been the Rainforest World Music Festival. As the CEO of the Sarawak  State Library, it’s no wonder she noticed the group of us wandering the waterfront and we were glad they joined us.

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The writers honoured at this launch were: Joy Cowley, Elizabeth Knox, James McNeish and Jack Lazenby who’s pole and quote  is behind the visitor-students to Wellington. Read more about them on the Writers Walkway website or on the New Zealand Society of Authors one.

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Wellington weather

Wellington poet Lauris Edmond writes on one of the writers walkways blocks

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.”

On a cold wet day like today, this reminds us all, no-one lives in Wellington for the weather, it has so much else going for it, it is the city of action as Lauris said, and no matter the weather, just get out and enjoy the city!

The Wellington Writers Walkway is a fabulous walk around the waterfront and is an initiative of the local branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors

The kiwitravelwriter beside the Lauris Edmond quote - photo by Mallory

Boxing Day in the summer sun – down-under in New Zealand

New Zealand’s Boxing Day in the summer sun: not all of us do the sales for dubious bargains,  the weathers too great.

While I’d said ‘no more blogs for a while’ as I wrote the suicide grief book, I took time out to re-charge my creative batteries and these photos are evidence of that. The other good news (for me) is that I have finished the first draft of the 20, 000-word book so there will be a few blogs while I wait before starting the editing process. Enjoy the summer holiday sun in these pics: the gardens will be happy it’s raining as I write – but not the campers in tents!

Aren’t I lucky to live in NZ’s capital city with all this just a 10-min walk from my inner city apartment?

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One-Day Short Story Competition in Christchurch, New Zealand

the next one-day competition will be in 2012 .. to make sure you know the dates via email: contact canterburynzsa@gmail.com

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Annual One-day Short Story Competition 2010

Canterbury Branch, New Zealand Society of Authors

canterburynzsa@gmail.com

To enter you must be in Christchurch, New Zealand

August 29th 2010

Registration is at the Christchurch Art Gallery Cnr Worcester/Montreal St

Registration desk opens at 10 am and entries must be returned to the same registration Desk by 5:00pm on the same day.

 

  • Categories: Youth under 20 yrs Adults 20+ yrs. 
  • Cost per entry $5.00
  • All stories must be written on the day
  • Entrants will be given an element that must be included in their manuscript
  • Maximum number of words 1500
  • Cash prizes (1st & 2nd in both categories)
  • Winners announced and prizes awarded Sat 11th Sept 7pm at the Christchurch Town Hall.

Note: All entries submitted remain the property of the entrant.  However, The Press reserves the right to publish the winning entries without fee within one month of the competition.

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One-Day Short Story Competition in Christchurch New Zealand August 2009 As part of our 75th anniversary celebrations, and in association with the Cultural Precinct, Christchurch Art Gallery, and the Christchurch Libraries, the Canterbury branch of the NZ Society of Authors is held a one-day short story competition.

One Day Short Story Competition winners 2009

Following the very successful One Day Short Story Competition 2009 and Literary Evening at the Christchurch Art Gallery. The Cultural Precinct is pleased to present the winning entires plus several very highly commended stories.

Follow this link to the stories

library150.com/Competitions/OneDayShortStory/