How to make your travel blog (and other writing) sing

how to make your travel blog sing?  Here are a few tips to help.

  • It often helps to make a basic outline before you start writing.
  • Talk to locals. How else will you learn about the place?
  • Find a fresh angle to the story. Most places have been written about before so find something original that will grab a reader’s attention.
  • Take notes, ask questions, get quotes and jot down the little details of your trip.  How much did it cost? What’s the name of the district it’s in? Always be specific.
  • Avoid clichés! Lose the “best-kept secrets”, “city of contrasts” and “unspoilt gems”.  Why do lodges always “nestle” at the foothills or “perch” vulture-like atop a mountain with “breathtaking views” over a “rustic” village?

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  • Lose the unremitting good cheer. Among all the stories I had read about Egypt before I went, nobody had prepared me for the filth, the cruelty to horses, the stray dogs and starving camels eating cardboard from rubbish dumps.  Be more realistic. Tell the truth!
  • Read, read, read: Rinse and repeat. Only good reading can make you a better writer. Dip regularly into your list of 25 favourite travel writers. You will never develop a voice and style without reading in the style you want to write – travel.
  • Add historical or political context to assist the point you’re making in your piece.
  • Thomas Swick wrote in Roads not Taken (  “It is the job of travel writers to have experiences that are beyond the realm of the average tourist, to go beneath the surface, and then to write interestingly of what they find.
  • Good travel writers understand that times have changed, and in an age when everybody has been everywhere (and when there is a Travel Channel for those who haven’t), it is not enough simply to describe a landscape, you must now interpret it.”
  • Seek to entertain, and educate, your reader in a light, breezy way.
  • Write, write, write: You have to write even when – especially when – you don’t feel like it.
  • Paint with words: Take the reader on an armchair journey.  Include sensory details. What did the place look like?  Feel like?  Smell like? Taste like? Remind you of?
  • Develop a speciality: If you want to stand out, it pays to be an expert on something that you’re passionate about.
  • If you can’t afford to travel abroad: write about new activities in your local area.  Become a travel expert on your own city. Does it have any unusual landmarks, remarkable museums or attractions? How about festivals?
  • Show. Don’t tell: Loose the adverbs and flowery descriptions. Choose the perfect verb instead.
  • End with a punch or at least ensure the ending captures the point of the story. Don’t dare to say you can’t wait to return to wherever you went – that’s been done to death.
  • When your piece is finished, read it out loud to find that parts that don’t work.


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?

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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E-books have killed paper books – yeah right!

E-books have killed paper books ‘they’ say. I say ‘yeah right’.  And, something new has happened to show we avid readers  are right – it will be a long time, if ever, that paper will not be used in books.  So, what is it?

The Dutch started it, the Spanish, the French, and the British soon followed . . . and now it’s in New Zealand.

I could start a what is it?  ‘Bigger than a bread-box? Smaller than a box of tissues?”  but these are not the worlds that would help you solve the puzzle.

Try words like paper books, hardback, e-books, Kindles or Kobo, slips easily into your pocket, weighs less that 145 grams, and you would be nearer to the subject.

Then, add words like save trees, extremely thin paper, read from top to bottom,  flip-up, and there you have it: something very new in books.

So what is this puzzle that’s not a puzzle anymore?

It’s the “flipback” book, which seems it originated in Holland, (2009)  and which you hold vertically and flip the pages up as you read. No more turning the pages ‘over’ just flip it UP. The other revolutionary (or is it evolutionary) idea is the spine is made so that the book can lie open for reading without requiring a hand to hold it open (no broken spines either) great for reading  on the go especially in transport, while holding on so you don’t fall.

Flipbacks, published by Hodder & Stoughton, were launched in  New Zealand by Hachette NZ, (July 2011)  I’m sure as I write, these are spreading around the world,  an ideal gift for a traveller. Perfect for planes, waiting in queues for boarding, ticket buying and all those other places we have learnt to grab valuable reading moments.

So when others are talking about the demise of the paper book – here is a new hard-cover book, completely original, and a useful adjunct to my reading pile – offering me just another way of reading.

So, if you are thinking of buying me a book for my travels – I’d be happy with any other 100 titles already out ( 11 so far in NZ, more out in Sept and November)

See what our own Bookman says on Beattie’s book blog

Oil, oil, oil, death and courage

This  piece – by me –  was originally published in the The Press,  Christchurch New Zealand about 3 yrs ago – and it seems right to reprint it now with all the furore about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ken Saro-Wiwa (and 8 others) was hung for his protests  about Shell and the problems caused in his country by the international oil companiesthese problems continue today.

“The writer cannot be a mere storyteller; he cannot be a mere teacher; he cannot merely X-ray society’s weaknesses, its ills, its perils. He or she must be actively involved shaping its present and its future.” Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995)

Freedom of speech and supporting persecuted writers is remembered around the world each November. Called Courage Day in honour of two New Zealand writers, James and Sarah Courage, whose writings were suppressed in the early 20th century, this New Zealand name is also appropriate because of the bravery required by those authors who face opposition in its many forms

James Courage’s book ‘A Way of Love’, about a homosexual relationship, was banned in New Zealand for some years. His grandmother, Sarah Courage, wrote ‘Lights and Shadows of Colonial Life’, in which descriptions of her neighbours were so unflattering that many copies were destroyed.

PEN, (which is loosely aligned with Amnesty International) stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within, and between, all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression.

In 2006, as part of Courage Day, the NZ Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc.) and PEN International remembered the Nigerian television producer, writer of satirical novels, children’s tales, and plays, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Born in 1941, he was the eldest son of a prominent Ogoni family, and after leaving university pursued an academic career. He later became a novelist and television producer: his long-running satirical TV series Basi & Co was purported to be the most watched soap opera in Africa. Throughout his work he often made references to the exploitation he saw as oil and gas industries took riches from the beneath the feet of the impoverished Ogoni farmers, and in return left the land and water polluted and the people disenfranchised. Continue reading “Oil, oil, oil, death and courage”

More Funny English Signs

As sent to me in emails – wonderful, but sometimes confusing, English! Post any funny signs you have seen in the comments.

  • In a city restaurant:
    Open seven days a week and weekends.
  • In a cemetery:
    Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own
  • Tokyo hotel’s rules and regulations:
    Guests are requested not to smoke or do other disgusting behaviours in
  • On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
    Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.
  • In a Tokyo bar:
    Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts.
  • Hotel, Yugoslavia:
    The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.
  • Dry cleaners, Bangkok:
    Drop your trousers here for the best results.
Thailand encourages us to be conservationists

Travel book of the year – a wonderful read!

Press release from Canterbury, New Zealand Society of Authors: from chair Heather Hapeta

Christchurch author Jane Carswell won the top prize at the eighth annual Whitcoulls Travcom Travel Book of the Year Award for Under the Huang Jiao Tree – Two Journeys in China (Transit Lounge Publishing).  Carswell picked up $2,000 cash plus $500 in book vouchers from Whitcoulls.  Auckland writer Justin Brown received runner-up prize of $500 in Whitcoulls vouchers for Bowling Through India – Five Kiwi Blokes Take on India at Cricket (Random House New Zealand).

The Whitcoulls Travcom Travel Book of the Year Award was judged by Owen Scott, Karen Goa and John McCrystal. Owen is an author, journalist and editor. An Island Calling, the film based on his book Deep Beyond the Reef won the 2008 Qantas Award for Best Documentary. Karen is an award-winning freelance travel writer and a previous finalist in the Whitcoulls Travcom Travel Book Awards, and John is a Wellington-based freelance writer and photographer with twenty non-fiction titles published, and in 2008 was Cathay Pacific Travel Writer of the year.

Jane Carswell’s highly personal Under the Huang Jiao Tree – two journeys in China was the unanimous winner, according to chief judge Owen Scott.

“Once again the books and stories were compelling and original in their very different ways – often surprisingly so,” said Scott. “The range of entries was incredibly varied.  The honours, though, went to two books with that little something extra, elevating them beyond mere storytelling and above their competitors. They could not have been more different from each other. One has you reaching for tissues, the other for smelling salts and Imodium!”

Jane told me (Heather Hapeta) how the New Zealand Society of Authors helped her.

“When I found a publisher for my first book, I thought my work was done. Over to him now, I thought, sighing happily as I dusted off my desk. I imagined all the books I’d read, now that the MS was someone else’s worry. For so long I’d had to keep my eyes fixed on that stumbling, lurching— and often sulking—offspring.

It was suggested that I apply for NZSA membership and they made it clear that the NZSA could help me, not only with my contract, but with all my other needs as a writer.  And not only could the NZSA help me, it seemed that it wanted to.

Local Christchurch members encouraged me to respect my own part in the process. Rookie writer I might be, but I was entitled to an opinion about font, paper, colour and size. After all, who’d written the thing?

My writer friends had learned to be sternly realistic.  They gave me long lists of suggestions: strategies, timetables, contact details. I was moved by their generosity. Struggling to survive in a competitive profession, they were still happy to share their discoveries and experience.

My book’s now on the market, making its own way in the world. But my sub for the NZSA won’t lapse. There’s a disease ‘Writers Doubts’ for which there’s no known cure. Finding a publisher, and even respectable sales, do little to ease what at worst is an agonising doubt, at best a nagging unease: ‘Have I got it right? Am I worth reading?’ As I launch myself, with no less dread than enthusiasm, into the writing of the inevitable sequel, I need the encouragement and support that can only be given by those who know what it’s like.” END

Heather Hapeta Phones: 353 4677 / 021 158 2816

kiwi travel writer confesses it’s difficult sometimes

Every traveller I meet is going to write travel stories: well every second traveller. They know they are good writers- everyone loves their letters and emails – and now they will give up their day job to become a famous writer.

According to my unofficial, and unscientific, gestimated research, 99.5% will never write. Why? Writing is difficult. It’s solitary; requires self-discipline and concentration. (if you want to be a travel writer see here for how to become one)

I know one hundred and one ways to avoid writing. When I sit at a blank screen, with a deadline looming, it’s amazing how creative I can be. I have developed the skills of evasion or procrastination to a fine art.

Confronted by a pristine sheet of paper – or my well-worn notebook – I suddenly need a coffee. The urge is imperious and no matter what I tell myself – write a hundred words and then you will really enjoy it I say – I don’t believe it, nor do I listen to myself.

Next comes the need, well not a need, but a desire, a craving, for a cigarette, or at least the nicotine in a cigarette. I would have thought after all this time that would have disappeared but no: every time I have to write- as opposed to wanting to write- the old addiction dragon rears up. It tries to tell me I could write if and when I have a white tube of dried plant in my hand.

To date I have been able to remember that I smoked to relieve the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal: not for pleasure as I had always imagined.

So, to quell that imperious urge and the thought that I can’t write at all without a nicotine fix I decide to dice vegetables for minestrone or some other time-intensive soup. Other writing-avoidance-ploys including sorting photos for some possible future story, having a bath, another coffee (at the Arts Centre) pruning my bonsai trees or responding to answer-phone messages.

However once all those have been attended to – or pushed down – I finally sit, pen in hand and start to combine my letters and postcards home with my on-the-road notebooks and record my experiences. Translate the hours, days, weeks, or months in a place into a story that will give you some of the flavours of a place.

I’m happy I am not a travel writer -in the usual way. It is so much more fun to be a traveller who writes about my experiences – rather than travelling so I can write about places. There is a world of difference. I don’t have to record where I stay, what restaurants I ate at, what activities I indulged in or visit any of the iconic must-see places that so many travel articles comprise of. I just travel; record highlights, then later decide on which to write about.

Travel writers who are bought to New Zealand hit the must-go-to places such as Rotorua, Milford Sound and Queenstown, while trampers hike the big name walks, Milford, Routeburn, Tongariro.  Unless they do some deeper research many do not realise that much of the real New Zealand lies in places that are off the well-worn trail. That’s why I like to write of experiences, people I meet and public transport, rather than tours of a country.

One of the saddest T-shirts I ever saw was on a young woman in Athens. 32 countries in 30 days it proudly proclaimed. Not the type of trip I want, but one that could produce a travel article on the highlights for the next persons race though the continent in a bus with others. If you just want the highlights and want others to do the planning that’s fine and I understand it too.

One of the difficulties of living down-under is it takes so long, and costs so much, to get ‘upover’ that we are tempted to cram in as many places as possible. I recently spent a few days with a group of Americans who had two weeks to explore and hike in New Zealand and they too had a tight schedule for the same reasons. New Zealand is a long way from anywhere- geographically speaking.

However if you want to be tempted to try somewhere different, (or be one of my many armchair travellers) and I  hope my stories encourage you to do some research and explore this wonderful world.

See what happens when I finally just start writing – eventually the page is full.

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