Is travel writing facing extinction? Has it all been photographed and documented ten thousand times over? Should we just give up? These were the sorts of questions that travel author, Colin Thubron, opened with during his travel writing workshop in conjunction with the Royal Society of Literature. Certainly food for thought, don’t you think?
Meeting Colin Thubron
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a grand and luxurious building in central London; The Bloomsbury Hotel. It was in their library that Colin gripped my attention for a good few hours.
Admittedly at first it was his endearing character that pulled me in. Warm and friendly, watching the clock with his eager eyes, he somehow instantly felt like a family member.
His voice captivated me next. With an extremely English, well-to do accent he rolled his Rs and answered questions with ‘Yah’ rather than yes. It wasn’t just the way he spoke though. His sentences could have fallen from a poetry book. He spoke artistically and creatively, and it’d be clear to anyone that he is a writer.
Crafting Your Writing Style
Although my stubborn teen self would never admit it, you’ll often find that older people are indeed wiser. This is especially true of well-travelled adventurers who have explored the world (or at least a good chunk of it). Although Colin admitted that he didn’t really blog or have a Twitter account, I left that workshop feeling inspired and itching to write.
Yes, my writing style on this blog isn’t anywhere close to his (and I’m feeling particularly self-conscious writing this post), but what he had to say really resonated. I thought you guys deserved to hear some of his wisdom.
In terms of writing, Colin said forget agonizing about your style. Focus on the subject and just write. Let the words flow about your destination or story. You’ll have a style without even realising it.
Why Travel Writing Will Never Die
On travel in particular, Colin explained that the world is only superficially known. It can’t ever be objectively known as we all have such varying opinions. As an example he explained that if we (in that workshop) were all asked to describe the table we were leaning on, we’d undoubtedly all write something different. Some would focus on the colour, others the size and perhaps others would write about the food that was on the table (I’m sharing no names!).
Every generation of travel writer changes, in terms of their style of travel, their beliefs and outlooks and so on. For this reason the world needs to be reinterpreted. That’s why travel and travel writing needs to continue. And just like we won’t be the same in ten, twenty, thirty years, nor will destinations. This gives your work value; a lifetime and beyond of value.
The Key to Finding Travel Stories
Colin says the best ways to travel, particularly for the purpose of travel writing and finding original content, are to:
♥ Drop your own culture (and as soon as possible). Absorb theirs. The sooner you do this, the more you will gain.
♥ Go ‘off the map’ by avoiding the tourist hotspots so that you can see the ‘old world’. You don’t even have to stray too far from the beaten the path. Just ten miles from the Algarve, an area that’s inundated with holidaymakers, Colin found small villages that were waiting for their stories to be discovered.
♥ Go solo. You’re the funny one when you’re on your own, not them. There’s no one else (at least in terms of a fellow Westerner) to validate any unusual sightings. Over there they are normal. You’re therefore more sensitive and forced into understanding.
♥ Feel where you are. Experience it and not just through the lens of your camera. Stop and take in what’s happening.
♥ Absorb the little things, like the stray dogs, the graffiti, and day-to-day conversation. Note them down – you’ll forget them after a long journey.
♥ Travel on public transport. It’s an ideal place for chatting to locals; living witnesses. Personal stories about their everyday life are normal to them, but probably not to your audience. They make for fascinating stories. Even if you don’t speak the language you’d be amazed how much you can understand, though it’s best to try to learn some before you visit.
Why is Travelling so Important?
The experience of being on the ground is so different to looking at a destination through Google satellite, so travel writing will stay. Words explain the smell and tastes which contribute to your overall experience. An image alone cannot do that.
When you go somewhere you know the landscape and buildings will be there. After all, you’ve researched them before your trip. However, you don’t know who will be there. You don’t know the locals or who you will meet. And even if you think you do, you won’t know what mood they’re in, if they’ll be illuminating and what snippets of their life that they be willing to share.
And that’s why travelling is so important. There are so many stories just waiting to be uncovered.