Report: One-day workshop in travel writing

Event Date: 
Sun, 01/06/2014 - 09:00
Leeds Humanities Research Institute, University of Leeds
Leeds, UK

For anyone who has ever wondered how to break into the field of travel writing, Arctic Encounters organised an intensive one-day, practice-based day bringing together leading authors, editors, journalists and publishers to discuss what being a travel writer today is all about. 

On June 1st 2014, there was a healthy showing of around 30 for a one-day practical travel-writing workshop appended to the ‘Postcolonial Arctic’ conference and expertly put together by ‘Arctic Encounters’ team members Simone Abram and Roger Norum, the latter a published travel writer himself. The workshop was primarily designed to help people looking to break into the highly competitive field of commercial travel writing, with sessions held by leading travel writers and publishers offering tips on how to write effectively, how to get published, and how to navigate the decidedly tricky media landscape of travel journalism today. Audience participants learning the nuts and bolts of travel writing.

The day began with an engaging talk by the English author Kari Herbert, daughter of the great Polar explorer Sir Wally Herbert, who entertained the audience with anecdotes from her childhood in Greenland––a formative experience if ever there was one for her wide-ranging work as a travel writer, adventurer and publisher today. Kari obviously practises what she preaches: openness to the world, but also a pragmatic sense of how to capitalise on one’s own experience of different cultures and, perhaps above all, an unfettered enthusiasm for all the world has to offer to those enterprising and adventurous enough to find out. Kari Herbert growing up in Greenland.

A similar mixture of pragmatism and enthusiasm was in evidence in the second session of the day, led by Duncan Craig, acting features editor for Lonely Planet. Beginning with a hilarious personal anecdote on how not to make a pitch to a travel magazine, Duncan went on to give advice via a sardonically delivered A-Z miscellany of commercial tips aimed both at fledgling writers seeking inside knowledge of the contemporary travel industries and at experienced writers tempted to claim more knowledge than they actually have. This ‘reality check’ was also carried into the afternoon sessions: a brilliant impromptu exercise in how to construct a travel article from scratch by Adrian Phillips, publishing director of Bradt travel guides and an award-winning writer himself; a lively practice session led by ‘Arctic Encounters’’ own resident travel writer Roger Norum, the author of several Scandinavian Rough Guides; and a closing roundtable featuring the combined talents of Adrian Phillips, freelance travel writers Gail Simmons and Lars Jensen (the latter another ‘Arctic Encounters’ team member), and the marketing director of Yorkshire-based travel company Inntravel, Simon Wrench. Adrian Phillips lecturing on travel writing structure.

What emerged from the day, which was greatly appreciated by all those who attended it, was that travel writing might be enjoyable to do, but also requires a hard business head if it is to be commercially successful. Still, the emphasis on enjoyment acted as an effective antidote to those po-faced critics who, like the author of this article, are occasionally tempted to see travel writing as little more than an imperial hangover or an opportunistic accessory to the modern tourist industries it serves.