WRITING AND TEACHING TRAVEL JOURNALISM
FROM A BROADER MIND'
‘Brân [gives] a warts and all explanation of journalism
and one of the most accurate I have heard from any lecturer (or journalist)
… The course is certainly inspiring but tempered with a heavy
dose of realism. Nobody who takes it will go into the travel writing
world with anything other than their eyes wide open.’
Higher Education Supplement, 16 August 2002
WRITING TRAVEL LITERATURE
from a lecture given at Nottingham Trent University - November 2005
Some years ago, at a meeting with my then publishers, Lonely Planet
Journeys, a young, but senior staff member, bounded up to me and after
mentioning that he’d not read ‘After Yugoslavia’ or
‘Enduring Cuba’, asked if they were ‘girl’ books.
Recovering my composure I asked what he meant by a ‘girl book’.
"Oh you know, the kind of book where you’re searching for
yourself, deep meaningful stuff, emotions, coming to terms with yourself
and all that kind of thing."
I managed to reply, "I can’t speak for all ‘girls’
but I certainly don't travel to find myself and if I did I wouldn't
expect other people to find it interesting. If I wanted to travel to
experience myself, I would probably go on the tube to see a psychotherapist."
as that exchange was, it did subsequently make me think about the many
ways in which travel can be written. It also made me think about my
own attitude to travel writing. For many writers and readers, the kind
of travel book that this publisher described is a perfectly valid genre.
When I began writing professionally 10 years ago I did actually write
travel books that were mostly about myself … not I have to say
in any meaningful, emotional sense, but about me moving around a country.
This was largely because I didn't know what else to write; I had very
little concept then of the weeks and months of research, networking,
contact-making, negotiations and meetings with Embassies, NGO’s,
and individuals and families in this or that town. I recall wondering
why Norman Lewis’ A Dragon Apparent was so very different in every
way to A Phoenix Rising. Apart from the fact of Lewis being a gifted
and compassionate writer I realised that he had CONTACTS and that that
was what brought his books alive.
a teacher of travel writing I often use my own early writing as examples
of how it should NOT be done, comparing for e.g. A Phoenix Rising with
AY for example. All reading is subjective of course, but I’m always
faintly horrified when some students – and there are always a
few! – prefer A Phoenix Rising to After Yugoslavia. Subjective,
subjective all is subjective. One Amazon reader’s review of Enduring
Cuba is entitled ‘Enduring this book’! At a particular travel
nadir in far eastern Cuba, despairing that I could ever write a book
about somewhere where it rained constantly and the food was ullage,
I consoled myself by reading Colin Thubron’s wonderful In Siberia.
If he could write so marvellously about such a terrible place, surely
I should be able to write about Cuba which is a paradise in comparison?
full text of this talk can be found in the journal ‘Studies in
Travel Writing', 10 (2006): 161-8
studied Travel Photography with Grace Lau. Photography has been an important
aspect of Zoë's journalism for several years as she illustrates
her own articles.
2003 and 2005, Zoë taught Travel Journalism and Photography at
the City Literary Institute with Grace Lau.
has a large collection of photographs of Burma, India, Slovenia, Croatia,
Bosnia, California, Cuba. She also specialises in coastal and island
images from the UK, including Celtic and Pictish stone circle and burial
sites from Orkney, Angelsey, the north-east of Scotland, Devon and Cornwall.
further information about Zoë's collection or to purchase selected
images, see Contact link