Scribbling my way to travelogue writing
Scribbling my way to travelogue writing
‘Our plan was to flag down a taxi to travel the last four blocks so we were pleased when a driver approached as we stepped onto the street. One small snag – our taxi driver seemed to lack an actual taxi. Of course, we didn’t realise this at first and watched in disbelief as he tossed my enormous Texan suitcase onto his head and went running off. We hurried after him for two blocks before he asked two NYPD officers the way to our hotel. At one point he even stopped the traffic – all five lanes of it – to enable our peculiar convoy to cross the street.’
February 1999, Manhattan
I’ve suppose I’ve always been a chronicler of sorts.
As a child, I remember filling an entire exercise book with what – I thought – were fascinating accounts of what I’d got up to in the school holidays. I was an avid diary keeper too, though sadly (or perhaps gladly) none of my teenage ruminations about various romances have survived.
My handwriting was always tiny – a teacher once requested I hand her a magnifying glass with my next assignment – with the result that I could cram hundreds of carefully crafted words into each day’s entry. At 17, my grandfather died suddenly and I recall filling pages of a journal with my youthful philosophising about the meaning of life.
The birth of my eldest daughter thirty years ago was recorded in a long letter to my sister who was living a couple of hundred miles away. A few years ago, she handed the faded pages back to me.
‘Morwenna is one day and one hour old,’ I gushed. ‘She’s fast asleep at the moment but I’ll have to wake her soon to feed her. She’s lovely, with lots of dark hair and a little bow-shaped mouth. She’s ever so good, like a little angel.’
Remember postcards? I used to send huge numbers every time I ventured a mile or two from home. And there was none of this ‘Weather hot, having a good time’ from me. With such minute handwriting, I was able to cover every waking moment in great detail. And if I ran out of space before I’d finished, there was always that strip of white above the address.
You can see why I took to blogging like a duck to water. My partner outdoor writer Harri Garrod Roberts and I used to do a lot of hiking together and I’d get these ideas for articles as we walked. And so The Walkers Wife blog was born and for three years I was prolific as we walked and hiked in our homeland of Wales, England and Madeira.
In fact, it was because they so enjoyed reading my blog about our long-distance hike through Wales last summer that my in-laws suggested I turn my various blog posts into a proper travelogue. After all, I’d kept detailed handwritten notes throughout our 22-day journey so it wasn’t as if I didn’t have plenty of material.
The rest is history as they say. I published my ebook Never Too Old To Backpack: O Fon i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk through Wales in August 2014 and thanks to ongoing publicity from the Readers Gazette I’ve sold numerous copies across the world.
One wonderful reviewer said my book was ‘in the style of Bill Bryson and Nicholas Crane’, a compliment which had me dancing around the room as I adore both writers. I have to say, we didn’t eat as well as Mr Bryson usually does and didn’t endure such gruelling conditions as Mr Crane invariably did.
In May this year, Harri and I hiked the 300km Algarve Way and we returned to Portugal in October to walk some of the link routes and the alternative ending along the west coast. You’ve guessed it – I scribbled furiously whenever we stopped for a break or something to eat and I’m now 50,000 words into the first draft of my second book.
My message to any would-be travelogue writers is go for it – even if you don’t publish your work for the wider readership, you’ll have a wonderful record of your holidays, indeed your life, something to share with future generations of your family.
With one self-published book, I’m certainly no expert, but here are some tips which work for me:
Write as often as possible while things are still fresh in your mind – seize a few moments over breakfast, lunch, pre-dinner drinks, before bedtime I’m old-fashioned and prefer pen and paper but a digital voice recorder is also good (take spare batteries)
Jot down feelings, first impressions, people you meet, funny incidents.
Take photographs of interpretation boards, signage and points of interest – though the translation isn’t always great, it’s better than nothing Pick up leaflets for everything and read them through to judge their merit (no point carrying hotel leaflets that just wax lyrically about the facilities but tell you nothing about the area) – jot down websites
Keep list of everywhere you eat, stay, visit, etc
Talk to as many locals as possible (language permitting), talk to ex-pats and other travellers
(One I’m not so good at) Get people’s first names so you can say ‘Antonio told us... ‘ rather than ‘The nice Spanish waiter said...’
Record funny anecdotes – sometimes it’s the small things that make a trip rather than the big, tourist experiences, e.g. taxi driver without a taxi in New York, a sleepless night on a haunted hillock in the Rhinogs, playing with fire (water) in Porto da Cruz, Madeira
Be open with your readers and admit when you have been apprehensive, nervous or downright cowardly
Don’t try to copy another writer’s style. While I was tickled pink to be compared with Bill Bryson, I know I’m nowhere near as good or as funny as him – and neither am I as food-obsessed!
Finally, we’re hoping to return to Madeira in the spring when we’ll be walking from one end of the island to the other in the interest of my next travelogue. In the mean time, here’s a snippet about the fire water from our last trip there.
‘We’d seen lots of other people drinking it so it couldn’t be too strong... or could it? The drinks arrived and were a pale lemon colour with froth on top. The taste was vaguely familiar, brandy perhaps? I took a sip and shuddered ... ‘
March 2013, Madeira
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Never too old to backpack: O Fôn i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk by Tracy Burton
An avowed hater of camping, rain and mud, the author sets out to walk from one end of Wales to another with her partner, outdoor writer Harri Garrod Roberts.
With a birthday looming, her rucksack stuffed to capacity and the memory of a disastrous sixday, fiveblister backpacking trip in Somerset still fresh in her mind, will she be up to the challenge ahead?
But walk it she must. For ‘O Fôn i Fynwy’ is a longdistance end to end walk devised by Harri to showcase the most stunning...
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