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The Journey Towards Good Travel Writing – 18 April 2018

Nigel Ward’s travel writing workshop was, as expected, entertaining and informative but definitely not for slackers! There was much furious scribbling going on. As one member said, because of other commitments, this was the first actual writing she had done in months.

After a brief flow-writing exercise, Nigel gave us many useful tips and ideas such as the ‘nut-graph’. That is the ‘grabber’ paragraph that encapsulates the nub of your piece. This should capture the reader’s interest in what will be later explained. It is also useful to the writer, as it helps to keep you focused on the theme you want your travel experiences to show.

While travel writing covers a wide range, from full-length books down to the humble postcard (or more likely ‘what’s -ap’ message these days), it is the personal aspect that makes it interesting. You are trying to let your reader feel what it was like to be there.

‘Travel experiences don’t happen in a vacuum,’ Nigel told us. It is the chance encounters, interactions, odd events and characters that intrigue the reader. Beware however, of just filling your piece with a conglomeration of anecdotes that have no bearing on your theme.

Nigel also suggested that a description of a location need not only be visual or geographical. It can also contain cultural, social and political aspects, or a sense of our location in time in the history of an area. Remember that, as in fiction, there needs to be some conflict. Using all the senses and varying the pace are also essential – broad brush-strokes contrasted with close-ups of significant detail can bring your work alive.
We had an opportunity to put these ideas into practice by describing first a memorable location and then a journey. These were shared with the group after tea.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot- don’t fall into the cliche trap. Travel writing is stuffed to the gunwales with azure skies, billowing clouds, journeys of a lifetime, sleeping under the stars etc. We had an interesting exercise in trying to rework some of these overused phrases which would weaken rather than enhance your writing. Got it Nigel – so, as a rule, by and large, cliches should be avoided like the plague!

Maggie Bolton

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