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Wandering with words: travel writing workshop with Nigel Ward – 15 March 2017

In a couple of sentences, write about a place you have visited and has made an impression on you, then write about a local, more mundane place. This was the homework set to us in preparation for Wednesday night’s travel workshop, brought to us by our own Nigel Ward.

Nigel has had club success in travel writing competitions and posts his blog regularly on the Walk Highlands website.

So what is travel writing? It includes guidebooks, reviews, lists, and travelogues, and is available online and in print. In the early days of travel writing, the problem was to describe what something was like, to people who had never seen anything like it. Modern travel writers have a different problem; if every place has been written about, what do we have left to contribute? Luckily for us, Nigel spent the rest of the evening proving how much there is for us to write about.

First of all, find the angle. Even when in familiar surroundings, think about what you would notice if you were new to the area. Taking a lesson from National Geographic, find the personal element and introduce that person early on and reference them throughout.

In terms of structure, start with a nut graph, which is a trendy name for a nutshell paragraph. In other words, an opening paragraph that sets the tone of the piece, introduces the character/s and informs the reader of where the piece is going.

The narrative should continue on and develop the story, before coming to a conclusion. Don’t leave your reader hanging. When finishing the piece, reference the opening, creating a sense of closure.

We were also taught the importance of pace and contrast and Nigel used the example of photography to illustrate his point. We should use a wide angle lens for setting and landscape, medium for context and colour, then zoom in for detail and narrative. Importantly, we should move between all three, up and down throughout the piece.

We had plenty to work on and develop during the night. A back garden turned into an article discussing local history and thwack mills. A suggestive opening twisted into an innocent first family holiday to London. Jamaica, Turkish bazaars and German nudist beaches all made an appearance. I’m sure there’ll be many interesting pieces to come out of this workshop.

Finally, some advice. Write in the first person and past tense. Avoid clichés. The birds didn’t sing in the trees, the finches twittered in the hedgerows. Don’t try to be clever and don’t waste words. Speak to locals and ask a million questions. Take notes. A pencil will write in any climate. Embrace change. Write to your passion. The first line is key. Research your potential publication. Revise, revise, revise.

We left brimming with ideas and thank Nigel for providing such a thought-provoking and enjoyable workshop.

Kirsty Hammond

One comment

  1. Carolyn O'Hara

    Great blog, Kirsty 🙂

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