March Newsletter: What draws us to write about our travels?

 In All About Writing, Newsletters, Writing Challenge

What draws us to write about our travels?

What is it about travel writing that is so beguiling? We, at All About Writing, receive almost daily queries from members of our community who hope to write travel – for publications, blogs, or simply for personal pleasure and family.

We asked our resident travel writing expert to reflect upon its appeal, and what it takes to write good travel.

Fred de Vries has written travel pieces in English and Dutch for numerous international publications over a long career in journalism and as a non-fiction author. He has written six books, most of which deal, directly or more obliquely, with travel writing.

Fred is the All About Writing trainer for our Travel Writing Mentoring programme. You can now receive high-level mentoring on individual pieces of up to 3 500 words, or join a six-month mentorship, and submit monthly. Contact us on if you’re interested.

Here’s what Fred has to say on the attraction of travel writing:

Perhaps its appeal lies in the fact that it might seem like the easiest type of writing. After all, everybody travels and should be able to identify with your piece. And you don’t have to invent a story, you don’t really have to use your imagination. Instead, the story is there, waiting for you, unfolding right before your eyes.

All you have to do is look, listen, smell, talk and register, right? Travel writing is also not restricted to a specific type of writing. You can use any form you fancy: essay, (auto)biography, prose fiction, personal diary, journal, poetry even.

But don’t be fooled. It can be fun, but it’s still hard work.

The essence of travel writing is simple: to give a first-hand account of a journey or a visit to a particular site. This endeavour is usually physical, but can at the same time be personal, a search for growth and understanding.

Yet good travel writing strikes a fine balance between reporting closely observed details and personal impressions. In other words: it mixes the objective with the subjective. And the trick is to do that in an interesting and engaging way, while sustaining some kind of narrative and suspense.

Without an exciting beginning, a captivating middle and a catchy end, a travel story is bound to meander, float and ultimately fail. What makes it even harder, is the fact that most places have been described ad infinitum. As a Johnny/Shirley Come Lately you must attempt to make it different and scintillating. Venice? Paris? The Kilimanjaro? It’s up to you to give those places an interesting, new twist. But what if nothing even vaguely exciting happens?

Given all these obstacles, it’s important to note that travel writing has become more personal over the years, built around the question: what does all this seeing, hearing and smelling do to meWhat do I feel? Which in turn leads to many new questions. Will it still be interesting for somebody else? And then: how do I find the right words to describe this? How do I stay away from the clichés?

British-Trinidadian writer V.S. Naipaul summed it up neatly when he was struggling with his book The Great Railway Bazaar: “The difference between travel writing and fiction is the difference between recording what the eye sees and discovering what the imagination knows. Fiction is pure joy – how sad I could not reinvent the trip as fiction.”

And on to the “pure joy” of fiction, and other forms of creative writing

As most of you know, we offer our flagship Creative Writing Course online and in limited face-to-face venues. This course provides everything you always wanted to know about writing fiction and creative non-fiction, and aims to give you the confidence to get going. Contact us for dates and other details.

What you may not know is that we run an annual weekend writing workshop in Stow-on-the-Wold, in the UK. Spend the weekend in the perfect place for a creative break. The small, market town offers natural beauty, history, shops and restaurants.

This year, the workshop runs from Friday 7 June to Sunday 9 June. Facilitated by Richard Beynon, your days will be devoted to the use of character and dialogue to drive your story forward.

Writers can follow the prompts we provide or can choose to work on their own projects.

Click here for more information or email us to book. Places are limited.

Community News

Long-standing member of the All About Writing community, and prolific author, Ekow Duker, is publishing his latest novel Yellowbone, through Kwela Books on 20 March. We are thrilled for him and proud of our association with Ekow, whose earlier books have received much acclaim.

Click here to view the trailer. Don’t miss the Joburg launch on 26 March at the Dunkelder, and the Cape Town launch at The Book Lounge on April 11.

Another member of the family (also with us long enough to become part of the furniture), Merle Grace, had her short story, 206, shortlisted for the Woordfees Short Story Competition. It has been published in an anthology, Jonk, which was launched at the Woordfees in Stellenbosch last weekend.

Eva Mazza launched her a sexy, fast-paced Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch, in Johannesburg last week and in Cape Town this week. Eva joined us on our Venice Writing Retreat last year.

Written with wry humour, her scandalous novel reveals what happens behind closed doors in the seemingly upstanding community of Stellenbosch, one of South Africa’s wealthiest small towns.

And, Harriet Anena from Uganda, who has done our Online Creative Writing Course, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Short Story day Africa Prize. Congratulations to her and the 20 other shortlisted writers!

Entrants to the Annual Writers 2000 Competition, open to the first time to writers outside of the Writers 2000 community, stand a chance to win courses from us. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for full details.

Lastly, as many of you know, our community is important to us – it’s a big part of our vision for All About Writing. We love writers who support and inspire each other.

Share your writing progress or process with us on Twitter and Instagram (@allabtwriting). Make sure you use the hashtags #AAWritingcommunity and #allaboutwriting to stand the chance of winning a voucher to the value of GBP30/ZAR500, redeemable against any of our courses or programmes. Our favourite post will be chosen at the end of every month.

Enter our February / March Creative Writing Challenge

You could win either a literary assessment of 5000 words of a manuscript in development – or a voucher to the value of GBP145 / ZAR 2 750, to be redeemed against any one of our courses.

But there’s another reason to enter, perhaps even more important. Our bi-monthly creative writing challenges give you is a chance to tackle something on a small canvas, which is not of your own devising. It allows you to take the kind of risks you might be loath to in your own work. And it gives you the chance, in a small, focused way, to sharpen a very specific skill or technique.

Click here for the challenge and for some writing tips that will be useful whether you enter the challenge or simply wish to hone your craft.

And don’t forget to read Richard’s Monday Motivations and my Wednesday Writing Tips for inspiration and writing advice.

Happy writing


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