Category: Teaching

How to get into travel writing at the Chester Literature Festival

The Chester Literature Festival was in full swing this week.

I was there on Friday to run a travel-writing workshop [pictured above] for future freelancers and career changers seeking to branch out.

Some planned to pitch ideas to magazines, others were looking to develop their voice online as a blogger.

I ran this workshop as a taster session but, given the interest on the day for a sold-out event, I will look at future workshops for the new year.

Meanwhile, as part of the session, I shared my top six travel-writing tips as follows:

People, not places

The best travel stories are not about places. They’re about the people who live in those places.

So talk to local people and weave this into your narrative. Nothing adds life to a story like direct speech.

Find a story

A lot of travel stories are very information led. But the stories that really stand out tell proper stories. So find a real story, get a proper angle, think about your readership. Then frame these elements in the context of a destination.

Get it right

Commissioning editors don’t have the time, nor the inclination, to correct your spelling, cut down your copy if you bust your word count and punctuate your sentences. Want more work? Then get it right.

Work with the medium

And not against it. Writing for print? You have the luxury of longer sentences and more descriptive language. But if you’re writing for online, then take a leaf from George Orwell’s book and keep the language more direct. People are increasingly reading your articles on mobile devices, so format for the screen.

Spot the openings

Publications thrive on regular sections and this is your way in, especially as a first-time contributor. Editors need to fill these sections and often to look to freelancers to plug the gaps. So, read, read and read some more.

 Strictly business

Travel writing is a job. Treat it as such. You’re working as a specialist reporter, covering a niche area. You want to be regarded as a professional? Then act professionally. And expect to be paid …

Two essential events at this year’s Chester Lit Fest

A busy day at Chester’s Storyhouse, then.

It was the final full week of the Chester Literature Festival and I was running two events last week — a morning discussion [first two slides] and a lunchtime workshop [latter two slides].

The former was based around my book, Inside Fatherhood, and took the form of an audience-participation discussion about modern masculinity, fatherhood and male role models.

The latter was a writing workshop, serving as a taster for anyone trying to their idea into print, albeit fiction, journalism, blog or memoir.

Mark Chester, founder of the organisation Who Let The Dads Out, joined me.

He helped to lead the discussion and then bounce ideas in the workshop about more creative writing, while I focused on writing for magazines and websites.

Thanks to Mark and everyone who turned up on the day, including those we dragged up to join the discussion. We appreciate your support.

And we had some good feedback afterwards:

“I throughly enjoyed it and as usual, found some like-minded people to chat to. I’d enjoy any [future] event that makes me write something.”

So, here’s to the next one … watch this space.

The Amazing Story Of How My Music Fanzine Made History

The first issue, published May 1994

It was 1994.

I was a student on a postgraduate magazine journalism course in London with a project deadline.

Step forward Heaven Up Here, a music fanzine I put together with two fellow students.

We dreamed of jobs on Select magazine and loved getting on the guestlist for gigs at venues like the Astoria and the Water Rats.

It was the Nineties and we didn’t have a care in the world.

The first issue, published in 1994, featured a lead interview with film-noir favourites The Tindersticks and went backstage with Britpop breakthroughs Sleeper at the now-defunct TV show The Beat.

Last week I took a couple of issues from 1994 and 1995 to the London College of Communication.

There they will join the likes of Sniffin’ Glue and Smiths Indeed at the University Library Zine Collection. It has over 200 zines from punk to fashion from the late Seventies onwards.

You can find out more from the collection Facebook page.

Or search the catalogue for the issues here and here.

It only lasted for three issues but our little fanzine helped to launch a career in the media for its founders. And it was lots of fun along the way.

As for the name? Heaven Up Here was the second album by Echo and the Bunnymen, my favourite band as a overcoat-wearing student in the early Nineties.

On the day that the NME sees its last ever print edition on the newsstands, my little bit of history is a reminder that, while we all now work multi-platform, print is still not dead.

Writing workshops: how to read magazines — and write for them

If it’s Friday, then it’s a magazine masterclass in Chester.

I ran the first in a series of new-style workshops today, hosted by Meltdown, in which we got to grips with some of the thorny issues of making it as a magazine journalist.

Such as, you ask? Well, try signposting, pitching editors and, the thorniest of all — money.

Magazines matter, I think. They educate and inform; they define the age in which we live.

That’s why our discussion moved from Nineties Britpop and Loaded to Monacle‘s spin-off brands and the rise of the indie magazine as celebrated by Stack Magazines.

It was a lively debate with four super-keen wannabe hacks [pictured above], all of whom brought loads of experience, ideas and enthusiasm to the session.

Here’s a taster of some of the take-away tips of the day …

If you’re going freelance, then you will need:

  • An ability to generate lots of ideas and pitch them successfully, turning your ideas into hard cash
  • An ability to take old ideas and recycle them or spin-off fresh ones with different angles. Either way, you need to refresh quotes, rewrite intros and concs, and check with editors re copyright contracts
  • Some business sense and a basic grasp of accountancy to keep your own records

Thanks to the attendees and for the great feedback, such as:

And this comment from the feedback sheet:

“This has given me the confidence to give it a go and actually start pitching stories to editors.”

The plan is to take these workshops quarterly, so look out for the next one in the new year.