Tag: creative community

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 …

#WriteHereWriteNow: How to write reviews

I was reading an interview with Danny Baker last week.

You may remember him as the man from those Eighties TV ads for Ariel, the hungover wingman to Chris Evan’s Britpop benders in the Nineties or the first one voted off last year’s I’m A Celebrity.

But, back in the summer of ’76, he was one of the Depford punk-rock gunslingers behind the legendary punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue. No, really.

And he had a motto for his early reviews of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, notes scribbled under a hail of spit and stale beer down the front of the moshpit.

“Sometimes right, sometimes wrong; always certain.”

Could we all learn from Baker’s juvenile chutzpah?

Here’s the issue: when it comes to writing reviews, it’s easy to be dull. Reviews are, essentially, a form of features in style yet it’s a format many even experienced writers struggle with.

Try this one, a review of the new Titanic hotel by the Belfast-born writer Glenn Paterson — a writer I admire.

Does it inform? Does it entertain?

Reviewers tread a fine line between information and entertainment. After all, most people reading reviews have no intention to ever buy the album/ see the film/ eat at the restaurant.

It’s a vicarious pleasure.

And the writers that tend to stand out are the ones with a distinctive voice, as well as in-depth knowledge of their specialist subject.

Think the late A.A. Gill of Sunday Times restaurant reviews fame, or Charles Spencer’s description of Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room as “pure theatrical Viagra” in a 1998 Daily Telegraph theatre review.

Gill died of cancer last year and, indeed the critics generally are dying off in the face of celebrity bloggers.

The media commentator Peter Preston laments this in today’s Observer. He writes:

“I think that, in small but important ways, critics help civilise journalism.”

This month at #WriteHereWriteNow we will consider the art of the critic.

Before the meeting on October 26, let’s try to write a 150-word review of something — a TV programme, a film, a new CD etc.

Can you channel a youthful Danny Baker to establish your voice?

Be right, or be wrong; be always be certain.

Liked this? Try also How to make the most of direct speech

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#WriteHereWriteNow: How to make the most of direct speech

We love direct speech.

As writers, nothing brings life to our work more the actual words people say.

Quotes, dialogue, comment — whatever you call it. We need the words of others to add emotion, opinion and drama.

Just try reading a book by the journalist and author Jon Ronson.

The man behind The Psychopath Test and others has made a career out of using direct speech to optimum effect.

But quotes mean handling interviews and therein lies the issue: sometimes interviews go wrong.

Try this clip, for example. Unluckily for the Channel Four News presenter Krishna Guru-Murthy, this car-crash celebrity interview has since gone down in history.

Next step forward Rhys Ifans. The Ruthin-born actor became legendary for all the wrong reasons a few years ago after a magazine interview turned into a study in interview hell.

Handling interviews is not easy and a skill only acquired through practise over time. That, and making mistakes.

We’ll be discussing how we use direct speech and how to get the best out of our interviewees at the next #WriteHereWriteNow meeting at Storyhouse, Chester.

Share your experiences and join the conversation before the next meeting by posting below.

Over to you …

Liked this? Try also Can we learn to write better?

Questions? Follow me on Twitter and DM me, or sign up for my newsletter.