Travel Writing with Janet Rogers

Thursday 8 June 2017 @ Goring Methodist Church Hall, Worthing

Janet Rogers will be in conversation with Dave Simpson

Janet Rogers

Janet is the winner of several national travel writing competitions, including the Telegraph Travel Writing competition which she has claimed six times. Her articles have appeared in the UK and Australian press. After a hiatus from being a news reporter in her youth, she returned to writing after retiring and has since found great success in travel articles.

Her talk, presented in conversation with Dave, will demonstrate that travel writing is relevant for all writers, whatever their background and interests. Janet also hopes to show it’s something anyone can do, and will be offering specific advice on how to get started in travel writing.


Review of the meeting

Getting Started: Janet used to work as a journalist and news reporter. She got into travel writing after going to Normandy apple picking to improve her French, for a month. Her ‘apple’ write up won a Saturday Telegraph competition. She offered them more and they commissioned a follow on article for their travel section, which was used by Sydney Morning Herald. Her work was then published in the Guardian. After winning/being placed in more competitions she went on a Bradt Travel Writing course.

How to be a travel writer: Good travel articles need elements such as: a good introduction/hook, story structure, sense of place, characters and action. Use the unusual sights. For example, when Janet and her husband were cycling in Sri Lanka they were caught in a traffic jam and saw a huge pink elephant in a jewelled overcoat. Phrases like, ‘you don't have to be seventy to cycle in Sri Lanka, but you can be’ hook readers from the start. The closing sentence sums up a travel story. It is important to ‘close the circle’ - from beginning, middle to end. It’s important to have a dramatic ending. For example, someone with a knife is chasing the writer through streets and she sees him through a window 'and he smiles'. Include quotes from other tourists, such as, 'They don't half milk the D Day landings around here ...'

Write like a camera but also with all senses included, sounds and smells etc. The Guardian published Janet’s articles that included phrases like: ‘… we circled a pine forest and came back through a field of black cows.’ Use interesting character and quotes to bring the story to life, to bring the place alive. Bruce Chatwin’s travel writing is recommended. 'It is fundamental to live in harmony with nature', is a quote from the French apple farmer. Don't write phrases like ‘it's a hot day’, but do write about the feeling of being hot. Use specific detail. Describe what sort of tree, flower etc. to evoke mental image. Include good verbs that have the capacity to paint a scene, such as walk v shuffle. Write powerful sentences that give an intense mental image in just a few words. Clichés’, try not to use them! Attention to detail and the story is how travel writing succeeds.

Questions and Answers

Janet told Alison Hawes that she writes about her travels when she returns home and sends complete articles on spec.

John Sayles asks ‘do you make a political comment or include spiritual feeling?’ Yes, Janet received a Hindu blessing once. She said: 'I need all the help I can get at my age.'

Rose asked if Janet uses photos. Janet thinks the most important tool is the notebook and she keeps it out and writes stuff down all the time, as you don't recall the details afterwards. Recently she started taking photos as memory jogger but the book is more important, due to more senses being involved. The national press use picture libraries for articles, so the writer may not get their photos used.

Cherry asked what length travel articles should be typically? Most competitions have a five hundred limit. It’s best to read publications and see what they do, as the word count can be longer. There is a weekly travel writing competition in The Guardian. In books, you can do longer pieces. Cherry also asked if all pieces are about holidays and/or about abroad? Most are, but they can be about places like Norfolk. Janet said she went to Littlehampton (LA) to challenge her travel writing - folks laughed! She saw a couple looking down the river - a lovey view down to LA quay- and the man said: 'And you want to go to the Caribbean?' This inspired Janet to try to see LA through Caribbean eyes.

Mhairi asked which particular publications take travel writing, as she has travelled widely. Most magazines and papers accept travel articles. Janet emphasised that we should look for travel writing competitions, like the Just Back competition in the Telegraph, as they are a good exercise to start in this genre.

Lesley Katz says there is something special about seeing a place as you haven't seen it before. Her friend researched Worthing and thought it wonderful, so Lesley saw her home town differently. It's an impression, she said, of your experience at the time! Janet agreed that it's a challenge to see a place you know with new eyes.

Laurie asked what the ‘board’ was that Janet talked about earlier. It was surfer on Bondai beach. Janet suggested that we should try to ‘paint a different picture of place’.

John Sayles asked if there is a gap between submission and publishing, so that the material may not be timely or relevant re local festivals or similar? The publication will take responsibility for that, so just send the work - go for it.

The Process

Janet goes through her handwritten notes and types them up in no special order, then leaves it to brew for a day or two and thinks of possible story lines then returns to it. After that she leaves it for another day or two and takes her time over it, finding the right words and reading it out loud. Also, do more than one article/theme from one holiday/trip, so you can submit different ideas and get more opportunities for publication. She did an article on the advantages of cycling in Sri Lanka, and another about the manmade lakes and wise water use. You could do forty-eight hours in a specific place or related to famous people in a place. She went to the asylum where Van Goph stayed for a year and viewed the scenes and pictures. The Sydney Morning Herald published her article from that trip. Also, she wrote one for This England but tracking Van Goph down in the UK. A student friend of hers managed to write a piece that made Clapham Junction sound exotic.

Janet gave us our writing task before the break: Write a short introduction to a place you've visited - could be anywhere.

Thanks to Alison Hawes who had made us scones and lemon drizzle cake and sorted the kitchen out.

Workshop Pieces

We heard an evocative piece about Edgecombe Park in Cornwall. It covered shipwrecks and described small wooden chalets.

Richard Godfrey stayed in middle of France, not far from a place owned by the King of France. He described seeing the Leonardo Da Vinci helicopter and the magic it evoked.

Cherry wrote about a friends’ experience of booking in to a hotel, without realising it was a B&B for vulnerable and needy people. She described the 'dress code for breakfast' as men in slippers and pyjamas.

Sally wrote about seeing a coffin wiggle loose at a funeral. She overheard a man say: '… did much better in Wales - fewer vegans’ … they were picnickers who had a day out at a stranger’s funeral in Glastonbury High Street.

Alan read out a humorous piece about Tangier, including ‘… bangle sellers who followed us constantly.’ The ‘beggars’ only wanted paper money only as banks don't accept coins. He had ‘zipped’ his trouser pockets up as he’d done his research!

Sarah Higbee found that she saw Venice through new eyes because her sister needed to get out of the hotel room for a smoke. They had Venice to themselves by getting up at six, so there were no crowds. Her peice came to life with words like, 'footsteps rang round deserter walkways'. She said, ‘if my sister wasn't a smoker I wouldn't have seen Venice without tourists.

Terry read about a place with 'many wide cycle paths illuminated - cafes overlooking the canals and rivers with windmills able to change the flow and mill the grain'.

Rose described arriving on a magic island by plane, the ‘view of tiny white cottages the size of matchboxes’ and ‘is that my brother's cottage? I think it is.’ We could almost smell the bladder wrack and sea as Rose ascended the steps of the plane to ‘welcome home’.

Raffle: A big thank you to Rhona Gorringe who stepped in to manage the raffle, as Paul was unable to join us. Another big thank you to Tracy Fells who donated two recently published books: Rattle (2017) by Fiona Cummins and Behind her Eyes (2017) by Sarah Pinborough.

Liz Eastwood