Last Saturday, an unbelievably rainy Welsh Saturday, I travelled down to the small Pembrokeshire village of Llangwm, to take part in a Travel Writing Workshop with Phoebe Smith. It was part of the Llangwm Literary festival, which takes place every year, bringing together writers, artists and creative people from all backgrounds to celebrate literature, both local and further afield, and to take part in some wonderfully creative talks, workshops and events. Each takes place at a location around the village, including venues such as the village church, the local pub and the rugby club.
I have often thought about branching out my creative output, from novel writer, freelance writer and reviewer, sometime poet and short story writer (more rarely these days) and blogger, to something a bit more exotic. I have always loved to travel. From the age of 10, my mum and dad would take me in my sister off to France for caravan holidays. I have fond memories of sun soaked days on the beach, ferry crossings in which I’d watch the white cliffs of Dover disappear into the distant, the endless stretch of blue sea ahead. The confusing babble of another language being spoken around me, the sickly sweet smell of cigar smoke, the funny french music, and rows of pastries, dotted with colourful fruits and flakes of chocolate in the patisserie window. The loud, erratic noise of a motorbike engine, the feel of the cool cobble streets which led out into a town square, marked by little shops and restaurants, their tables and chairs set out on the uneven streets. Night times would be occupied with eating outside, sitting beneath the awning and gazing up at the night sky, slapping the odd mosquitos from our limbs. Playing cards or telling stories about our days discoveries. These memories were often punctuated with others that stalled our progress. A stomach bug that kept me bed bound for a week, the fresh taste of the boiled egg Ihad on recovering, the time my dad locked the car keys in the boot of the car, the note on our awning, kept still by a stone, to tell us my gran had passed away. But nothing stopped us travelling. Each year we visited a new place, we travelled further, we went for longer. As a child, the 6 week summer holidays stretched out with endless possibility, where would we go next?
As I got older, I began to explore on my own. I took trips to other places with friends. I visited Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Majorca, Rome.. my insatiable love for travel never wavering. One week was never enough. While my companions often admitted they’d be glad to get home, I was always left with a sinking feeling in my stomach on that final day. Lapping up the culture and atmosphere of a place until the final hours. Often being on the beach just a few hours before my plane was due to take off!
This interest in travel had occasionally coincided with my writing. I would write down memories or observations of my travelling, sometimes making them into poems or short fiction. My experiences proved useful during my degree course when I took a module in travel writing. Past trips would make it into my assignments, although it was often hard to recall exact emotions and sensations without my having noted it down at the time. Something which Phoebe cited as really important to recreate an experience – ‘if you don’t have paper, record your thoughts on your phone.’
Phoebe talked about finding a way to make your story interesting for the reader, and finding your niche. It’s about writing about something or somewhere you’re passionate about, finding an angle that’s different and appealing. Looking back at the travel writing I’ve done, I can see that, although the places I’ve been to have inspired me greatly, in order to write about them, I need more of a connection. This got me thinking. What makes me feel connected to a place, what inspires me about it? What makes me passionate about it?
I love writing about writing. I love writing about writers, and books and films. I feel inspired when I learn about my passion, when I am surrounded by it and anything linked to it. I figure this would be a good place to start. When I worked as a freelance writer for my local paper, on the entertainment section, I would often research my local area for links to film and literature, making many interesting discoveries about events in my own back yard. This is what I loved to write about. This is what I found interesting to read about. Maybe others would too?
Phoebe’s words were extremely inspiring. Her credentials read well too. She has been published widely in travel magazines such as Wanderlust and Trail Magazine, national newspaper travel writing sections, as well as becoming an editor herself, so knows what publishers and editors are looking for. She also has 8 books published and more on the way. Her enthusiasm for her work was infectious. Her words were honest, frank and at times very humorous. She was also very supportive and encouraging to the group, getting us to introduce our neighbours rather than ourselves, to take part in an exercise studying travel segments of newspapers and to have a go at an observational writing exercise too.
In that cosy little corner of The Cottage Inn in Llangwm, in the company of strangers from all walks of life, I began to feel inspired again. The three-hour workshop was a welcome break from a busy schedule, a stressful few weeks, and got me thinking in a new light. A concept that had appealed to me as something that may be of interest, now seemed like something, not just that I could do one day, but something that I was already doing, in my own way. I write about what inspires me, which often involves travel, now I just have to make that more of a conscious thing. To think about my readers, and the direction of my work. To make it interesting.
I have a few trips in mind, based around my love of literature. And I’m really excited for the stories and discoveries these trips might bring. Some of Phoebe’s final words still stick in my mind, a compass point for my thoughts, ‘if you have an idea for a travel piece, just take a trip and see what happens’. I think I might just do that.