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Sunday, March 06, 2005

WRITING AWAY

"The journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet..." Tao te Ching, verse 64

There is a similarity between historical writing and travel writing. Both are about journeys: one is a journey back in time, the other a journey of the present. I am both a historical and a travel writer. I write about my travels, I travel because I write, combing a historical-fiction research trip with the travel writing.

The traveller, that gypsy soul I possess, was born in me and encouraged by the travels I made with my family when I was a child. The historical fiction writer was born when I was twelve years old and our family travelled across Canada by train, a long journey from the gentle hills and maple forests of Ontario, across the wide expanse of sun-dried Praires, through the densley forested wilderness of the majestic Rocky Moutains to the lush green shores of the Pacific Ocean.

My life was transformed on that journey. I imagined how it must have been to be a pioneer, riding in a covered wagon acros those vast priaries, to portage by canoe and travel on foot through the rugged mountains with the explorers. I became one of them, a pioneer adventurer, an explorer who wanted to know what was over the next mountain.

My main interest was always historical writing, but I realized that in order to publish a major work, I should have some publishing experience. When I graduated from high school, I worked in a newspaper editorial office with aspiration of becoming a reporter. So I decided to use my journalism skills to write stories about my travels. The very first travel article I sent out was published. That convinced me that travel journalism was for me a way of getting in print and making a little extra cash to supplement my travels. Since then I've had many publications and I've been teaching a class in travel writing at night school since 1994.

Yesterday I spent my afternoon in the company of travel writers, members of the B.C. Association of Travel Writers (www.bctravelwriters.com) at a symposium which included a panel of travel writers discussing marketing techniques. Among the attendants were several of my present and former travel writing students. Several of them have become distinguished in the field which makes me feel proud!

It was interesting to note that one of the speakers mentioned how it was often difficult to find time for our own writing when we also teach. This has been a dilemma for me. But teaching is also a stimulant for my own work and, of course, it's my bread-and-butter. It was also pointed out that belonging to writer's groups, such as this travel-writer's organization is part of the necessary 'tools' to being a writer. I make a lot of important contacts through the BCTWA. Besides, travel writers are fun to be with, always on the go to exotic places, adventurers like myself. Even my travel writing classes are fun, lighthearted social events, not as serious as the novel writing which requires so much more discipline.

It also has benefits on the side, such as tax returns. Because I publish, teach and travel in order to write, I can declare all my travel expenses on my income tax. That's the way I afford new trips. Otherwise I am too poor to travel.

My most frequent destination is Greece because I combine my research trips with trips to various locations there. When I go to locations for my research, I am able to capture the essence of the countryside, to get in touch with the spirits of those I write about. These details place the reader at the scene and it has helped me make my characters more dimensional. Each time I travel to Greece I try to visit a new location, with the possibility of writing a travel article about it. So I have covered much of the country, preferably going to places where that are not teeming with tourists.

I have cousins and friends in England and Wales that I hope to visit this summer. And I've also traveled often to Turkey, once to Morocco, and to other points in Europe (though not recently). My last trip was to Cuba for the Havana Jazz Festival. I will definitely return there!
Last night, after the travel writer's gala, I went to my friend's house to watch a movie about Cuba. "Soy Cuba" (I am Cuba!) a fantastic black-and-white film made in 1964 by Russian film-maker Mikhail Kalatzoshvili. Paul is one of the Havana buddies I chummed with during the jazz festival in Havana. He has a radio program for jazz/blues and generously loaned me a stack of Cuban CDs to tape. Last night we also watched a DVD of The Afro Cuban All-stars in Japan as well as listening to several excellent CD's he's going to tape for me. One was a Cuban doo-wop group popular in the '60's "Los Zafiros".

My travels have provided me with opportunities to meet so many new people, many of whom I have kept in touch with. And this includes the wealth of classical scholars I have met in Athens during my time there when I was researching for my novel. So travel for me is an important aspect of my writer's life.

Travel writing is easy. Writing a historical novel is a huge committment, a long journey that may take years to complete. But in order to write anything successfully, you simply must WRITE. And now I must get on the road with Alexander again while I have this day free to make the journey.

"The world's a theatre, the earth a stage
Which God and Nature do with actors fill." Thomas Heywood ("Apology for Actors")



5 comments:

L said...

i used to want to be a writer when i was little. i used to write ALOT! i wrote tons and tons of short stories. i'm not really sure where i fell out of it, but i know that i'm really self conscious about my writing now. i also used to have perfect spelling and grammer, that which has signifigantly diminished with use of the internet.
that said, i dream of having a life like yours someday. xox
:)

Wynn Bexton said...

Hi L, if you are really keen on writing I'd advise you to look for some creative writing courses. That will jump-start you again. It's a fulfilling way of recording your life's experiences even if you don't want to take the time to write lengthy pieces, short stories or novels.

Sam said...

Lovely post - travelling and writing history are analogous, (and why does that word look so weird all of a sudden, lol)
at any rate, sounds like you're very busy teaching and writing (and trying to balance it all) It does take a lot of time and energy. I suppose you have to really be passionate about it.
(or nuts. Maybe it's just that we're nuts?)

Wynn Bexton said...

People used to say I was 'weird'...and I have always been a bit of a dreamer (aren't we all?) And yes, balancing these tasks of mine is tricky but my classes end in two weeks and then there's a month's break. I'm aiming to finish this Part IV of the novel and then should quickly get into the next. Getting closer to the end *sigh*. Meanwhile I do have to get some more travel writing done as well. Yikes! There's no end to it, is there?

L said...

that's a really good idea. i think i'll look into that!