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Saturday, December 31, 2005

A BACKWARD GLANCE O'ER TRAVEL'D ROADS

"So here I sit in the early candle-light of old age -- I and my book -- casting backward glances over our travel'd road." Walt Whitman 1819-1892
"November Boughs (1888) A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads."

Here we are at the end of another year, 2005, and one last chance to look backwards before we step into the New Year, 2006, and look forward again.

A lot of catastrophic and tragic events have happened this year, including my own private tragedy. But some good things happened too, and the benefits of one (my good fortune at winning an all-expense paid trip to Malaysia) are still to come. Besides losing someone dear to my heart, I also made new friends and for everyone's kindness and generosity I am truly grateful. I travelled, too, and had the pleasure of showing my pal Ingrid the beauties of Greece, my second home as well as introducing her to my Welsh cousins while we were in the U.K.

If there was anything I could have done better in the past year, it would have been to have completed my novel. I really had hoped this would happen by the end of the year, but the upsets of the past months have intefered somewhat with my creativity, though I did have some success in publishing this year with my travel articles. I was thinking about this yesterday, realizing how many more stories I have yet to write, and why do I keep detouring instead of focusing on catching up before the next round of trips begin? 2006 already looks like a year I'm going to make some fantastic new travels. First, to Malaysia in March, and hopefully to Chile later in the year. So I better make a firm resolution to get those old stories written!

I've always been a historical fiction writer, but twenty-four years ago, while taking a Creative Writing class, I realized that in order to get a novel published I should first try to get some publishing experience. That is when I decided to put my journalism skills to work and try writing travel articles. I sold the first one I sent out. That set me on the course to be a travel journalist, and whenever I could, to combine my historical research trips with travel writing.

Okay, the next part of this 'essay' is cheating because it's already been published on-line and in a small press publication. But it goes along with the theme of Travel and time-travel, looking back in time and looking forward to the future.

"The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are. " Samuel Johson 1709-1784

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. Where the difference lies is in the style of the writing. Historical fiction is a lengthy prose style, historical non-fiction can be more documentary or essay. Travel writing is either journalism or the less formal style of creative non-fiction, a story-telling style where creative embellishments are allowed. I am both a historical and a travel writer. I write about my travels because of what I write in my historical fiction.

The historical fiction writer in me was born when I was twelve years old. Our family traveled across Canada by train, a long journey from the gentle hills and maple forests of Ontario, across the wide expanse of sun-dried flat lands an d yellow wheat fields of the Prairies, through the densely forested wilderness of the majestic Rocky Mountains to the lush green shores of the Pacific Ocean. My was transformed on that journey. I imagined how it must have been to be a pioneer, and I became one of them, an explorer who forever after wanted to know what was over the next mountain.

I began to write about the pioneers’ lives. Everything I wrote came out of my imagination, sparked by that train trip across Canada. Later, encouraged by my father who was a Baptist minister, I began writing stories with a Biblical theme, set in the Holy Land and ancient Rome. At sixteen, I was introduced to a historical character who would have a profound influence on my future as a historical-fiction writer. The legendary life of Alexander the Great caught my interest. Before graduation, I had a written novel with an Alexander theme. Thus began my quest in search of Alexander that continues to this day.

My keen interest in Celtic and Greek history eventually took me to Europe. I wanted to see the places I was writing about and try to get in touch with the ‘spirits’ of my characters. When I graduated from high school I had worked in the editorial department of a newspaper, and had some journalism background so I used these skills to write about my travels. The first travel article I submitted was published. This gave me the incentive to launch a new ‘career’ as a travel writer which has led to me teaching classes in Travel Writing and Novel Writing.

My journey in Alexander’s footsteps has taken me around Greece and Asia Minor and I return there often for research trips, living there while I write. I have been privileged to research at libraries in Athens and have visited many sites, making contact with Classical Scholars and archaeologists. While traveling for research I always look for angle for a travel article. Two years ago I visited Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus) and Fetiye, Turkey (site of the fabled Lycian tombs). In Greece I visited, for the first time, Aristotles’ school, the Nymphaion, near Naoussa, where Alexander and his Companions spent two years studying philosophy and the sciences. In 2005 I once again explored the ancient agora in Athens, this time paying particular interest in the various public buildings where political affairs were held, to correct setting details for my novel.

While visiting the locations for my novel, I try to capture the essence of the countryside, use sensory details, and attempt to get in touch with the spirits. This helps place the reader at the scene, makes the characters more dimensional, and draws the arm-chair traveler into the scene.
To be a writer, you have to write. To be a travel writer, you have to travel. But to be a historical writer, you have to do both. Not only does it take imagination, but discipline, and a great deal of planning and research. Accuracy is important. Write about what you know. Spend some quite time to let the Muse speak, to absorb the essence of each place you visit as your recreate the world you are writing about.

"A traveller has a right to relate and embellish his adventures as he pleases..."
Rudolph Erich Raspe 1737-1794 "Travels of Baron Munchausan."

So, in 2006 I look forward to my new adventures in Malaysia. Winning this trip was one of the special 'gifts' I received in 2005 (from the B.C. Travel Writer's Association and Malaysian Tourism). My other 'gift' is the invitation by his ex-wife, to visit Chile and see the country through Anibal's eyes. You can read about my old and new adventures on my travel blog:

http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE IN BLOGLAND. I WISH YOU GOOD FORTUNE, GOOD HEALTH, SUCCESSFUL WRITING & PUBLISHING AND HAPPY TRAVELS!

6 comments:

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

A very Happy New Year to you, Wynn!

I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed reading your wonderful blog over the last several months. Please don’t ever stop! :-D

Gabriele C. said...

I wish I had the means to travel more. I get around in Germany a lot, and I hope to be able to revisit Britain this year, but I have so many dreams of far away places to go.

I have found my voice as Historical Fiction writer, I think, but I yet to have find a voice a Travel Writer - so far my travel essays are too heavy on facts and not entertaining enough. Just look at the lack of replies to those posts on my blog. ;-) Dang my problems with humour (I love it but I can't write it).

Happy New Year

Sam said...

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year - filled with travel and finished books!!!

Wynn Bexton said...

Thanks, everyone, for all your kind New Year's wishes. You'll see by the next blog that it got off to a grand start! I hope yours did too.

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