Sunday, 11 May 2014

Learning From Travel Writing...

It's taken me a few days to decide what I was going to mention about last Wednesday's talk at Nottingham Writers' Club.

The May speaker, Gail Simmons was a very interesting, and insightful person. I recommend you visit her Travelscribe website- you will not be disappointed with any of it. If you are interested in travel writing then you will find plenty to feed your interest, and some great photos.

Gail Simmons with Nottinghamshire's
D.H. Lawrence in the background
Gail's talk was about creating a sense of place, and that is something all writers need to do, whether you're writing a poem, a short story or a travel piece.

We started by closing our eyes and listening to a recording of a poem. The aim was to recognise how the senses were used to evoke not only the place but the time it was set too.

I think we forget little details sometimes, those memories of our childhood conjured up by sweets in big jars for example; the sweet sharp tang that pervaded the air around the counter as the shopkeeper weighed out four ounces of sugar coated pineapple cubes... That memory transports me back to the little sweet shop that stood beside the lane that was a short-cut to school...

One of the books mentioned was Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. We heard the author reading an extract describing his arrival at Slad. His description of his surroundings were used to reinforce his state of mind, but when you think about it more you can understand that these are the memories of the grown up looking back, rather than the three year old child that was.

I read Cider with Rosie in secondary school. In fact one of my class mates wrote to the author because she'd liked the book so much. He wrote back and she excitedly shared his reply.

Famous places have been written about before, lots of times in the case of some, so we were reminded that it was too easy to use clichés about such places- it was suggested we Google any phrase we considered using, and if it came up more than once in the search results, don't use it.

Clichés and purple prose it seems "haunt travel writing."

As Gail lives in Oxford she gave the example of Oxford's 'dreaming spires'- we've all heard it used to refer to the view of the city from Boar's Hill. And anyone who has read 'Jude the Obscure' by Thomas Hardy, will have read about that same view.

Using the senses to emphasise the sense of place, emotion and setting, certainly got me thinking how much more I could do with my own writing.

It was a very useful evening, and when I go to Bath next week, I'll certainly be thinking about how I can describe things without resorting to clichés...

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing that very interesting post, Carol - sounds like a great evening! It's good to be reminded of using the senses like that.

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    1. It was an extremely interesting evening, Rosemary, and very entertaining.

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  2. Oh, pineapple cubes! Cola cubes, too... I used to suck them so hard they made the roof of my mouth sore.

    I remember reading Cider With Rosie at school, but have no recollection of Slad being mentioned. At the time I wouldn't have even heard of it, I suppose. I have now. I've been there several times in adulthood. It would be nice to revisit the book and see how it comes across.

    Sounds like a really interesting talk, Carol.

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  3. I think it is interesting to re-read books that you read when you were younger, Helen. I'm sure we see much more than we did then, due to our life experiences.

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  4. Sounds like an interesting talk. Googling the possibly-wonderful phrase you've just thought of to describe your city of choice sounds like a great idea!

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  5. I certainly found the talk very helpful, and realised I was thinking of different descriptions for things while I was in Bath.

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