The Power of Travel Lit – Chatting with Travel Writing World

This is a Q&A visit I was privileged to have with Jeremy Bassetti of Travel Writing World, a touchstone for every reader, writer, and wanderer.

(Jeremy) How did you first become interested in writing travel books?

(Bill) First off, thanks very much Jeremy, for the invite to join you here at Travel Writing World. I’ve been a fan of engaging travel writing for as long as I can remember. My favourite book as a child was The Animals’ Boat Ride, a story of mildly adventurous travel in which, unsurprisingly, all the travellers are animals. Years later, I wrote nonfiction books and travelled a fair bit, becoming a lover of travel lit in the process. So I started travel writing to keep a record for myself as much as anything and published a travel memoir to share with friends, who claimed they enjoyed it. Then some decent reviews came in, and I figured I might be on to something.

(J) How did you manage to get your first travel book published?

(B) I self-published my first travel book with an indie label I created for other books I’d written. That first foray into travel writing was a modest project I only intended to share with a small audience, and I was relishing an artistic freedom to say whatever I wanted, however, I chose to say it. It was a creative metamorphosis as I went from writing conservatively to seriously loosening the reins.

(J) What is your writing process like, both on the road and at home? And how long does it take you to write a book inclusive of the research, travel, writing, and editing phases?

(B) My first travel book (a musical memoir) was an eight-year project, inclusive of travel, research, and writing. The next book took ten years, so I like to joke at this rate I should be able to bang out the next one in a mere twelve! My process tends to blend reading with real-time journaling and research, whether or not I’m on the road. When I leave, I usually have a mental framework as to where I intend to go and what I hope to see. But invariably travel (or at least good travel) deviates from plans, although that intent helps to organize thoughts, stimulate creativity and ensure I remain open to serendipity and discovery along the way. Oftentimes I’m hammering notes into my phone but I still love writing with a pencil or pen in a small journal; those paper touchstones become as treasured as favourite photos and collected memories.

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(J) What travel books or travel authors influence or inform your own work?

(B) Not only do I enjoy their work but feel I’ve grown immeasurably as a writer by reading Anna Badkhen, Robert Macfarlane, Monisha Rajesh, Tim Winton and Michael Palin, along with Jan Morris, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Mark Twain, Paul Theroux, and Bill Bryson, some of whom I’ve been privileged to visit with and thank for their inspiration and positive influence.

(J) What advice would you give to someone interested in writing a travel book?

(B) I’d reiterate the timeless, invaluable advice: read, read, read. And never stop honing your craft.

(J) What is so appealing about the travel book as a literary form?

(B) I believe the appeal lies in our ability to accompany articulate writers who’re observant, insightful, cognizant travellers on their various journeys; in other words, vicariously travelling with individuals whose “company” we enjoy, from the liberating comfort of anywhere!

(J) Why write about travel?

(B) Travel (I feel) represents opportunity and potential. It has nothing to do with distances covered, passport stamps or pins on a map. Travel can take place in a solitary, stationary room. A window’s ideal, and perhaps a hot beverage, but neither of those indulgences are essential. The world remains our figurative oyster: a place to imagine, discover and contemplate, expand our perspective and perpetually grow. Writing about it is a means of consideration, extrapolation, artistry and sharing. I strongly believe that through travel writing we have the ability to shrink the world in the most positive way, eliminating perceived differences or barriers. It has the potential to be one of the most beneficial, influential means that we as a writing community have to make this place a little bit better.

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.