Confession of a Travel Writer

I've heard it said that the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance is about 5 years.  One is entirely legal, if not entirely commendable, and the other is definitely illegal.

I suspect there is a similar distinction in exams.  There are some practises which are clearly in the illegal category. Peering over your neighbours shoulder to see their answer to question 7 (tip: make sure neighbour knows more than you). Writing miscellaneous facts on your arm in the hope that the fact is needed and that you can roll your sleeve up far enough to locate said fact without attracting undue attention.  Both of these are illegal, and I've never done either. I was always far too scared of getting found out. 

I did however indulge in the examination version of tax avoidance (the legal option) - this was my first foray into travel writing.

Many years ago I did an O-level in German (for those from outside the UK, or just too young - a school exam typically taken at age 15 or 16).  I enjoyed most of the course ahead of the exam, had a reasonable vocabulary, had some clue about the grammar and could do the direct translation bits adequately.  However, the bit of the exam that always flummoxed me was the bit when you needed to write an essay (in German, of course) about some random topic set by the examiner. Net result was that I only just scraped a pass, at Grade 'C', not exactly an academic high point.

The next year, the O-level in French loomed.  Again I knew some vocab, I knew some grammar, but this time I wasn't going to let the essay get in the way.  Whatever the topic set by the fiendish examiner, it was going to include a journey. Monsieur Bleu was going to get on a train (or possibly a bus), the weather was going to be good (or possibly wet), he was going to buy a ticket (and get some change), he'd be able to reflect on what he was seeing out of the window, and possibly on some of his fellow passengers (which might well include either a cat or a dog).  And both he and I would satisfactorily complete our journeys. He to the bank or supermarket or beach, me to a significantly better grade than the previous year. Result, a first bit of creative travel writing. And, since you ask, a Grade 'A'.

This recollection of "travel writing" came back to me this morning, as I wandered round the fascinating 'Writing Britain' exhibition at the British Library.  The collection of items  'exploring literature and place' made me think about how much writing is actually travel writing.  Some strands of travel writing are about the journey - and I don't just mean Monsieur Bleu's bus trip - others are about place and experience of place.  A good writer is able to transport the reader into that other place, which is certainly the goal of a lot of travel writing.  The travel writer tries to capture place and experience, the fiction writer is trying to do that too, and to overlay a plot round the place and experience too.

The exhibition at the British Library covers almost all aspects of British life from rural living to 'dark satanic mills', the development of the suburbs and life at the coast.  It also covers, geographically, almost all of the British Isles, from Daphne du Maurier and Sherlock Holmes in the south west of England, via Shakespeare in the Forest of Arden, George Orwell at the end of Wigan Pier and Robert Burns at the Falls of Foyers.  My only disappointment was the very limited mention of the Shetland Islands.  The only reference I spotted was 'The Gray Wolf' by George MacDonald, which I've not read, but I gather includes Orkney, Shetland and werewolves.  And I thought the only wildlife I needed to worry about on Shetland was the occasional territorial bonxie.

1 comment:

Gary Thomson said...

Hi Ross...I come across you post when trying to determine the tax breaks possible when travel writing...especially until some revenue is realised!!

It is an interesting Blog and I will read more.