Rosemary Bailey has written guides to France, New York and Tuscany, and helped plan and commission Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides, to Australia, Greece, Spain, California and Provence.
What makes good travel writing?
The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land
– 12th century theologian Hugh of St Victor
I sometimes feel a fraud being called a travel writer, since all I have seem to have done is go to one place and write about that. France. South of, more specifically the Pyrenees. In truth one particular valley. But actually that I think is the point – real travel writing requires total immersion. The immersion of writers like Gerald Brenan, in South from Granada, who lived the life of the village high in the hills of Andalucia in the 1920s, or Colin Thubron who says when he travels he never even takes another book with him. Nor camera or recording equipment. The best travel writing demands dedicated observation and total engagement with place and people. It is more about place than about the journey, though no doubt many are initially compelled by wanderlust. For Freya Stark it was her passion for the Arab world, her deep fascination for its people, that motivated and informed her travels. She learned Arabic of course.
Her level of observation- making notes from the back of a camel as often as not – was almost forensic. She took photographs too but it is her assiduous daily notes that form the basis of her writing. Journals written at the time, drawn on sometimes many years later, have proved invaluable for me too. Though written without thought to style, they yield a freshness and immediacy that recreates the moment. I once made the mistake of thinking on a particularly rushed exploratory trip that I could take photos and write it all when I got home. Not so. There was nothing there. No texture, no detail, critically no response.
Thus I am convinced that travel has to be written. Photos help of course. But I want not just the information gleaned by the explorer but also their response to the experience. How else could that be conveyed except by writing. Format doesn’t matter, and the huge number of travel blogs today means that anyone can do it. But TV travel does not do it for me. It is too superficial. There are too many layers between the presenter and the audience; the researchers who have prepared the information, the film crew lurking somewhere, however much they try to convince us that the traveller is soulfully alone in the middle of the desert, wearing his continuity required blue shirt. There is no authentic response to the place.
Not only do the best travel writers offer a knowledgeable and authentic experience of the place they observe, I think they also fill an important gap of reportage. No longer do we have foreign correspondents in Uzbekistan, and every far-flung corner of the world. We need writers who travel and embed themselves in order to inform us. And better indeed that they should be independent and not paid for by governments or media barons. Of course modern technology means the locals can tell us what is going on these days and this empowerment is vital, but we also need writers with knowledge and experience of these worlds, writers who have been there and observed and recorded, before the precious mosque was destroyed, the Roman bridge blown up, the tribal village obliterated by floods.
(This piece first published in the Arvon Book of Literary Non-Fiction. Bloomsbury 2012)
Apart from the books, Life in a Postcard, and The Man who Married a Mountain, both set in the Pyrenees, I have written and edited many travel guides and articles on France. I am always interested in writing more and available for research.
In all cases the work involved considerable travelling, visiting both cities and tiny villages, historical sites and museums, hotels and restaurants.
Editing involved commissioning writers, editing text, arranging photography etc. For Dorling Kindersley I worked in house for a year and a half, with a team of editors, and about ten contributors, planning the Eyewitness guide to France, commissioning and advising the writers and editing text. I thus have considerable experience of working with writers, advising them and improving copy.
I have written other articles on France for a wide range of publications: the Sunday Times, the Observer, the Guardian, the Independent, the Mail on Sunday, Time Out and Elle magazine, France and Living France.
Travel subjects have included travels in the Loire Valley, Burgundy, Provence and the Cote d’Azur, the Mediterranean Coast, Gascony and the Bearn, Corsica, the Dordogne, Lyon, Languedoc and the Pyrenees.
Other travel writing
Rosemary has also written travel articles about New York, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the UK, for a wide range of publications including the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Independent, Mail on Sunday, Vogue, Elle and many others. While living in New York she contributed columns to the Sunday Times and Elle magazine.
For further information on availability for articles or research, or permission to reprint existing material, please see the contact page.
Samples are included here.