Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Interview with a Travel Writer...Graham Reid

Today’s interview is with Graham Reid, a New Zealand journalist, music critic, social commentator and travel writer. His book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year award. His travel articles have been published in The New Zealand Herald, AA Directions, The Listener and Metro in New Zealand, as well at various online sites such as Perceptive Travel and Travel Intelligence.

Hi Graham, welcome to My Year of Getting Published. Glad you could take the time to answer a few questions.

1. Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get started in writing?

Yep. when I was a kid I used to make my own comics and books of stories but never thought of being a writer as such. While I was finishing my Uni degree (eventually got round to doing the Arts -- English and Art History -- after a false start doing Sciences because I wanted to be a marine biologist like Jacques Cousteau) I wanted free records (I love music) and thought that by offering to write record reviews free for the local paper I might score some.

It worked so I started out writing reviews, then did interviews with musicians. I was invited to write for some music magazines, created and edited my own magazine in 1984 and that lead to writing on the arts and entertainment for the New Zealand Herald and The Listener (all the time I was teaching English and Art History at Glenfield College in Auckland).

I was offered a job at the New Zealand Herald in 1987 which I took and as a consequence of travelling to various places to interview musicians or movie stars I would always indulge my own interests in arts/the unusual etc. I would return to the New Zealand Herald with other "travel" articles.

I have also always travelled for my own pleasure and so would come back from those trips -- eg Vietnam in 1995 just after it had opened its doors to tourists -- with stories for publication.

So I became a travel writer by default therefore. I travel and I write: I put the two together!

2. What do you consider your first "break" as a travel writer?

As a writer (which I think is the most important word in that phrase) it was when Warwick Roger of Metro magazine published a piece I wrote about growing up and going every holiday to Stanmore Bay north of Auckland and then how my life changed: the last part was about scattering my father's ashes at Stanmore Bay. That story caught the imagination of many people (it was/is used in English Lit classes by some expats in Germany!) and that set me on the path to being a writer-proper.

I then had short stories publishd in Metro magazine alongside the arts stuff in the New Zealand Herald and The Listener (I was at this time still teaching, then went part-time to look after young kids and pursue the writing a bit more seriously).

As a travel writer I guess it might have been the piece I wrote in 1995 after coming back from Vietnam, although I wrote pieces about Thailand before that. But the Vietnam article was important because not many people had been there at the time and it was very well read and much praised.

3. What advice would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing? Any tips to breaking into national travel magazines?

You have to know how to write first of all. And I have no idea how to break into travel mags, they seem a closed shop. This is a difficult area because magazines and newspapers are offered so many sponsored trips that they send away their own people and so therefore have those stories as a priority. They rarely allow outsiders in as the stories an outsider writes may not fit their current agenda/forward planning etc. I have found it a struggle to get published since I left the New Zealand Herald. it isn't as easy as it looks.

Trying to remain independent from other people's agendas is very hard. But when I was at the New Zealand Herald I would also sometimes look through the travel stories people had submitted and most of them were very poorly written and badly researched (mostly we went there, we did this). Many people -- and I do include many travel writers in this -- also only ever seem to speak to a tour guide or taxi driver. That tells me they didn't "put themselves out there". Lazy stuff mostly.

4. Is living in New Zealand a help or hindrance to developing your freelance writing career?

A great hindrance: small market here obviously, and if you approach magazines offshore they seem to think we are ‘small town’ people who don't travel for some reason (!!) so how could you be a travel writer from NZ. Really hard.

I have had more success via internet sites however, they are much more open to the idea.

5. As a writer and traveler, what are the biggest challenges you face on the road ?

I tend to make it up as I go along so any problems are usually of my own making! (lost! running out of petrol!!) Most of my travel has been independent (ie not sponsored by a tourism company/airline etc) so I feel quite free to go anywhere and do what I like. On the rare, very rare, occasions I have been on a sponsored trip I feel quite constrained. The challenge in that case is to quickly fulfil that agenda then get on with finding the other more interesting stories.

6. Finally, what is your favorite place and why ?

I love the United States - Americans are among the most friendly and open people anywhere -- and there are crazy corners to that vast country. Every turn in the road can reveal some new kind of weirdness or astonishing landscape. I spent two months driving from one side to the other (through Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee etc) and more recently did three weeks in the Pacific Northwest. Brilliant: clubs, bars, mountains, fascinating people, etc etc

Sadly New Zealanders seem to be anti-American (actually anti-Bush but too many people take a broad brush to it). Yes there are many many things I don't like about "America” (its politics for a kick-off) but there are so many Americas within that enormous country it is impossible not to find some place you can feel comfortable. I have found dozens.

I'd go again tomorrow if I could afford it (after that in no particular order south of France, Spain, Japan, Thailand . . .)


Previous interviews: Candy Harrington,Terah Shelton, Rudy Maxa, Shannon Hurst Lane, Wendy Perrin, David Whitley

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