Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Interview with a Travel Writer...Mike Gerrard.

Today we’re talking with Mike Gerrard, British travel writer and photographer. Mike has published in newspapers around the world, including The Washington Post, The Times, and the Daily Express plus magazines such as CNN Traveller, Wanderlust, and Real Holidays and online at Suite101.

Mike is also the author or contributing author to over 20 guide books such as the Rugby World Cup 2007: Official Travel Guide, National Geographic Traveler Guide to Greece (2001, 2004) and Colours of Paris (2005).

Hi Mike and welcome to My Year of Getting Published. I'm glad you were able to stop by and share your thoughts on travel writing.

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

Ever since the age of about eight or nine, when I realised that there were actually people called writers, who wrote scripts and books and things. My dad was a part-time writer, and from a very early age I was fascinated by his typewriter and used to love playing with it. So it's probably in the genes.

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

Selling my first travel piece to the Daily Telegraph in London. It was the first travel article I'd ever written. I'd been writing about computers and doing general journalism up till then. I was always interested in travel and travel writing, but whenever I met anyone who'd done it, or tried it, they always told me how difficult and competitive it was, and really put me off having a go.

The Travel Editor at the Telegraph then was Bernice Davison, and she was incredibly helpful and supportive, in ways that I think few travel editors are these days. Maybe they just don't have the time any more, but Bernice would always respond with a note when I sent something in, and told me how to go about getting commissions and setting up trips and so on. She was terrific.

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

I used to try to give lengthy answers to questions like this, but a travel writer friend of mine told me what he said to people, which seemed to sum it up. It was: travel a lot, write a lot, and send it in. It really does come down to that. If you're good, it should be noticed.


You also need an amazing persistence and an ability to absorb rejections, or complete lack of responses, without taking it personally.

4. What do you see as the future for travel writers in the printed media and online ?

I think the future is online. In the printed media I've seen it get harder and harder for people who have been good, successful travel writers for a long time to get commissions. Today lots of publications want celebrities to do stuff for them, and they want lists of the Top Ten this, and the Best Beaches and so on. Very few want real writing any more.

Mind you, working for the online media is even further away from real writing, but I think that's where people have to look.

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

Someone who once came on one of my travel writing courses, Tony Kelly, who is now a good friend and a very successful travel writer himself, explained this, I think. After he'd been writing himself for a few years, he said to me that there was something I hadn't warned them about on my course, which was that once you become a travel writer, you can never have a holiday again.

There's a lot of truth in that.

You're always taking notes, just in case, making sure you've got photos and leaflets and opening hours and things. Working trips are very tiring, which people don't realise.

Last year I worked with my wife on the Official Travel Guide to the 2007 Rugby World Cup. We did one trip to southern France to go round most of the venue cities there, and we were away for 5 weeks. Apart from the last couple of days, we had no time to relax at all. It's tiring, working 30+ days in a row, in the heat, tramping round museums and hotels, spending your evening planning the next day and downloading photos and burning DVDs to back them up. We were reviewing every restaurant we ate in, so even at mealtimes the notebook was out and you're 'on duty'.

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

Home. It's the only place I do have a chance to switch off, for the occasional weekend when we're not working.


(note from Liz: Mike has also written a how to book for aspiring Travel Writers called ‘So You Want to be a Travel Writer?’, providing information on how to break into the British travel market.)

Previous Interviews:
Heather Hapeta
Thomas Swick
Leif Pettersen
Rolf Potts
Ian Mackenzie
Sheila Scarborough
Graham Reid
Candy Harrington
Terah Shelton
Rudy Maxa
Shannon Hurst Lane
Wendy Perrin
David Whitley

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Sheila at Family Travel said...

Boy, that's true about no more holidays. I'm always in note-taking mode now, even when I'm not in a place specifically to research an article. Even had a trip planned for the fall to see a friend in New Mexico, and was going to make it a "no work" trip.

Too late now; already have two article pitches in mind for it. Sigh.

As always, thanks for these interviews, Liz, and to Mike as well.


Hi Sheila, all the note taking sounds a bit daunting...but I figure it's worth a go. I guess when you travel as a writer, especially one on assignment, you see everything in a different way...

any trip to New Mexico warrants an article or two...was heading there myself this year til I got sidetracked to Spain...but that's another story.

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