Writing a Travel Memoir with Peter Kay
If you enjoy travelling and would like to document a previous journey (or indeed embark upon a new one in 2021), why not consider writing a travel memoir like Curious Cat Books author Peter Kay did?
In this blog post, Peter explains where he went, what he learnt and of course, how he documented and published the title to help those hoping to do the same.
ABOUT MY PILGRIMAGE
My travel memoir, based on my walking of the 600-mile Via de La Plata, was inspired both by stories and images shared by a dear friend and a determination to prove my health and wellbeing to myself after a health scare.
I had my notebook and pen to keep a diary of my walk and my camera and mobile to take pictures.
The journey itself was probably 12-months in planning. Determining the route, the best time of year to go, how much time to allow, learning enough of the language to be able to communicate sufficiently around our basic needs, obtaining guidebooks for the Via de La Plata and reading around some of the places we may pass through. Them, finally booking flights and accommodation in Seville (where we would start), Salamanca (about half-way along the route) and in Santiago de Compostela ( where our journey would end).
My friend, Maureen, who was the person who originally inspired me, agreed to accompany me for the first week of my pilgrimage walk and my soul mate John agreed to link up with me at the end of this week to walk the rest of the way.
When I set out with Maureen and later when I linked up with John, I had no idea whether I would be able to complete the walk. Indeed, at one point we had to take an unscheduled 3-day break, to give badly blistered feet time to recover before carrying on. The upside to this being an opportunity to spend 3 whole days and nights in the beautiful city of Salamanca.
I also had no idea who, apart from Maureen and John, I would meet along the way, nor had I any idea how varied would be their reasons for walking the Camino and how the stories of their journeys would unfold and become enmeshed with my own.
Of the 8 other people Maureen and I stayed with at the end of my first day on the Via de La Plata, 5 would, like me, make it all the way to Santiago. I met others on the way, whose journeys resonated so much that they just had to be chronicled and I subsequently felt needed to be shared.
My fellow travellers came from all parts of the world including; Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Poland, Switzerland, Australia, Portugal, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, England, Brazil, South Korea, USA, Japan and Italy.
Visit Peter Kay's website HERE.
Peter Kay on Impact Radio USA (Detroit) discussing his experience.
ABOUT THE VIA DE LA PLATA
The Via de La Plata is an ancient Roman route and stretches 606-miles from Seville in the south of Spain to Santiago de Compostela in the north-west. It passes through some of the most beautiful parts of inland Spain, watercourses, woodlands, mountains and some splendid cities and towns as well as many small villages. The journey reveals layer upon layer of the history, fabric and culture of many of the communities that have and continue to make Spain such a fascinating country.
WHY THIS PILGRIMAGE?
The whole experience for me was cathartic and gave me a great insight into our interdependence as a human family. I was and still remain 4 years later, humbled by my experience, in particular by the courage of many of those I shared it with.
HOW I DOCUMENTED THE PILGRIMAGE
My daily journal was written largely at the end of each day’s walk, interspersed with jottings at other times if we stopped to eat or rest. Pictures were taken when subjects, or landscape moved me. The history and geography was, in part, researched as I travelled and then added to on my return, when I was writing different sections of the journey. I was also able to meet with Alison Raju, who had written the main guidebook I relied upon, after I returned. She was extremely supportive and helpful and was to re-walk the whole route to be able to update the guide. Sadly, she died recently before she was able to do so.
I finished writing the first draft of my book in January 2018, had a month away from it before spending 3-4 months re-writing, self-editing and trying to get the book as good as I could make it, in particular to do justice to the journeys of those who had shared the journey with me.
WHAT I LEARNT FROM THE PILGRIMAGE
The book was my second travel memoir. What I learned from the first was to take more pictures. It’s surprising how much memory a visual image can stimulate. My pictures were as valuable as my daily diary when it came to writing this story.
The second thing I learned was to delve deeper into the stories of others, without being intrusive. I found most people were happy to share their reasons for walking and some the challenges they had or were still facing in life.
I used a combination of my written journal and notes kept on my mobile phone to document daily events, places of interest and to pose questions that I would need to research more on my return. Having the phone was useful, because at one point my last pen gave out and I had to rely solely on this method to record notes for a couple of days until a new pen could be purchased.
The deeper into the writing I got, the more I realised the importance of seeking two or three reference points for any research. This helped to validate information I felt merited inclusion in my story.
WHAT I STRUGGLED WITH WHEN WRITING THE BOOK
One of the things I struggled with was in relation to the tense I wrote in. During various editing processes, I discovered sections written in the present, others in the past. Ultimately, I reached the conclusion along with my editor/publisher, that writing a travel memoir in the present tense helps to take the reader on the journey with you. It unfolds for them, as it is unfolding for you.
Looking back, I wish I had sought and obtained direct permissions from more people, in order that I could not only tell their story but do so using their real names. I suppose I wasn’t sure when I set out on my pilgrimage walk that SHOW ME THE WAY TO SANTIAGO would result from it.
THE PUBLISHING PROCESS
I sent parts of the manuscript off to several literary agents and publishers and had a couple of false dawns with 2 different publishers. During this time, I commissioned a published author and copy-editor to read and suggest any further edits to the whole manuscript. After this process, I had a further offer of publication. However, this quickly turned into a nightmare scenario as they wanted to change so much of the book that it would no longer be ‘my story’. I cut my losses and stepped back from this experience.
Several months later (in the summer of 2019) I met with the person who I was subsequently happy to sign a contract with and for the first time enjoyed a fully inclusive editing process, that was both challenging yet sought to protect the integrity of my story.
It was an accident of fate that the book was published during a global pandemic and a lockdown. Many book launch and book reading events had been planned and all had to be cancelled. This led to the need to be as creative as possible in marketing the book.
HOW TO MARKET A TRAVEL MEMOIR
Techniques used include: radio interviews, setting up a website, video clips of me reading from the book on YouTube, use of other forms of social media, encouraging readers to post reviews, seeking reviews from other sources.
I also had a calendar made featuring pictures from the journey and a bookmark, too. These latter two enabled me to make a complete package offer.
I joined a couple of virtual markets, where I could offer the book and these packages in the run up to Christmas.
I am sure once it is possible and safe to hold public gatherings again, the book will be re-launched, and book readings and signings will again be possible.
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The author's royalties from sales of this book and calendar are donated to the MND Association.